Hamtramck nightclub Small's goes big for 20th anniversary

Sep 25, 2019 at 1:00 am
Savage Master performing at Small’s in 2018.
Savage Master performing at Small’s in 2018. Courtesy of Small’s Bar

Mike Mouyianis is celebrating a profound moment in his personal history: his beloved Hamtramck bar and music venue, Small's, is celebrating 20 years of business.

Mouyianis and his wife, Natalie, have owned Small's bar for 15 of the venue's 20 years, and operate alongside managing partners Melody Malosh, a Detroit News journalist, and husband Dave of the rock band Electric Six. And a lot has changed since the Mouyianises took over the club, a former bank, which opened as Small's in 1999.

"I mean for a place like this to last this long, it's kind of crazy," he says. "The only places that have been going longer are [places] like Saint Andrew's, which has been sold to a major corporation. Now anybody that has 10 feet of space and a microphone is a venue. There's all these new places popping up all the time, every day. But you know, we were here before and we will be here after them."

Running a rock club comes pretty naturally for Mouyianis, who has been invested in Detroit's music scene for more than half of his life. Before Small's, he helmed the Cass Corridor favorite Alvin's, which closed in 2013 and is now home to Tony V's Tavern. The 52-year-old's résumé also includes managing Saint Andrew's Hall, which he did after first becoming a loader and lighting and production specialist at the long-running downtown venue.

Most notably, though, he spent the better part of his rock 'n' roll life on the road.

"I've worked for most Detroit bands at some point," he says, recalling his on-the-road stints with acts like Seduce, the Romantics, and the Suicide Machines. "I used to tour-manage bands before cell phones. Like, you'd have to go and get a map from AAA before you go on tour. I was always the last one to go to sleep, but the first one up in the morning, and I'd be trying to call promoters to get directions and set up load-in times. A lot has changed. Like, my nephew turned 12 yesterday and he got an iPhone and I was just like, are you fucking kidding me?"

Thankfully for Small's, Mouyianis' music connections run deep. When Detroit hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006, Mouyianis says Queens of the Stone Age were playing a party in town and used Small's as their personal hangout. And days into Mouyianis' leadership, the Foo Fighters did the same, making themselves comfortable at the off-the-beaten-path Hamtramck club. Mouyianis says he's known both Chris Shiflett and Dave Grohl for years, back when Grohl was post-Nirvana drummer and pre-Foo Fighters frontman.

"Dave used to be married to a girl from Grosse Pointe," he says. "I was running Saint Andrew's at the time, and he would call and want to come to shows. I'm like, yeah, come in the back door though, don't just walk in the front door."

For Small's anniversary, Mouyianis has used his powers to enlist Detroit garage rockers the Grande Nationals, who are reuniting to headline night one of Small's anniversary festivities, while Saturday night will see the 20th anniversary iteration of the venue's weekly and rotating alternative dance parties, Thirst Wave and Industrial Is Not Dead. Mouyianis says the anniversary lineup champions the versatility of Small's, which he and his team have worked toward maintaining. He says they book more national acts than local ones these days, and though he says it's not incorrect to call Small's a rock club, he can't help but relive the past three weeks, during which they booked 18 events in a 21-day span.

"Honestly, yeah, we're a rock club. But we're [also] a goth club," he says. "We're kind of whatever you want. Two weeks ago, in the same week we had a comedian and a pizza-based art show, six metal bands one night, three punk bands one night, and then an alternative dance night."

When asked why people should continue to patronize Small's, Mouyianis says it's simple.

"Well, you know what you're gonna get: you're gonna get a cold beer, a strong drink, mostly friendly staff," he says. "We laugh at our sign that says 'Welcome to the friendliest bar in town.' Our big thing for a while was, 'Welcome to Small's. Fuck you.'"

Grande Nationals will perform as part of Small's 20th anniversary at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27 and Thirst Wave + Industrial Is Not Dead will take place at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28 at Small's; 10339 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-873-1117; smallsbardetroit.com. Cover is $15 on Friday and $5 on Saturday.

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