Detroit bar PJ’s Lager House moves to sell to James Oliver Coffee Co. building owner

Owner PJ Ryder listed the rock ’n’ roll bar for sale for $2.2 million in 2019

Jul 26, 2022 at 9:45 am
click to enlarge PJ's Lager House has been listed for sale since 2019. - Lee DeVito
Lee DeVito
PJ's Lager House has been listed for sale since 2019.

Long-standing Corktown rock ’n’ roll bar PJ’s Lager House is moving to sell its building and business to the owner of the next-door building that houses the James Oliver Coffee Co., Metro Times has learned.

That’s according to bar owner PJ Ryder, who listed the building at 1254 Michigan Ave. for sale for $2.2 million in 2019.

Speaking by phone, Ryder declined to discuss a sale price. He says the deal has not been finalized but expects it to close by the end of September.

“I’m not getting any younger,” Ryder says. “I’m 68 years old, time is moving on, and I want to do some things before I leave this planet. … I never intended to be there for my whole life.”

He adds, “I’m just an advocate of ‘lead, follow, or get out of the way.’ And I’m going to get out of the way. I’ve been leading for a long time, and I think it's time for me to get out of the way, and let someone else lead.”

Ryder originally purchased the building for $350,000 in 2007, but since then Corktown has changed dramatically. The nearby abandoned Tigers Stadium has since been demolished, Ford Motor Co. is rehabbing the long-derelict Michigan Central Station for a new autonomous vehicle laboratory, and plenty of new restaurants and businesses have joined the Lager House as neighbors.

Reached by phone, Alex Riley, the owner of the James Oliver Coffee Co. building, declined to comment by our deadline. But Ryder says if the deal goes through, he believes the new owner would continue to operate PJ’s Lager House much as he did, as a music venue with a kitchen. The Lager House has also become known as a brunch spot, with New Orleans-inspired fare and vegan and vegetarian options.

“The new owner, as far as I know, intends on not only keeping PJ’s as a music venue, but actually expanding it a lot more,” he says. “I think he kind of wants to combine the whole thing into one large entertainment complex.”

click to enlarge The James Oliver Coffee Co. has expanded, with a patio that includes an Airstream trailer. - Lee DeVito
Lee DeVito
The James Oliver Coffee Co. has expanded, with a patio that includes an Airstream trailer.

In addition to the next-door building at 1236 Michigan Ave., where the James Oliver Coffee Co. opened last year, Riley also owns 2000 Brooklyn St., located behind PJ’s Lager House. The James Oliver Coffee Co. building was previously home of the Detroit Institute of Bagels coffee shop, and as the James Oliver Coffee Co. it has expanded, with a patio that includes an Airstream trailer.

PJ’s Lager House has long been known as a music venue in Detroit’s rock ’n’ roll scene, hosting both up-and-comers and established acts in genres like indie rock, punk, and Americana, including artists as varied as indie rock darlings Thee Oh Sees and outlaw country cult hero Billy Don Burns.

Ryder says he takes pride in his bar having served as a stop for rock bands who have gone on to outgrow the 200-person capacity venue.

“That’s one of the biggest thrills for me over the years, is to watch bands that start out — like, ‘Man, these guys are not very good,’” he says. “And then, you know, six months or a year later — ‘They’re getting better.’ And two years later — ‘Man, these guys are really good!’ That’s one of the nicest things that I’ve experienced over the years, being there long enough to see this development of so many different bands over the years. And I will miss that.”

PJ Ryder. - Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo
PJ Ryder.

He says he attended the Concert of Colors over the weekend and was thrilled to notice that many of the performers had played at PJ’s Lager House at one point or another.

Ryder has been open about the financial difficulty of running PJ’s Lager House. In 2009, he was the subject of a CNN Money story, “How to lose money fast: Open a business.” Ryder told CNN he sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the bar, and said he did not pay himself for years. Ryder converted the upstairs apartments into two Airbnb rental units, which he said helped keep him afloat, and also opened a record store in the venue’s basement.

If the sale doesn’t go through, Ryder says he’ll continue to serve as owner until a new offer comes. And if it does sell, he says you’ll probably still be able to catch him at the bar as a customer.

“I think it’s still going to be a rock ’n’ roll music bar, or a music bar in general,” Ryder says. “And I think he just wants to make it bigger, and he’s in a better position to do that, so I’m happy to let him do it. We’ll see what happens.”

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