After dinner at La Feria in Midtown last Thursday night, one of my friend’s friends who we were with suggested Tom’s Tavern, one of his favorite bars from his college years. His friend preceded to drive us to an area of the city that I wasn’t familiar with: roughly near the U of D campus, but seemingly not much else of note (besides a Little Caesar’s that will figure into the story later).
We drove in the dark to this deserted-looking part of town and stopped at what looked to be a literal shack on 7 Mile Road west of Wyoming. Seriously. It was a tiny building that didn’t look much bigger than the shed in my dad’s backyard, with exterior walls that appeared to be constructed of plywood coated in a worn white coat of paint.
I like my friend’s friend, a guy she has recently started seeing. And little brings me more joy than a good dive bar. But when our car pulled onto the grassy lot behind this shack in this not-so-great-looking neighborhood, I was like, “WHERE is this guy taking us???”
We got out of the car and walked up to the back door, following other people who were entering there. The small room immediately behind that door indeed contained the kind of random flotsam you would find in somebody’s garage. We then walked through another room that was a kitchen, where the owner, an older gentleman with a long, grizzled white beard, and a woman smoking a cigarette, presumably his wife, huddled around some preparation that involved grilled mushrooms. It was probably their dinner, as I’m pretty sure Tom’s Tavern doesn’t serve food in any traditional sense – just in the ways that will be described shortly.
After walking through the kitchen, we came to the actual bar area, which was tiny and had the vibe of being in someone’s basement or family room. It was packed with people – mostly middle-aged, with a few appearing to be in their 20s and 30s. And it was chock-full of character. We found a table back toward the restrooms, to the right of the area where the musicians play.
What to describe first? To start, the floors at Tom’s Tavern slant all whimsically helter-skelter, so be mindful of that. When you approach the bar, you’ll find that standard alcohol legal age limit sign – you know, the one that states that only patrons who were born on or before today’s date in
1995 1984 will be served? I took great delight in this, as 1984 is the year of my birth, and it felt excellent to be 21 again in this time-warp reality.
I celebrated my age regression by ordering a vodka-and-soda and was happy to see that Tom’s was serving one of my favorites, Tito’s vodka (poured freehand from a jug-sized container of it) and also had lime wedges – because let’s face it, that wasn’t entirely a guaranteed amenity at a place like this. The bar is cash only, another aspect you want to bear in mind when planning a visit. It serves conventional bottled beers such as Pabst Blue Ribbon (a dive bar classic!) – and also bottles of several local craft brews. I don’t believe there are any beers on draft. It sounds like red and white wine is generally available in addition to liquor and beer, but the owner, named Ron (who took the bar over from the eponymous Tom when he passed, I am told), couldn’t locate any red – my primary drink of choice – when I was there.
Shortly after our group sat down, the room fell into a hush. A man seated at the front of the bar started playing acoustic guitar and singing – folksy, bluesy stuff. It was like we were attending an intimate concert; people listened reverently while munching on the bowls of hard pretzels that the owner, Ron, brought to each table. After a while, a second guitarist joined the first one, and they played and sang together. A guy who we all sang happy birthday to accompanied them on the piano for one of the more raucous songs, and at one point, Ron and one of the beautiful younger patrons shared a dance.
And toward the end of our visit, Ron, who I hadn’t realized was missing, all of a sudden came through the front door bearing four Hot-and-Ready pizzas from the Little Caesar’s across the street and urged us all to eat.
I was captivated the entire time I was at Tom’s Tavern, by everything from the reverence-inspiring live music to the graffiti-strewn women’s room to this WHAT???? Free PIZZA?? OK, I’m officially obsessed.
Seriously, this place was magical. I’m in love with dive bars to begin with (see my recent post on my birthday visit to The Old Miami), and then to be in one that was so loaded with charm and good vibes and this built-in intimacy, where you feel goodwill toward your fellow bargoers simply because you are sharing this amazing common experience . . . it was special. Special is even too lame of a word to describe it. It was . . . transcendent. Hats off to Ron for curating such a transcendent place. Places like Tom’s Tavern don’t happen on accident.
I hope you catch the same feeling that I did if you decide to visit. There’s no guarantee that there will be live music or free pizza – or even that it will be open on the night you head over. Our guy who brought us here said that in his experience, Tom’s doesn’t keep consistent hours but that it generally seems to be open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The bar’s Yelp account gives the hours of operation as Wednesday through Sunday, 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., but I find it hard to believe that that is accurate, so if you are wanting to plan a trip, you can call the number given below to verify it’s open. Tom’s doesn’t have a website, but it does have a Facebook page, where it was posting regularly this summer about the musicians playing there on given nights; however, there have been no updates there since late September. Best to be safe and call – although if it’s closed, you can always hit up that Little Caesar’s across the screen for a consolation prize.
10093 W. 7 Mile Rd.
Detroit, MI 48221