Tom’s Tavern is certainly a peculiar little saloon. You can find Tom’s near Wyoming and 7 Mile Road. But don’t let the abandoned shack-like appearance fool you … it’s still very much open. In fact, the place is 86 years old and has survived more than its share of tribulations. The current owner, Ron Gurdjian, usually tends bar and he’s always up for a good conversation.
You might say that Tom’s has nine lives. Open since the 1920s, this ramshackle shanty is one of the oldest bars in Detroit, having weathered Prohibition, burglary, fire and more than one vehicle crashing through its walls. Despite all that hardship, this little lean-to refuses to go down quietly, mostly due to the loyalty of its regulars. The floors slope, the bar is crooked and the open hours are anything but reliable. But the patrons who remember the original owner Tom are so dedicated to the joint that they would serve themselves drinks and clean up at the end of the night when Tom would fall asleep at the bar. Though the tavern isn’t licensed to sell food, people eat here anyway. The current owner treats the bar as an extension of his home, serving up big pots of homemade chili to anyone who’s hungry. Tom’s may not have beer taps, or even sturdy walls, but that hasn’t stopped it from trudging on for over 80 years despite all odds—in true dive bar form.
You won’t find too many craft beers or fancy cocktails at Tom’s, which is why Gurdjian will tell you that “Tom’s isn’t for everybody.” It’s true that the floors slope, but that’s ok because the barstools legs are cut to adjust for the angle. If you are nice to Ron, or one of the longtime regulars, they will give you a tour of the more recent break-ins (and subsequent repairs) where burglars have pulled off part of the building with their truck in order to get in and steal a couple bottles of booze.
It’s also true that chili might be on the menu, but if you are truly lucky you will get to taste some of Ron’s homemade Gumbo, beef stew, or one of the many other whimsical soups that he’ll come up with. On a special night, you’ll find some intimate live music. On a regular night, you’ll make some new friends. One of the best things that Tom’s does every year is the Babe Ruth Party, which is in honor of Babe Ruth’s birthday.
The only thing this description leaves out is the rarity and quality of the jukebox at Tom’s. It’s chock full of jazz, blues, Motown, and old time rock and roll. It’s like it was made to be the soundtrack of the Motor City. On top of that, it has some sort of glitch which randomizes the songs, so you’re never really in control. The place truly has a life of it’s own. Put it on your Detroit bucket list and check it out.
Oh, and don’t forget it’s cash only. If you want to be sure it’s open, give the bar a call before heading over: (313) 862-9768. You’ll find it at 10093 West Seven Mile Road in Detroit.