Dive bar

204. Tom’s Tavern – October 27, 2016 – Detroit, MI

20161027_22540020161027_21040320161027_21051820161027_212355After 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


196. The Old Miami – October 6, 2016 – Detroit, MI

20161006_15522120161006_15554520161006_15591320161006_155923The Old Miami – I’m in love!!!! I love a good dive bar, and The Old Miami is a classic.

My uncle who lives downtown tipped me off to this place; it’s one of his favorites. When my mom and I were in Detroit last Thursday celebrating my birthday, he told us stories of fireworks being set off in the bar’s backyard during Fourth of July celebrations and boozy Christmas Eve potlucks. I was like, I NEED to see this place. So after visiting nearby Source Booksellers, my mom and I decided to stop there for a quick drink.

That quick drink turned into several drinks over several hours, with my uncle coming to join us. It proved difficult to leave The Old Miami’s phenomenal backyard, a mash-up  of picnic tables, an outdoor bar, a muddy koi pond/fountain, and granny-chic fabulousness(bronze statues, pots and pots of colorful flowers). Sitting out on this gorgeous day (it was in the high 70s), with the late-afternoon fall sunshine slanting through the patio umbrellas, while old men cut and weedwacked the lawn … THAT was life. That was exactly the way that life should be every day. Every day should be my birthday and a day that I get to spend at a chock-full-of-character bar instead of in my cubicle at work.

At least I have the memory of that day, and the ability to go back to The Old Miami whenever I want.

The bar’s interior is classic dive. Lots of veteran memorabilia and ’80s-era children’s school pictures – presumably relatives of the owner – form a dense collage above the bar counter. There are the requisite pool tables and pieces of grungy furniture. A tired syndicated crime drama played on the TVs the afternoon we were there. A few fellow drinkers, mostly of the younger demographic, were scattered around the bar and yard.

In researching The Old Miami online, I found accounts that said it has been around since the ’70s and is renowned for being the site of performances by many locally- and nationally-known bands. As a Detroit Metro Times profile puts it, it’s been called “the C.B.G.B’s of the Midwest.”  I saw the stage when I was there, but I wouldn’t have gathered that it was such a musically significant place. Pretty cool!

I can’t speak to the men’s room, but the ladies’ room at The Old Miami is an absolute fright. There was a sign in it on my visit asking female patrons to please pardon the construction, but I got the sense that said construction – the details of which weren’t entirely clear – wasn’t going to make things much better. The front half contained a sink with no paper towel or soap; the back half was a curtained area with two toilets, just straight-up chilling out in the open – no dividers or anything shielding them from each other.

Unless two drunk college girl friends are going in to pee together (as so many of us did in our youth!), this bathroom setup is not helpful. It was hard to know if someone was already in there, so that my mom inadvertently walked in on another woman on the toilet, who cheerily urged her to come on in. My mom opted to wait for her to finish.

Still, while the ladies’ room setup was less than desirable, it didn’t detract from my adoration of the place. I’ll navigate some jank potties for access to such an epic backyard!

3930 Cass Ave.
Detroit, MI 48201

178. Joe Suds – June 19, 2016 – Warren, MI

Joe Suds is a dive bar. It’s nothing too special to look at on the inside. But the burgers! I had one of the best bacon cheeseburgers there, perched at the bar, celebrating Father’s Day with my dad and also with one of my aunts who was in town from Denver. It wasn’t exactly the place I expected to spend Father’s Day (actually it wasn’t too far off; I expected to be eating Sunday dollar burgers at my dad’s favorite bar, Freddy’s), but the location worked for everyone involved, and hey, it was a new place to visit. I enjoyed it!

And what a cheap date! It was about $37 for three burgers, a side of onion rings, a side of fries, and four drinks. Plus, the service was good; there was one bartender hustling around, serving a rail full of people and possibly even cooking our burgers in the back, we think. And if (unlike me) you’re motivated enough to engage in recreation when you drink, Joe Suds has a bunch of classic basement games scattered around, such as pool and foosball.

13791 E. 13 Mile Rd.

Warren, MI 48088

127. Third Street Bar / Dangerously Delicious Pies – June 20, 2015 – Detroit, MI




After hitting Traffic Jam and Jolly Pumpkin on my recent Detroit Day and browsing the very lovely nearby shop, City Bird (which I won’t be writing a post about since I’ve been there before, but please go check it out – it’s full of wonderful handcrafted items made by local artisans), my friend and I mused, what next? The answer was: pie. Pie, of course! We’d already spent the better part of the afternoon stuffing ourselves full of food and drink – what was a little shared piece of pie on top of that? I’d been wanting to go to Third Street Bar and get some Dangerously Delicious Pie for forever. Third Street Bar is where this charming little handmade-pie outfit sets up shop. We set off on foot there from Midtown – it was only about a six-minute walk.

The bar, on the outside, is not much to look at. It came up on us all of a sudden, because it honestly kind of blends in with its surroundings, looking like just another abandoned building. We had no idea initially how to enter; we tried opening two uninviting metal doors – one at the front (which I assume is probably open some of the time, at least in the winter) and another on the side. Nope – both locked. Puzzled, we kept going around the perimeter of the building until we finally hit a cute, rustic little patio. Ok, we were in business! I must say our inability to figure out how to enter the place made it a little more exciting once we finally got in, like we were entering this secret little place no one beside the true locals really knows about.

The inside of the bar was a lot more charming than I expected. I got the impression from Yelp that the place was a bit of a dive – and I guess it kind of is, but in the best way possible (I LOVE a good dive bar). Plus, they have Skee-Ball machines! How many places do you see anymore with Skee-Ball machines? That’s an automatic check-plus in my book.

Dangerously Delicious Pies has its own counter inside the bar, where you can order whole pies or pies by the slice, either of the sweet or the savory variety. The savory pies sounded phenomenal; I would love to come back and have lunch. But we went for a sweet offering – the Baltimore Bomb, a custard pie with chocolate folded in, shown above. It came out to us at our picnic-table seat on the patio all delightfully warm – yum!

So Third Street Bar was definitely a worthwhile visit. I just heart supporting local vendors – that is, of course, one of the major reasons I started this blog. But I really, really, really do love it! And I love that Detroit has more and more of these little micro-enterprises – bakers and jam makers and other foodies taking over a corner of a kitchen of another establishment and creating their wares there – local artisans supporting other local artisans. It’s inspiring! I’m excited that I get to witness it and play a tiny little part in it.

4626 Third St.

Detroit, MI 48201


13. Gusoline Alley – April 11, 2014 – Royal Oak, MI


I’ve gotten embarrassingly, embarrassingly behind in putting up posts on this blog. I have still been visiting places – but no posts in three months??? Bad news bears. So I’m going to put a bunch up at once. Here goes . . .

Gusoline Alley has a totally dive-y charm to it. There is a lot of charming memorabilia on the walls, and this ’50s Judy Garland movie was playing on some of the TVs there – so fun.

309 S. Center St.

Royal Oak, MI 48067