The 16 oldest bars in Michigan

The 16 oldest bars in Michigan

Photo courtesy of The Linden Hotel.

By Lisa Green

June 3, 2024

It’s bottoms-up at these historic bars in Michigan that have managed not to go belly-up over the years.

Today, Michigan is known for its breweries and wine tours. But as little as 100 years ago, Michigan saloons were filled with industrial blue-collar workers such as loggers shooting whiskey, sometimes on their company’s dime.

The state of Michigan has over 8,000 liquor licenses in a diverse amount of establishments, from the swankiest urban downtown wine bar to the dingiest rural dive bar. But only a handful of these establishments can be considered historic bars. Many establishments in Michigan compete with each other to dub themselves the “oldest” or “most historic” establishment. The branding is good for tourism, but declaring which bars are “the oldest” is somewhat subjective and up to interpretation.

In 1917, Michigan passed a law called the Damon Act, which not only served as the blueprint for the Eighteenth Amendment that kicked off the Prohibition Era, but also banned the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol in the state of Michigan. Ironically, Michigan also became the first state to end Prohibition, with the creation of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission in May 1933.

During these 16 years, alcohol was primarily sold bootleg in illegal speakeasies. The pre-Prohibition bars and taverns could no longer sell alcohol legitimately, so many transitioned into different business models, such as restaurants and hotels, during Prohibition. The “continually operating” bars are often those that temporarily ceased alcohol sales during Prohibition, then resumed when Prohibition was repealed.

Tracking “the oldest” bars presents a few other complications. Historical buildings often have a history of different businesses housed within, with the creation of the building potentially pre-dating the bar. Additionally, some historic buildings literally moved to different locations, or even burnt down. Finally, as with many businesses, names can change as ownership changes hands, and some bars may even close down temporarily. Many Michigan communities have worked hard to keep historic drinking establishments open, especially when these establishments are economically threatened.

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite nineteenth-century bars in Michigan that have stood the test of time.

New Hudson Inn (1831)

56870 Grand River Ave, New Hudson, MI 48165

The New Hudson Inn usually takes the official title of Michigan’s oldest bar, though you might not know that from its exterior. Yet, the New Hudson Inn dates back to 1831, before Michigan was even a state. The founder, Russell Alvord from New York, received a land grant directly from then-President Andrew Jackson and called it the “Old Tavern.”

The New Hudson Inn was intended as a stagecoach stop for travelers and businessmen passing through the area. To this day, it remains a popular drop-in spot for motorcyclists, with plenty of live music and convenient proximity to I-96 and M-23. According to some of the lore surrounding the New Hudson Inn, it may have served as a stop along the Underground Railroad. The upstairs floor may have hidden escaping enslaved people, which can still be observed by visitors. The bar continued to thrive when the Michigan Air Line Railroad chose New Hudson as a railroad stop. The establishment has evolved throughout the years, serving as a saloon, a hotel, and a restaurant.

Today, some of the most popular offerings at the New Hudson Inn include their Sunday morning breakfast, which comes with free donuts. Their handcrafted specialty burgers, pulled pork, and onion rings are particularly popular.

Old Tavern Inn (1835)

61088 Indian Lake Rd, Niles, MI 49120

Although not quite as old as the New Hudson Inn, the Old Tavern Inn is recognized by the State of Michigan as the oldest business in Michigan still operating in its original building. Though the Old Tavern Inn has little to no social media presence, it’s a stripped-down no-frills tavern with plenty of comfort food.

The most famous dish at the Old Tavern Inn is the ham sandwich, which you can get either cold or hot.

Murphy Inn (1836)

505 Clinton Ave, St Clair, MI 48079

Just off the St. Clair River, the Murphy Inn is another bar that technically pre-dates Michigan becoming a state. It had a prior life as a boarding house, back when it was called The Farmer’s Home. Riverboats from Detroit deposited horses at the now-Murphy Inn that were to be sold at auction, and horse traders and riverboat passengers also stayed here as a stopover. In 1937, it was sold and renamed the Sheaffer Inn, then changed to the Murphy Inn shortly after. With the Murphy Inn incarnation, a downstairs pub was installed. Now, it serves as a place for food, spirits, and lodging.

The Murphy Inn boasts an original Brunswick oak and mahogany bar, which creates a charming pub area. Daily food specials include Endless Shrimp and Fish and Chips. For lodging, there are seven vintage guest rooms, all with their own feel. Each room has plenty of antiques, yet also all the modern comforts and amenities. The Devonshire and Lancaster rooms are reported to be haunted.

Tommy’s Detroit Bar and Grill (1840)

624 3rd Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

Among the oldest bars in Detroit, Tommy’s Detroit Bar and Grill purportedly served as both an Underground Railroad stop and a Prohibition speakeasy. The near-downtown bar’s basement includes a blocked-off tunnel leading to the Detroit River, which was believed to be used by enslaved people for safe passage to Canada and, later, a way to bring in bootleg alcohol during Prohibition. The bar was a hangout for Detroit’s Purple Gang, as well as an important loading place for smuggled alcohol.

The bar has gone by many names throughout its lifetime, but has served alcohol almost the entire time. Between 1893 and 1913, when the Union Depot train station was directly across the street, it was known as the Andrew Healy Saloon. During Prohibition, it was called Little Harry’s. A Wayne State University archeological dig in 2013 confirmed the existence of a hidden tunnel and rooms, most likely used as a speakeasy. The bar has also been called the Golden Galleon and Mac’s On Third. Today, it’s known as Tommy’s Detroit Bar, named after owner Tommy Burelle, who took over ownership in the mid-2010s.

Although Tommy’s is still a rustic dive bar, it’s known as a top hangout for sports fans due to its free shuttle services. The burgers are often described as some of Detroit’s best.

Linden Hotel (1840)

122 E Broad St, Linden, MI 48451

Believed to be the oldest business still operating in the Flint area, the Linden Hotel is a family restaurant, bar, and grill. When it first opened, it was known only as The Exchange. Later, it became known as the House of Plenty, serving as a hangout for politicians and the local elite to rub elbows in the 1920s and early 1930s. The structure has been significantly modified after the hotel moved from its original location, in addition to multiple fires.

Though they offered overnight lodging as recently as 1998, the Linden Hotel no longer offers lodging. Instead, the second floor has been remodeled into a bar called the Crow’s Nest. The restaurant serves up American fare, with the fish and chips hailed as one of the most popular dishes.

White Horse Inn (1848)

1 E High St, Metamora, MI 48455

The White Horse Inn in Metamora has always been a gathering place, but its incarnations have changed throughout the years. When it was first built in 1848, it was a general store for the then-small village of Metamora. Two years later, after being purchased by Lorenzo Hoard, it became the Hoard House. Hoard turned it into a stagecoach stop and inn for travelers to stay overnight. It’s rumored that Hoard House may have served as an Underground Railroad stop, as well as a brothel. By 1872, the Michigan Central Railroad built a line through Metamora, so the Hoard House began accommodating railway passengers with food and overnight housing. Though Lorenzo Hoard died in 1888, the locals suspect his ghost may still be hanging around the old building, guiding its growth.

In 1923, it became known as the White Horse Inn and, eventually, held the title of Michigan’s longest-running restaurant. During Prohibition, the White Horse Inn became known for its great breakfasts, which were rare offerings out in the country. Between 2012 and 2014, the White Horse Inn closed down after falling into disrepair. However, with some hefty grant money, it received a historic restoration.

Today, the White Horse Inn is known as a gorgeous event venue in addition to a modern restaurant. The outdoor igloos are particularly popular in the winter. The White Horse Inn’s pot roast, Brussels sprouts, and fresh chocolate chip cookies are all hits.

Fenton Hotel Tavern and Grille (1856)

302 N Leroy St, Fenton, MI 48430

The Fenton Hotel Tavern and Grille is a historic fine dining establishment that claims to be Fenton’s only piano bar with live entertainment in the Fenton area. But as one of the oldest bars in Michigan, it also carries a lot of local history.

Built in 1856, when the railroads first came to Fenton, it became known as the Vermont House. The hotel was first built just north of the rail tracks. Over the years, it’s been known as the Fenton House and the Denio House. The hotel temporarily closed during Prohibition, then reopened when it took Genesee County’s first reissued liquor licenses.

The Fenton Hotel has changed ownership many times throughout the years but has consistently served as a restaurant and gathering place. It sustained some damage in 1903 when a resident’s runaway horses knocked down some of the hotel’s support beams on the balcony. At some point in the mid-1900s, the Fenton Hotel ceased lodging operations. However, some paranormal groups claim these upstairs rooms are hotbeds for paranormal activity.

Some of the most popular dining options at the Fenton Hotel include the prime rib, frog legs, and homemade breadsticks.

Remillard’s Bar (1870)

111 S 3rd St, Marquette, MI 49855

Known lovingly by locals as “Remie’s,” Remillard’s Bar is a Marquette institution where cocktails come by the quart. But it’s also housed in the oldest city building used as a tavern in Marquette.

Back in the day, Remie’s was a saloon and boarding house from around 1873 until Prohibition. It’s been known as John V. Lustila’s Saloon and Leander Wiinka’s. Remie’s received its current name when Prohibition ended and local prison guard John Baptist Remillard bought the bar. The Remillard family continued to upkeep the bar until 1990 when the Moddell family purchased it. The Moddells started the trademark 32-ounce drink cup in 1999.

Two Way Inn (1873)

17897 Mt Elliott St, Detroit, MI 48212

Often called Detroit’s oldest bar or oldest dive bar, the Two Way Inn is a modern-day throwback to Wild West-style saloons. It also holds the honor of being one of the first bars to make an exclusive deal with Stroh’s Brewery. Over the years, it has had several business incarnations, primarily through Colonel Philetus Norris.

Norris moved to Michigan from New York in 1930 and founded Prairie Town, later known as Norristown. He built a multi-use store, which included a general store, stagecoach stop, dance hall, post office, and jail. After that, it also served as a brothel and, during Prohibition, a dentist’s office. It’s suspected that by operating as a dentist’s office, the Two Way Inn could continue to serve alcohol legally by doctor’s prescriptions.

Even today, visitors must be buzzed in to gain entry, a reminder of what speakeasies were like. There’s no food menu, but rotating food specials are offered.

Antlers Bar and Restaurant (1875)

804 E Portage Ave, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783

Sault Ste. Marie, located along the Soo Locks, is Michigan’s oldest community, dating back to its settlement in 1668. Among the Soo’s oldest institutions is the Antlers Bar and Restaurant, known originally as the Bucket of Blood Saloon, then during Prohibition, the North Star Ice Cream Parlor.

The Antlers have a particularly quirky story regarding Prohibition. As the story goes, the government caught on to the restaurant’s activities, then operating as an ice cream parlor, which was a front for a speakeasy. The business showed a then-huge profit of $900, or what would be about $16,000 today. The restaurant started its “bells and whistles” tradition of making a great deal of noise using whistles, pots, and horns. At the time, it was to alert patrons to police activity. Today, the tradition is to make a lot of noise whenever a freighter passes in front of the restaurant, or to signify important guests.

More than 200 items, including taxidermy, are mounted on the walls. There are plenty of interesting items to gaze at while enjoying a bowl of poutine or a plate of whitefish.

City Park Grill (1875)

432 E Lake St, Petoskey, MI 49770

During the 1910s and 1920s, writer Ernest Hemingway made northern Michigan his summer home. While Hemingway may live on mostly in his stories, you can trace his footsteps at the City Park Grill, which still has the original 32-foot bar from the 1880s. In Hemingway’s day, it was known as the Annex, which found its way into his short story “Gentleman of the World.”

Back in 1875, the City Park Grill was known as McCarty Hall, a men’s-only club with cigars and alcohol. By 1888, the business changed to the Annex, which also incorporated a restaurant into the business. The adjacent Cushman Hotel encompassed many of the Annex’s patrons.

By the mid-1910s, Ernest Hemingway started patronizing the bar, becoming known for sitting in his usual seat, the second seat from the end of the bar, where he’d write down ideas for short stories and books. When Michigan established Prohibition in 1917, Annex owner Frank Fochtman illegally served alcohol by building secret underground tunnels to the Cushman Hotel. Within a year, Fochtman encountered legal trouble for violating the liquor law and was fined and sentenced to jail.

By 1932, the Annex was renamed the Park Garden Cafe after Fochtman’s nephew took over the business. The bar changed ownership several times until 1997 when the current owners renamed it the City Park Grill.

Today, visitors can still enjoy the original tin ceilings with a hearty helping of chowder or French onion soup.

Alley Bar (1880)

112 W Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Ann Arbor may have plenty of local watering holes, but its oldest is surprisingly the Alley Bar. Over 140 years ago, German immigrant Charles Binder opened a saloon in what was then an industrial district of Ann Arbor, with residents primarily of German descent. Since then, the business has always existed as either a bar or bar/restaurant combo. It has been known by various names, including Bab’s, The Flame, and Liberty Inn.

Today, the Alley Bar shows an affection for 1880s facial hair and old brickwork, while also keeping the atmosphere of a modern dive bar. While they don’t serve food, the menu includes cost-friendly craft beers and cocktails.

Sleder’s Family Tavern (1882)

717 Randolph St, Traverse City, MI 49684

Sleder’s Family Tavern is frequently described as Michigan’s oldest, continually operated restaurant. Found just off a side street in Traverse City, this older restaurant has a tradition of patrons kissing a taxidermied moose.

Sleder’s was started in a neighborhood called Little Bohemia, also known as Slabtown, a working-class neighborhood in Traverse City during the nineteenth century. The neighborhood was made primarily of Bohemians, people originating from the present-day Czech Republic. Vencil Sleder was a Bohemian immigrant and wheelwright who decided to start a tavern where working-class folks could relax after work. Using wooden slabs from nearby sawmills, the construction materials used throughout most of Slabtown, Sleder constructed Sleder’s Family Tavern.

After almost 150 years, Sleder’s still retains the original 21-foot brass rail mahogany bar. The establishment has changed owners over the decades, but retained the same name and much of the original atmosphere. Sleder’s allows patrons to escape to an earlier era with its stamped tin ceiling, antique lamps, and old wooden booths. The most curious part of the atmosphere is the abundant taxidermy on the wall.

The stuffed moose head, lovingly named Randolph, supposedly grants good luck to those who kiss it. Locals and tourists alike have been kissing Randolph since the 1980s, to the point that kissing Randolph is a Traverse City rite of passage.

The Vierling (1883)

119 S Front St, Marquette, MI 49855

While Marquette is currently home to multiple breweries, its first brewpub was the Vierling, an older building that has been a bar going back to 1883.

Martin Vierling, the Vierling’s namesake, sought to get into the retail liquor business. The current location on Front Street was not the first location; Vierling first existed in two other locations, one that burned down in the fire of 1868 and the other that wasn’t in an optimal location. Vierling moved to the present location in 1883 and started a gentleman’s saloon. The bar also included a “sample room,” which was necessary at the time to cater to female clients. The bar continued to operate until the Damon Act outlawed liquor and shut the saloon’s doors.

After Prohibition ended, the Vierling went through several business incarnations, but its original historic bar was not restored until 1985. It became one of Michigan’s first brewpubs in 1995, when the Vierling installed a five-barrel microbrewing system with equipment imported from Hungary. The bar retains its original 100-year-old oak bar and large windows overlooking Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

Painted Lady Saloon (1894)

723 Kosciusko St, Manistee, MI 49660

The Painted Lady Saloon is the oldest bar in Manistee. But considering the rumor mill in Manistee claims that Manistee once had more bars per capita than anywhere else in the state, that’s an impressive feat.

In Manistee’s Maxwelltown, there are a few bars that have stood the test of time, but the oldest is the Painted Lady. This saloon is housed in a building constructed in the 1880s. Maxwelltown itself is named after John C. Maxwell, a lumber baron who owned the lumber mill on Manistee Lake and bought much of the property in Maxwelltown.

The Painted Lady, formerly called the G and L Bar and Zeggers Tavern, was one of Manistee’s many bars at the turn of the century. But during Prohibition, it turned into a pharmacy, then turned back into a bar after Prohibition ended. Due to its proximity to US-31, which used to be a primary business and truck route, the Painted Lady has been particularly popular among folks passing through. Visitors today are fond of the prime rib and the French dip sandwiches.

Shute’s Bar (1895)

322 6th St, Calumet, MI 49913

Michigan’s copper industry days may be long gone, but you can still relive the copper mining boom at Shute’s Bar (pronounced Shoo-teez) in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Shute’s Bar is one bar that claims to be Michigan’s longest continually running bar.

Located near the Calumet Theatre, the bar was originally a two-story house that was modified into an Italian-style saloon, with a new front portion that sat further back on the lot. It was first known as Curto’s Place, after owner Marco Curto. Eventually, after 1897, he demolished the remaining house part and built a back portion onto the existing front portion.

Between 1916 and 1926, the Shute family took over and adjusted operations for Prohibition. The bar sold “near beer” and soft drinks officially, but according to the family, may have also illegally sold alcohol in the basement.

Though the Shute family no longer owns the bar, the village of Calumet helps preserve the historical value of Shute’s, particularly the elaborate back-bar and stained-glass canopy.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.The 16 oldest bars in MichiganThe 16 oldest bars in Michigan

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