There are lot of places in Detroit 2.0 to get craft cocktails in loft-like spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows and stamped tin ceilings. But what has happened to the old-fashioned blue-collar Detroit dive bar? Even the diviest of dives in Midtown (The Bronx, Jumbo's, Temple Bar) have been infiltrated with all manner of oversized glasses and possibly ironic facial hair. At that point, the inherent "divieness" becomes a decided (and marketable) aesthetic instead of a natural state of being.
Now, if you want real dives, like real low-down dumps full of old dudes smoking cigarettes (even though Michigan passed the smoking ban four years ago), you have to look a little bit further out. It's the once-promised land of Hamtramck – named a bit prematurely as one of the "15 hippest places to live" by Utne Reader in 1997, which also included Williamsburg, Wicker Park, and Los Feliz (back when they were all actually sh*tholes) on their list, and look what happened to those places.
Yet, Hamtramck remains the last bastion of unpolluted divebardom in Detroit. It's just dirty and nasty and grubby and skeezy, all crust punks and unemployed theatre rats and dudes who work manual labor jobs by day and play hardcore shows at night, where your worth as a Detroiter is judged not by how many mobile app startups you have launched, but by how many bands you have played in -- and it's brilliant. Bless you, Hamtramck, for all that you are, and please don't ever change.
If you've never been to Whiskey in the Jar before, you get a mandatory "Welcome to Hamtramck" introductory Jezy shot. Things get weird from there. They are known to throw themed parties, like the annual tracksuit party, for no reason. There is also a "rattalope" displayed at the bar. For no reason. And if you're looking for a little bit of political activism – if by "activism" you mean sitting at the bar and talking about how you would fix the city/state/country/world, and your politics are decidedly liberal – they even have a group for you to join! It's Detroit's most politically active bar, really.
A holdover from Hamtramck's primarily Polish days, the PSL is the ultimate old-timer bar/private club that allows guests, known for their annual Opening Day and Paczki Day parties. Because people in Hamtramck celebrate Paczki Day like it's St. Patrick's Day.
One of several bars to claim the title "oldest bar in Detroit," the Two Way Inn has been open since 1876 and has been, at various points in time, a hotel, a brothel, a jail, a general store, a blind pig, and a bar. And it's haunted. Stop by for some homemade soups or Sloppy Joes, and to generally just feel like you're hanging out at your buddy's house. Which just happens to be a century-old former brothel that's haunted.
You ever heard of Panic in Hamtramck? Of course not, go back to doing pickle back shots at The Bronx and talking about your social entrepreneurship plans. Panic in Hamtramck is a punk festival that's been going on for a decade now, and it's held at the Painted Lady Lounge. Oh, you thought Blowout was the only music festival in Hamtramck? F*** Blowout. Panic was started by artist/musician/frontman/chef Tim Lampinen, aka Timmy Vulgar, aka the guy behind Timmy's Organism, aka the guy who does Timmy's Tacos on Wednesdays at the Painted Lady, which you should go and eat.
Live bands, karaoke, open mic stand-up, burgers, "the game" on TV whenever applicable. It's a neighborhood dive bar for one and all, provided the smoke doesn't bother you. (Clearly it bothers the ALL CAPS one-star folks on Yelp. Clearly those people haven’t spent much time in Vegas or New Orleans, where the better the dive bar, the smokier it is).
It's a tiny little bar that happens to be the hotspot for all the local theatre rats -- of which there are surprisingly many, thanks to places like the nearby Planet Ant Theatre and the bar's comedy open mic night every second and fourth Tuesday. The walls are even lined with headshots of Detroit Famous performers, some of whom have gone on to be legit famous-famous. This isn’t a place to go day drinking though; the crowds don't get going until later in the night, and the doors don't even open until 7pm.
Without incriminating anyone (including the author), let's just say there was a time in Detroit's lawless, wild-west late '90s/early '00 days when Paycheck's was reliably quite lax when it came to certain... enforcement policies. Some things have changed, but Paycheck's remains a hell of a dive, and Hamtramck's oldest live music venue, still bringing in a weirdo mix of punk bands, hardcore/metal bands, industrial bands, punk tribute bands, singer-songwriters, and whatnots, with a proper stage and everything (and not just some dudes set up in the corner of the bar).
Paycheck's might be the oldest live music venue, but Small's is arguably the most well-known. They also have your punk, your hardcore, your metal, your industrial, your '80s new wave/goth/industrial/harsh electro DJ dance parties, your occasional acoustic set, your comedy nights, your proper music stage, etc etc etc. It just celebrated its 15-year anniversary, and it's safe to say that Small's is a Hamtramck dive bar concert hall icon.
It's a dive bar.
It's a dive bar that is also a Moose Lodge that does a number of community events and fundraisers (because it is a Moose Lodge) and also has fish fry dinner Fridays during Lent (because Polish Catholic) that kicks off with a big Paczki Day breakfast (because Hamtramck).
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1. Whiskey In The Jar2741 Yemans St, Hamtramck
2. Polish Sea League2601 Edwin St, Hamtramck
3. Two Way Inn17897 Mount Elliott St, Detroit
4. Painted Lady Lounge2930 Jacob St, Hamtramck
5. New Dodge Lounge8850 Joseph Campau St, Hamtramck
6. Seven Brothers Bar11831 Joseph Campau St, Hamtramck
7. Paycheck's Lounge2932 Caniff St, Hamtramck
8. Small's10339 Conant St, Hamtramck
9. Suzy's Bar2942 Evaline St, Hamtramck
10. Kelly's Bar2403 Holbrook St, Hamtramck
11. Hank's Bar3001 Holbrook St, Hamtramck
12. Hamtramck Moose Lodge9421 Conant St, Hamtramck
Named after an Irish-folk-song-turned-Metallica-classic and situated in a Polish neighborhood, Whiskey in the Jar sets its cultural bar high. But thanks to a diverse crowd and an even more varied selection of beers, bar-goers shed their differences at the door and unite for evenings of singing, dancing, and, of course, drinking. Here, wood-paneled walls are bedecked with beer advertisements, Christmas lights are posted all year long, and -- perhaps most importantly -- the digital jukebox plays songs of all genres. After a few drinks, you’ll want to snap a photo with the resident “ratalope,” a taxidermied rodent whose dignity was once stolen and replaced with antlers.
Polish Sea League is a neighborhood, been-around-forever bar. They offer cheap drinks and a nice selection of bar diversions (pool, darts, juke box, etc). And if you're Polish? Even better.
The Two Way Inn, established in 1876 by Colonel Philetus Norris, is the oldest bar in Detroit having gone through many reincarnations as village jail and general store, brothel, speakeasy, and now as a “fine dive.” You wont find a menu here, but owner and bartender Mary will host a weekly “popup” or two with homemade comfort foods like pasta, meatloaf, and shepherd’s pie. The first Sunday of every cold-season month Danielle hosts a brunch where she makes drinks from her homemade stash of vegetable infused alcohol. You have to be buzzed in for a bottle of domestic, international, or local craft beer, or to catch a glimpse of Col. Norris who is rumored to have never left this dark, weathered, underground-style bar.
Hamtramck’s Painted Lady lounge (rumored to be Detroit’s oldest) could use a paint job, sure, with turquoise and coral pink chips falling off of the wood-sided facade of a former Victorian-style home, but fixing that would betray the standby’s unpretentious, rough-and-tumble charm. Regulars gulp PBR on-tap after downing well shots as regular punk music acts keep them nodding their heads in the fashionably unfashionable orange-walled space. Weekly events, from movie nights to live comedy to bar-side taco nights keep the place full.
New Dodge Lounge is an old-school, no-frills concert venue/bar. Come when you know a good act will be onstage. Just be prepared: people smoke like chimneys in here.
Seven Brothers is a classic hole-in-the-wall dive bar. For decades, this local haunt has been serving cheap drinks to loyal fans.
Paycheck's is Hamtramck's oldest live music venue, and they still bring in a mix of punk bands, hardcore/metal bands, industrial bands, punk tribute bands, singer-songwriters, and whatnots, with a proper stage and everything.
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.
Suzy's is a cozy dive bar in Downtown Hamtramck with cheap drinks and lots of regulars.
Kelly's is a Hamtramck dive bar with cheap drinks and tasty food. Be sure to go on a Thursday, when tacos are 50 cents, and domestic beers are two dollars. Locals, bikers, and hipster clientele flock to this Irish spot for its gritty IDGAF attitude, generous pours, and the likelihood that when it gets late, the scene will get rowdy.
Hank's in Hamtramck offers up cheap drinks in a very dive-y atmosphere with a jukebox blasting '80s music.
It's a dive bar that is also a Moose Lodge, that does a number of community events and fundraisers (because it is a Moose Lodge) and also has fish fry dinner Fridays during Lent (because Polish Catholic) that kicks off with a big Pączki Day breakfast (because Hamtramck).