The Friday before last, I toured some of Detroit’s oldest bars, and it was AWESOME.
When I say old bars, I mean OLD! Like, pre-Prohibition old! Detroit being one of the oldest cities in the country, it’s got a rich history, and that rich history includes grand ol’ watering holes, some of which have been in operation for a hundred years or more.
I’ve been dying to tour all of the oldest-of-the-old Detroit bars since I read an article highlighting them in Hour Detroit several years ago. I wanted to design a tour of those I hadn’t hit yet and attempted to one night in June. Plotting them on a map, I noticed the bars that interested me were scattered around the city and realized the endeavor would be logistically complex. So I did an internet search for guided tours of Detroit’s oldest bars, found one, and recruited friends along for the (bus) ride. Operation Antique Saloon Shenanigans was underway!
The experience they crafted being an absolute delight, I planned to give a glowing shout-out to the tour provider in this post – until I remembered that they prefer to keep the identities of the four bars visited on the tour a secret. Since I want to cover the bars that were new-to-me places here on 100 Places in the D but don’t want to overtly ruin the surprise of the tour, I’m going to keep the company’s identity anonymous. Just know that it’s great and that if you search “oldest bars in Detroit tour” online, you can pretty easily figure out its name and that of this entertaining, enlightening, downright fun tour.
On to today’s featured bar: the Two-Way Inn! It was our first stop on the tour and currently holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously running bar in Detroit, with an inauguration date of 1876.
1876! That’s a mere 11 years after the Civil War ended!
Guys, this place is LIIIIFFFEE. It’s got this gorgeous dark wooden bar that was paid for by Stroh’s in exchange for the promise to peddle its beer. It’s got a pool table and colored twinkle lights festooning the bar and an antique cigarette machine advertising a cost of five cents. The walls are studded with old photographs and deer antlers and an epic velvet painting of John Wayne. Basically, it’s got coziness and character for days and is saturated with history.
Speaking of history, here’s an interesting tidbit: according to our tour guide, the Two-Way Inn got its name from its two entrances and the habit its male patrons had of entering through the front door and exiting out the back. He explained that many wives of the patrons were angry that their husbands squandered their paychecks at the bar. When a wife suspected her husband was drinking at the Two-Way Inn, she’d show up at its front door looking for him. A lookout would identify the wife and alert her husband of her presence, and he’d roll out the back door before she saw him. Sneaky rascals! In present-day time, the front door is the sole door through which patrons can enter.
Another fun detail about the Two-Way Inn is that there’s a bell hanging above the bar that you should take care not to ring – unless you’re prepared to purchase a round of drinks for the house! We joked that the tallest guy in our tour should stand near the bell, increasing the odds of him inadvertently knocking it with his head and being forced to buy all of our beverages.
About 45 minutes were spent by our group at this glorious establishment (and at each of the other three bars we visited on the tour). We were the tavern’s sole patrons during that time – though a Pabst rep did pop in with hats, free PBR, and other swag, to the delight of the group. I sipped a Short’s Soft Parade, chatted with my friends, the tour guide, and others in our group of approximately 15, and crushed hard on this bar with 142 years of operation under its belt and counting. Two-Way Inn, I’m delighted to have made your acquaintance!
17897 Mt. Elliott St.
Detroit, MI 48212