Rolling up Ralston off of Woodward in the passenger seat Friday night, there was a sense of anticipation, possibly enhanced by a couple of whiskey drinks from the previous stop.
Would we see the red light in the distance? The familiar “BAR” that has been an icon of Detroit’s dive bar culture for years?
After all, the week before, even though it was said the place was going to be open, there was a hand-written note in the door saying that they’d be open the 15th. We had heard there were liquor license issues, and that stuff can take awhile to straighten out – not to mention all the other work.
Over the last 15+ years of living in the city you learn to believe it when you see it – because almost every project takes longer than initially thought, and things, even with the best of intentions, can go sideways a million ways.
Last night, indeed, the familiar red “BAR” was on. There were people on the porch, and the beer was flowing. The staff shirts still had variations on the old motto, “Come as a stranger, leave as a friend” or, a favorite, “Come as a stranger, leave even stranger.”
Fortunately, the place was cleaned up – but not remodeled. The chairs seemed sturdier, the bar that has weathered many years seems to be in better working order but still chock-full of divots of history. The buffalo head was back on the wall.
And what a history the place has. We’re told it’s the original farmhouse in the area from the 1860s, and it’s seen a lot of changes. It also has a past connected to Detroit crime as it is rumored that it was a clubhouse for the Purple Gang during the prohibition era, and at one point, a brothel upstairs.
The bar was named The Stonehouse in the 1940s.
History Lives On If We Patronize It
In cities like New Orleans, there are more quirky buildings with age left – here, we have but a comparative few and even fewer that still operate (as far as bars go, the 2 Way Inn is another one that comes to mind – and as far as quirky goes, you can’t forget Tom’s Tavern – and a fun time is always to be had at the JOT or Jolly Old Timers). It’s important these and many other places remain and are supported, or they go away.
On the porch on Ralston the conversation was that the city of Detroit is really a city of villages. Unlike other places that have dense are upon dense area, Detroit – in part because it’s past was created by the annexation of existing small towns and villages. Names like Delray, Fairview, Springwells, Oakwood, the Brightmoor Planned Community – are of cities past that were annexed to become part of our city.
Detroit is a place of distributed multiple centers, much more like a Los Angeles in setup than a New York. Our suburbs, to some degree, operate in this model as well.
The Next Chapter
For this new incarnation of The Stonehouse, the plans are to be a center for one of those small villages.
A building across the way is seeing new life. The talk is, with it’s close proximity to the State Fairgrounds and all that’s happening there (on the porch of The Stonehouse, even though you wouldn’t believe it, you’re about quarter mile as the crow flies from the 8 Mile Meijer and right next to the big ‘ol Magic Johnson development that might happen someday), there’s a chance for a spark of some new energy, if it were to cross State Fair and not be gated in.
But back to the present day. Stonehouse will have dollar beer special Mondays and live entertainment on the weekend. The place is going to have to get it’s legs again, much like a new operation. In some ways, with new management, it is.
Talking with one of the folks working there, and I apologize for not getting the name as it was super busy, I scratched down this quote:
“We may be the ones who control this space for now, make sure the bills get paid, and the repairs are made, but we are ultimately caretakers. This place has a spirit of its own.”
Cheers to that spirit living on.
The reopened Stonehouse Bar is at 19803 Ralston, Detroit. Currently cash only, but they hope to take cards in the next week or so.