Monday, January 19, 2009

Detroit's Historic Drinking Establishments

When the French landed on the banks of the Detroit River in the early 17th century, they brought their love of alcohol with them. The French opened their homes to the community to share in their love of fine food and drink, but it was the British that brought the public drinking establishment to Detroit. Arcadia Publishing's latest "Images of America" release Detroit's Historic Drinking Establishments explores the rich history of alcohol on the Straits of Detroit.

The book's title does a bit of a disservice to the material within. Author Victoria Jennings Ross' work is far more encompassing. With chapters devoted to Detroit's early hotels, cigar industry, breweries, and Prohibition, The History of Drinking in Detroit would be more appropriate.

Detroit bars started off as taverns for local residents. As Detroit became a travel destination in the 19th century, the business community had to shift its focus from serving residents to serving visitors. During this time hotel bars took up the mantle of hosting civic affairs from the tavern. Several included menus from this period show us whatDetroiters were eating and drinking at the time.

At the heart of the book, however, are chapters focusing on Detroit's Saloon and Cocktail Lounge eras.

By the turn of the 20th century the saloon era had taken over the city and there were over 1,400 bars in Detroit or one for every 70 men over the age of 20. This is reflected in the numerous pages dedicated to photographs and brief passages relating to the lost gems of pre-prohibition Detroit.

When Detroit was at its apex, the Detroit bar scene evolved further. Riding on the coattails of the jazz scene cabaret style clubs sprang up bringing elaborate floor shows and big name entertainers to Detroit. These venues eventually gave birth to the cocktail lounges of later years. There was quite a lot going on in the city at the time and the proof is in the photos, advertisements and menus contained within this book.

Pubs and the like have been at the core of Detroit's social being since the city's inception. Whether it be an elegant hotel bar where the city's elite would wheel and deal, or a neighborhood saloon where one of the city's various emigrant populations would socialize, Detroit had a bar for everyone. That tradition that still holds true today and Detroit's Historic Drinking Establishments goes a long way towards reminding us of our rich drinking heritage.

Photos reprinted with permission from Detroit's Historic Drinking Establishments, by Victoria Jennings Ross. Available from the publisher online at or by calling (888) 313-2665.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Those are my favorite books. I have 3 or 4 of them and am going to add more to my collection.