Fire destroys Hippos

Pic courtesy of Andrea Karpinski

A fire destroyed Hippo’s Bar in Hamtramck on Sunday evening. The cause of the blaze has yet to be determined, but it is believed to have started in a garage behind the building. Fortunately, the bar was closed and nobody was hurt.

John "Hippo" Hypnarowicz worked as the district bus driver for Hamtramck Public Schools for 33 years, and he opened Hippo’s in 1990. For about 12 years, he filled both roles, and is known for his big heart. Hypnarowicz recently put the bar, at 11641 Conant St., up for sale as his wife has been sick.

Hippo’s is perhaps best known for inspiring the name of the Hippo Club in the John Cusack and Minnie Driver ’97 movie Grosse Pointe Blank. The producers called Hypnarowicz and asked permission to use the name and, when the movie was released, the bar owner and his wife were flown to Hollywood to have lunch with the cast and crew. A Grosse Pointe Blank movie poster has been hanging in the bar ever since.

With Red Wings memorabilia everywhere, Hippo’s was known as a great place to watch a game.

Hamtramck resident Hillary Cherry told us that, "Hippo's is a neighborhood and community institution. Workers from the public schools often congregate there, and Mr. Hippo himself worked for the schools, driving the bus for disabled children. Hippo's partners with Alhambra every year to organize a boat cruise on the Clinton River to raise funds for 'Hippo's Kids'. The proceeds are used to hold events, like a special holiday party with Santa and the Hamtramck Firefighters."

Scott Sanford of the band Duende! used to live above Hippo's. "John Hippo's a good man who cares about the community," Sanford told us. "It's a cool bar to hang out in. It's a small bar but it has its own regulars. It's almost like Cheers - people cared about it."

Hypnarowicz is planning to rebuild the bar, though he concedes that much will depend on how much help he gets from his insurance.

Hamtramck Fire Chief Paul Wilk told the Metro Times that, as of 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, no further information was available and that the fire was still under investigation.

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