To be at Willis Show Bar on a Saturday night, savoring live music!
The experience felt singular: not only because it was my first pandemic-times excursion to see live music, but because it happened at this wonderfully one-of-a-kind bar in the Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit.
As with many Detroit buildings, the Willis Show Bar venue has a storied past. It was in operation for nearly 30 years as a jazz club of the same name, from 1949-78. Forty years later, the current owners restored and reopened the property as a sleek tribute to its former self.
Stepping into Willis Show Bar is like stepping into a gorgeously glam portal. It’s intimate, dimly lit by candlelight and neon-purple and blue lights. Seating is offered along the sleek bar, via cozy two-top tables and wrap-around booths. The two elevated stage areas are uniquely positioned: one is tucked behind the bar; the other, near the front door. Open floor space beyond the bar leaves plenty of room for dancing.
As of the writing of this post, Willis Show Bar is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It offers two nightly sets of live music: from 8-9 and 10-11 p.m. Admission is typically $10 when purchased in advance on Willis Show Bar’s website and $15 the day of the show. Select acts can cost more.
On the night of our visit, my friends and I sat in a booth positioned in a corner near the front door. We were right across from the singer/guitarist and keyboardist playing on the stage near the door. We attended the 10 p.m. set. Willis Show Bar’s house band, The At Will Band, was playing. They were phenomenal! They kicked out exuberant covers of funk, hip hop, R&B, and soul favorites varying from Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” to Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” (my personal favorite of the night). The male and female singers sharing lead duties that night were both talented, but I found the male singer to be especially fantastic. He had incredible range, adeptly hitting the high notes on a Justin Timberlake cover and bringing the house down with the closer, Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It.”
Speaking of incredible: Willis Show Bar’s craft cocktail menu is just that. Such an intriguing menu of offerings! I selected one of the seasonal drinks, the Flannel. The melding of chai tea-infused bourbon, dry curacao, lemon, maple, nutmeg, and salt was so delicious. And it went down so easy!
Enraptured by the music and those Flannel cocktails, I was wholly surprised when the At Will’s hour-long set came to an end. It went by so quickly!
My friends and I lingered a bit after the set, listening to the then DJ-spun tunes and dreaming up our next visit to Willis Show Bar. It’s a visit that can’t come quickly enough!
4156 Third St.
Detroit, MI 48201