Detroit is a storied place with more than 300 years of history, and most of those stories likely start and finish in a bar, tavern, watering hole or blind pig within its borders.
The city’s historic bars are legendary with some dating back to the late 1800s. Most of the oldest ones even fight over who should have the title of Detroit’s longest-standing drinking establishment. The bottom line is that Detroit’s historic bars are warm, welcoming and extremely fun to visit.
Mickey Lyons has made herself at home at many of these friendly pit stops. Lyons is an author, Detroit historian with an expertise in Prohibition as well as a bartender of note. She has worked behind the bar at a variety of Detroit’s best drinking hot spots and knows most of the barkeeps in town.
In other words, she knows pretty much everything about where to drink, what to drink and who you should sit by if you want to hear some great stories about old Detroit. When Lyons tells one of her tales, it’s as if a light shines down and illuminates her in a way that brings every eye in the room to her. Her joy in the people and the places she talks about is that bright.
“I’d say the heart of Detroit is in its everyday places, like it’s bars. The bars are where people let down their guard, talk politics and religion and make friends – and sometimes enemies – out of strangers,” Lyons said. “The social history of Detroit is in the bars: how we voted, what our skilled tradesmen did every day, our sports history – all of these aspects of Detroit life were started at bars, or really came together over a couple of drinks.”
She believes that her research into Detroit’s bars and their history has helped her discover stories about the city that you don’t get by reading the newspapers.
“It’s the history of everyday things. It’s really important to me that we tell these stories, and don’t just focus on the mayors and the sports stars, but share the stories of the tool and die makers, the delivery drivers, the housewives and the moonshiners and the beat cops,” Lyons said. “People 100 years ago were really no different than they are now: we want a place where we feel like we belong, where people who think like us come together and share food and drink.”
Here are Lyons’s must-see historic Detroit bars:
Remember to drink responsibly and plan ahead with a designated driver or take advantage of one of these local designated driving services.