Dives, Veterans Clubs, 'Shot-and-a-Beer' Bars
At one time, Hamtramck had more bars per capita than any city in the United States. Today, while many bars have closed and left behind empty storefronts that remind Hamtramckans of the once prominent drinking culture, there remains a popular live music and bar scene. We heard from the owner of the recently closed 7 Brothers Bar, the author of Prohibition in Hamtramck: Gangsters, Gunfights & Getaways, an immigrant from Yemen who lived above a bar, Hamtramck's former Chief of Detectives, and three lifelong residents about what night life has meant to the city.
7 Brothers Bar owner George Cvetanobski discusses his 39 years behind the bar at the corner of Joseph Campau Ave and Zinow St. When George, an immigrant from Macedonia, established 7 Brothers in 1977, it opened at 9am and primarily served other European immigrants and blue collar workers. Around 2000, when George planned to sell the bar, local improvisers from Second City Detroit (including comedian Keegan Michael Key) convinced him to keep the bar open and cater to local actors and artists. 7 Brothers has since been a popular destination for Detroit actors and Planet Ant performers and audience members. The bar closed in July of 2016 and will be reopened and operated by the Planet Ant theater.
George: Well I have a choice to open a bar or something else, something else like I said from the beginning you know. I went to Los Angeles, I didn’t make it. Actually I wanted to open small shoe place over there to make custom shoes, but I didn’t make it. I spent a lot of money over there, I spent a lot of time, not a long of time around two months. But didn’t fit me anything and I come back here. I was thinking what I’m going to do, what I’m going to do. I was thinking I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do that you know, you have to do something. [Laughs] I decide my brother says open a bar next to him. Actually I was thinking for a long time to open or not. What I’m going to do with a bar? You know what I mean? Somebody give me idea, well you’re going to own this that. You own a business and after that you can get another business, no problem. And I didn’t mean it to stay that long, but it happened. And I met these people, actors. That was 17, 18 years ago and they are very good people. I was going to sell it and some of the person, you know, who is now famous, who’s in a picture, Michael Keegan Key and Larry Joe Campbell and Eric Black, you know three guys they come from Second City. They were looking for a space to hanging around, you know. And I was behind the bar, they come says hi and we start talking. Are you shooting darts I says yes, are you shooting pool I says yes. We start to talking up down, everything. Kind of they start to like me. They says we are actors from Second City. We looking for a place to hanging around. I says, you got it. That’s it, I says, anything you want. And then they start to come.It’s very nice atmosphere, very friendly, we got Juke Box you know, you can play anything you want, we got pool table. And we have dart game, that’s good. It has a good reputation from police, fire department, city.
Interviewer: Before the actors started coming, who would come to the bar?
George: I started to work with more with European people. Bosniaks, at that time was Yugoslavian, you know all Yugoslavian, mixed people, Macedonians, Serbian-Croatians, Albanians, Bosnians all mixed I used to know. Almost for, you know 15 years, from beginning yes. And after that we change somehow the customer...
Sophie Yakubowski begins by recalling the role of the Polish veterans' bars in her neighbors' marital conflicts. She then discusses her relationship with her husband and their compromises in regard to drinking, dancing, and going out. The Polish Army Veterans's Association (PAVA) and Polish Legion of American Veterans (PLAV) bars can still be seen throughout Hamtramck though only a few remain operational.
Greg Kowalski, head of the Hamtramck Historical Commission, describes the drinking culture of factory workers and how Hamtramck's bar scene has changed over the decades.
Greg: Oh everybody drank, it was part of culture. I mean, this city had more bars per capita than any city in America, and there was a reason for that. Everybody drank. Drinking was a part of your culture, you know, as I pointed out in the book on Prohibition, one of the reasons it was rejected so thoroughly here by— these are all Catholics, I mean what’s the core of the Catholic Church? The communion. The blessing of the wine, drinking of wine. It’s at the very core of the religion. And for the government to suddenly say alcohol is bad when it’s that prominent in your life, is ridiculous. People rejected that. So there was a lot of people going to bars. It was both good and bad. A lot of people had great times in bars, you could have a lot of fun there. But there were a lot of times when the kids had to go and drag dad out of the bar and bring him back home because he was getting there or whatever. I’m not talking about my dad specifically but, you know, that was a thing that happened fairly often too.
Sophie: She never went to work. She got married, she never worked one day in her life. Her husband used to get mad, and he’d always say “Sophie’s working and you’re not working, and she’s got three kids and you’re not working.” Blah blah blah, all the time. And she used to tell me, she says, “you make trouble for me.” And she says, “because you go to work and you’re working all the time.” I said, “I can’t help it.” I says, “If you don’t want to go to work, it’s not my fault.” So she never went to work no. And uh, they didn’t get along too well because he used to go belong to the clubs, you know, like this club over here in Hamtramck. He was a commander veteran. He used to spend a lot of time there. She didn’t like that. And--
Interviewer: What was the club for?
Sophie: For veterans. Veteran Clubs, it’s a bar. You know. Right over here, Post 10. It’s on the other side there. And my husband belonged to that too. But my husband had to— he couldn’t do what he did. He had to rush out over here because you know I would holler at him, I would swear at him, I would booah. So my husband went but he had a limit, he had to come home at a certain time and that was it. Because he couldn’t do that, he had kids and I was working. Either I work and you go and monk around and I’ll stay home. But that’ll be the day you do that, man. Mhm. Not with me.
And I was the kind that I didn’t like to stay around, I used to like to go all over you know. I used to go to the church, I used to help out over there. I used to on Monday go and help them count the money. Go and work in the soup kitchen, you know, help out. I used to be all over, I used to help out. I didn’t used to— I used to go to the gym every day almost. Every day to the gym. I used to do all my work here. Course I had a lot of help from my husband. He helped me a lot, it wasn’t like he was— he went out, I mean he worked— he went out to the bars and stuff to help out— to work. When I says you have to be home at six, he was home at six. He maybe didn’t like it but he came home. And of course I used to go to the gym and after the gym we used to go out to eat, the girls, all the girls. And I told him he’s gotta stay here and he’s gotta cut up the breads for the stuffing, we’re gonna have stuffing and stuff. He’s got to cut up the onions and he’s gotta cut up this. And I’ll never forget the time, I walked in one time and he started to swear at me, he said “yeah yeah, going out and doing all this kind of a work and stuff,” and I said, “yeah but you’re gonna eat that stuff for tomorrow so don’t worry about it,” I say, “But I’m home now so you get out of here and I’ll finish.” And it was ok. Yeah. So I know I could work him over. I mean, we used to argue all the time but he never— and he was always, he was telling always everybody that he was gonna divorce me. He always told everybody he was gonna divorce me.
After 55, almost 55 years. And I wasn’t worried he would. Never! I know he wouldn’t. He was afraid of me. [Laughs] No, it was just that, we just sort of meshed, you know. It was just that, maybe— we were invited to a party. He always says, “when we go will you behave yourself? Will you be nice and sit at the table and enjoy yourself instead of running around all over?” See this is what he used to tell me. Well I used to like to go dance. And if he didn’t want to dance I’m going to look for someone to go dance, you know. That’s the way I was. And he used to tell my sister, “why don’t you tell her to behave herself?” You know, he didn’t like it. He wanted me to sit by him, and I didn’t want to. And then I didn’t monk around on him, I didn’t go flirt. Eh once in awhile I’d see a nice looking guy and mmm.
Everybody drank, it was part of culture. I mean, this city had more bars per capita than any city in America, and there was a reason for that. Everybody drank.
Vera Burk, former head of Hamtramck's Block Club Association, recalls popular black-owned bars and candy stores.
Joan Barrios explains Hamtramck's drinking culture and the bars she visits today.
Muhammed Alagi, who doesn't drink, tells the story of his coworker discovering that he lives above a bar.
Muhammed: When I was working at Lafayette Coney Island, downtown all these years, I've been 25 years so one time one lawyer lived in Grosse Pointe, he had a party and he wanted me to go serve that party there and then he was supposed to give me a ride home. When we come to the house, he was seeing the bar, he was laughing.
Interviewer: And what was it like to live above a bar?
Muhammed: Kind of scary a little bit but at the same time we had fun hearing all different kinds of people, you know what I mean. Sometimes you go out, you scared to go out because they all drunk and sitting around you and try to grab you see what, how much money you got and all that. That's why the lawyer he was laughing. He said, "You live up here?" I said, "Yeah." [Laughs]
Vera: And we had Perry’s Bar and Lounge. That was on Conant and Trowbridge, the building is still there. And right by the parking lot, there’s a lot of cars now I think to shop across the street, put cars next to it. And then we had the Blue Note Bar, that was on Conant. Then we had Raspberry Bar, that was down on Miller. Then we had Patterson’s Confectionery Store, that was on Buffalo, between Evaline and Yemans, and the building is still there. And then we had Sim’s Candy Store that was on Yemans across from St. Peter’s. Now, Patterson’s Confectionary Store was owned by two people and it used to be owned also by Luther and Sarah and that was the same on Buffalo on the alley and the building’s still there. And did I give you Strickland’s bar on? Strickland’s Bar on Dequindre, that was one of the police’s, he had a bar. And Kim’s Place was on Dequindre. And Nixon Drugstore, I’m not sure if that was Dequindre, it was over on that side of town.
Joan: You know, Hamtramck has always been a drinking town. I mean if you see any of those books that Greg has written I mean it’s like that was always a big thing in Hamtramck, drinking, and it still is really, I mean you know the people are younger but I mean they’re your age they're in their 30s, 40s, 50s and then the older ones, well, they go to different bars and the younger ones, well-- have you ever been to Bumbo’s down the street? It’s not your neighborhood bar per say, he’s a really good cook and he can make up, he makes delicious pirogies and it’s a little bit higher on the price line but it’s worth it and it’s on Wednesdays they— he serves food about 7 until it’s all gone I guess. And it’s a nice couple that own it, they’re young, and they— I believe they got some startup money from that Soup a while back. And then there’s Kelly’s down the street, that one’s been there for as long as I can remember too and that one brings in a lot of different ages. I’ve started going there once in a while since I got to know the owners a little bit more and a few of the people that come in there.
Retired Chief of Detectives Solomon McCormick remembers early morning lines outside Hamtramck bars.
Solomon: Hamtramck had the highest percentage of bars in the state and I can recall people lining up in the morning at 5 o'clock and the bars didn't open until 7. They would have their drinks and their breakfast, etc. at the bar.