Food & Drink

It goes to 11: Detroit's 11 most iconic music bars

Published On 07/23/2014 Published On 07/23/2014

Detroit Rock City and Detroit Techno City are the children of Detroit Blues City and Detroit Jazz City -- this place has never suffered for a lack of musical diversity and talent. Many venues have shuttered over the years -- some have wilted away back into the Earth and others have reopened to new generations. Some are easy to find, while some are purposefully hidden. Some are regarded as "safe", while the location of others may leave you cleaning "Detroit diamonds" out of your car’s interior for weeks. Here's our list of the 11 most iconic music bars still going today -- smaller in size, but massive in reach and scope, all of which have contributed for some time to our city’s reputation as an incubator of all music genres.

Cliff Bell's

Cliff Bell's

2030 Park Ave
Established in 1935 and shuttered in the '80s, this historic gem officially reopened in 2006. A commonly traversed jazz club, its namesake was a major player in keeping Detroit sauced during Prohibition.

The Raven Lounge

The Raven Lounge

5145 Chene St
Rumored to be the oldest continuously operating blues bar in the state, this place is completely off the beaten path. It's well known and worth seeking out for its soul food and authentic blues, so maybe your dancing will work off a fraction of that fried chicken and mac & cheese.

Baker's Keyboard Lounge

Baker's Keyboard Lounge

20510 Livernois Ave
Officially opened in 1939, Baker’s is a true and internationally recognized legend. Musicians who have played the club include: Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and Nat King Cole -- to name but a few. Order up a plate of fried pork chops, collard greens, and yams to enjoy at the keyboard-inspired bar.

Harpos Concert Theatre

Harpos

14238 Harper Ave
This truly is THE Detroit metal bar. It lies in a sketchy neighborhood (that’s Detroit sketchy, which in other cities would translate to nearly inaccessible), it has hosted the likes of Iron Maiden, Ronnie James Dio, Type O Negative, Pantera, and GWAR. In its sordid history, the theater-turned-rock-venue has also occasionally hosted hardcore hip-hop, including Esham, an iconic character himself.

I-Rock Nightclub Detroit

I-Rock Nightclub

16350 Harper Ave
Just about a mile down the road from Harpos lies another Detroit Rock City institution. Patti Smith Group, Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate, ICP, and... brace yourself... Corey Feldman have all graced the stage here.

Chris Lawrence Photography

Small's

10339 Conant St
This intimate Hamtramck rock club has attracted major national acts such as the Melvins, Jello Biafra, Fu Manchu, William Elliott Whitmore, Mark Lanegan, and a slew of local acts. When it's packed, the energy is palpable. It's unrefined, but not unclean. Tough, but not rude. There's a bit of a uniform here, which includes wearing a band T-shirt, and all black -- extra points for a leather jacket.

Saint Andrew's Hall

The Shelter

431 E Congress St
Tucked in the basement of the famous and much larger St. Andrews Hall, this is where Eminem famously choked during one of his first performances. It's hosted some major acts on the eve of their stardom, including the Deftones and Queens of the Stone Age. It's a bit funky -- in the basement sense -- but as a rock bar, and a techno and hip-hop venue, few would be able to argue with its prominence on the scene.  

TV Lounge

TV Lounge

2548 Grand River Ave
Decidedly THE live techno/electronic music bar, TV Lounge also hosts its share of hip-hop. As Detroit is the birthplace of techno music, many of the genre's forefathers have performed legendary shows here -- think Carl Craig and Kevin Saunderson. One of the definitive Movement Festival after-party locations, TV Lounge hosts plenty of dilated pupils well past sunrise. This place is about as close to a rave as you can get. 

Old Miami

Old Miami

3930 Cass Ave
Established in 1975 as a haven for Vietnam veterans, the Old Miami has been called "the CBGB of the Midwest" for its history as a music venue. Almost every notable artist from Detroit has performed on its stage, as well as many national groups. It has arguably the best outdoor seating, bar, and stage area in the city. Depending on the night, the feel will change from rock bar to hip-hop haven to a full-on rave vibe.

Leland City Club

Leland City Club

400 Bagley St
Established sometime in the early '90s, this is billed as the most famous "industrial nightclub" in Detroit, and with reason. It's definitely tops for people watching and the crowd starts to swell late in the evening as this is a well-known after-hours joint.

Stonehouse Bar

Stonehouse

19803 Ralston St
Supposedly the oldest continuously operating bar in Michigan, it is rumored to have been a hangout for Prohibition-era Detroit gangsters, the Purple Gang -- and a brothel at one time. Certainly in a questionable neighborhood, but well-known on the blues circuit.

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1. Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

Hands-down Detroit's finest cabaret club, Cliff Bell's is a cocktail bar, restaurant, and entertainment destination with dramatic Art Deco décor that includes a curved wood ceiling, mahogany leather banquettes, and a vintage Steinway grand piano. Stop by to wash down great jazz and burlesque with quality martinis and other beverages mixed by well dressed and professional bartenders.

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2. The Raven Lounge 5145 Chene St, Detroit, MI 48211

Potentially the oldest continuously operating blues bar in the state, The Raven Lounge is a bit out of the way, but totally worth the trip for some authentic blues and soul food.

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3. Baker's Keyboard Lounge 20510 Livernois Ave, Detroit, MI 48221

What began as a humble sandwich joint in 1933 turned into a piano bar in the early 40s, at which point it became a pivotal venue in the history of American jazz. A frequent haunt for the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum, and Miles Davis, Baker's is still thriving today, with touring musicians providing nightly jazz and weekly comedy shows in an authentic Art Deco space. Entertainment aside, the kitchen here is serious about soul food: succulent barbecue wings and ribs reign supreme, and regional tastes like grilled perch and whiting are equally as satisfying.

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4. Harpos 142388 Harper, Detroit, MI 48213

Found in a slightly sketchy neighborhood, Harpos is an original metal institution in Detroit that's been played by everyone from Iron Maiden to GWAR.

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5. I-Rock Nightclub 16350 Harper Ave, Detroit, MI 48224

Just a mile down the road from the iconic Harpos, I-Rock is also a legendary establishment, having hosted the likes of Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate, and ICP.

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6. Small's 10339 Conant St, Hamtramck, MI 48212 (Hamtramck)

Small's is a legendary spot that's brought in acts like the Melvins, Jello Biafra, and Fu Manchu. This corner neighborhood bar doubles as a rock venue and club-- both local and international bands and DJs come to perform. Choose from a wide selection of beers and well liquors. The bar's gorgeous, antiquated Art Deco theme (complete with multicolor stained glass windows) recalls the Motor City's golden years. Plus, once a month Small’s hosts Ray & Laura’s Comedy Showcase, a show run by two two Hamtramck comedians (which means they’re hilarious, and also likely buzzed) that invites independent local and national acts to take the newly inaugurated stage in the bar’s front room for celebrity guest impersonators, game show parodies, and good ol’ fashioned stand-up.

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7. Saint Andrew's Hall 431 E Congress St, Detroit, MI 48224

Built in 1907, Saint Andrews Hall is three music venues rolled into one old Downtown Scottish Society meeting spot. Upstairs is The Society Room, an exclusive high-ceilinged, exposed-brick lounge with a full bar, high tops, and chesterfields. On the main floor you will also find a full bar, but instead of tables it’s a music hall complete with balconies that has hosted legends like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Adele on its small stage. Through a back ally entrance is The Shelter, a bar and music venue in the basement where there are regular DJs and other musical entertainment. Throughout Saint Andrews you will find over 80 different beers and the whole gamut of spirits for cocktails and shots.

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8. TV Lounge 2548 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

TV Lounge is the premier dance and electronic music bar in Detroit, and hosts plenty of Movement Festival after-parties and hip-hop acts as well.

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9. Old Miami 3930 Cass Ave, Detroit, MI 48201 (Midtown)

Owned and operated by a Vietnam vet, this place is where the old war heroes hang out, thus the big comfy couches with flannel blankets, ancient rifles hanging from the ceiling, and of course, High Life on draft.

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10. City Club 400 Bagley St, Detroit, MI 48226

Leland City Club is THE industrial nightclub in Detroit, and has been pumping out the jams since sometime in the early '90s.

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11. Stonehouse Bar 19803 Ralston St, Detroit, MI 48203

This bar is so old-school, it is rumored to have been a hangout for Prohibition-era Detroit gangsters, the Purple Gang -- and even a brothel at one time. Hypotheses aside, this bar today has a coveted Victorian-style covered front porch, a jukebox, cold beer, and cheap prices that may explain all the regulars.

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