Saturday, September 3, 2016

We walk into a bar in Michigan

Glengary Inn, Wolverine Lake

“I don’t drink, so I don’t know what they taste like.”

It was an unusual admission from a bartender. Someone had asked for a Stroh’s beer; Stacy had offered the choice of the new or the old bottle. The man at the bar asked what the difference was. And that’s how Stacy the bartender answered his question.

We asked about her about it later, and she said that she didn’t like beer or most liquor but she there were a few cocktails she enjoyed. (I was glad to hear it wasn’t a Sam Malone situation for a problem drinker who worked as a bartender.)

We could sympathize with Stacy, since we’ve made a commitment to visit a bar in every state and we don’t like beer -- which is why we went with ciders this week, which we do enjoy. (Angry Orchard again for Mindy and McKenzie’s Black Cherry for the first time for me) But the fact that Stacy couldn’t really help with personal recommendations about drinks didn’t seem to bother anyone we talked to, as everyone had kind words about her and the rest of the staff and ownership at Glengary Inn.

We choose to go to the Glengary Inn partly because it was near where we were staying (my nephew’s place). We could have gone into Detroit, perhaps a scary bar in the future home of Robocop, but instead we went to a nice little neighborhood bar with good Yelp reviews and local press awards (Best Sports Bar, Best Fish and Chips, and Best Burgers).

The first customer we talked to, Gary, said he’d experienced the bar with a couple of different owners. The former owners “weren’t progressive”. By that he meant the staff wasn’t particularly friendly or accommodating to guests. He described the new owners as “magnanimous Pied Pipers” who have cultivated a following. He described the owners, JR and Linda, as “salt of the earth;” he said they know everyone and treat everyone well. He said they weren’t in the business just to make money, “their objective is grander than the daily deposits. I mean, this place is Cheers.” He added that they make the bar a fun place to be and that they host festive events like Euchre* nights. “You really landed in a great sweet spot,” he added. “It’s that bar everybody thought Archie Bunker went to at the end of his street.”

Gary talked a bit about bars that were the opposite of the Glengary Inn. There was a place in Illinois called Poor Pats that downright scary. “You had to drink 100 proof liquors to kill the germs on the glasses. The only possible reason you would go in there was that you were desperate for a drink.”

Most of the good things Gary said about Glengary Inn were in response to our standard bar question, “What makes for a good bar?” For him, Glengary Inn was an appropriate answer to that question. We also asked him our other standard question, “Whether you go or not, what makes for a good church?”

Gary said, “I’ve spent an exceedingly large percentage of my life in Catholic churches.” By his observation, it is important to have “a cohesive parish council is in synch with the parish priest.”  Sometimes, he said, a priest will come in thinking he has “a direct line to God” and make changes on his own initiative, such as firing a youth worker or worship leader who’s been doing good work just to bring in his own people.

He spoke favorably about a former priest, Father Bill, who was “approachable and embraced people. When it was time to sprinkle the holy water, he made sure everybody got sprinkled...You got touched.” A good church, he said, has “room in the tent for everybody.”

We also asked Stacy the bartender our two questions. As for what made for a good bar, she said, “The clients, the people, and my staff.” She spoke fondly of the people who came to this bar, “We don’t get the riff-raff, we don’t get the drama.” She also said the quality of the food was important, noting the awards the kitchen had earned. (We had a couple of the sliders, which cost two dollars apiece and are quite good.) She said that she wouldn’t know what made for a good church, since she didn’t go. When we pressed a bit for an answer, she said, “The pastor or preacher or whatever, and probably the community of people, too.”

I heard a couple of the guys at the bar talking baseball. (The Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Soxs were playing on the TVs, and the Sox were winning.) I was wearing an Oakland A’s shirt (one of my standard fashion choices), so we talked about the Tigers/A’s playoff serieses over the last few years. They (kindly) didn’t rub in the Oakland losses. I mentioned that we would be going to Illinois in a couple of weeks and Tim and T. asked me to remind people there that Lake Michigan is “our lake.”

This was Tim’s first time at Glengary. T. is a local and was introducing him to the place. (T. also said the new ownership had done much to improve the Inn.) I asked them what made for a good bar. Tim said, “A good bartender that you don’t mind talking to and had a heavy hand making good drinks.”

T. seemed happy if there were “sliders and Stroh’s”.

As for what made for a good church, they both spoke of good music from a good band. A local Hispanic congregation has a great bass player, good music. Tim said, “Good music is much more fun than a preachy sermon.”  They also added that air conditioning was a must.

I talked to one more guy as the bar (Mindy pointed out after we left that she had been the only woman in the place besides two women on the staff). William said that the atmosphere was important in a bar, “laid back, fun, and good food; good prices on drinks.”  As for church, he said, “I stopped going years ago.” I asked him why, and he said, “Personal reasons. The war was going on and there were a lot of conflict of interests.” (I thought about saying that when the war was going on, there were a variety of stands churches took on the issue, but it really was time for us to be going.)

When Mindy first suggested going to the Glengary Inn, I couldn’t help thinking of the David Mamet play and film, Glengarry Glen Ross about shady real estate salesmen. Fortunately, the folks at Glengary Inn seem to be the real deal.

*The game of euchre has origins among the German settlers of the Midwest. According to Wikipedia, it introduced the Joker to the modern playing card deck.


  1. Congratulations! You were lucky enough to find the gem we called the Glengary inn. Linda an JR have made a wonderful place were folks can hang out and just relax. It doesn't matter who you came with her who are you sitting next to your guaranteed to have a Great time and meet good people. I enjoyed reading your review and look forward to visiting some of the other places you have reviewed.

  2. Very nice review for a great place! I'm sorry there weren't any women there at that particular time, Mindy! There's usually quite a few, including myself! Linda and JR are great hosts and thier staff is great!

    1. We just hit an odd moment, I guess, but everyone made us feel very welcome.

  3. You picked the best bar around! Linda and JR have created such a great atmosphere, whether your are there alone or with a group there is always someone to talk with, a place where everyone feels comfortable and welcome. I am also surprised she was the only woman in the bar, there are usually more than a few. Agreed definitely a local gem that is often filled with both regulars and first timers alike. The Glengary Inn is one of a kind, the customers are friendly, the wait staff is always kind and helpful and the food is fantastic!

  4. Yes, Linda and JR are "the real deal"!! As with any business, the culture starts at the top!Been going to the Glengary for many years, always a fun place but better than ever now!

  5. You were quite lucky to run into Gary and you would have been even more lucky to have met his son who lives two doors down. A true Michigan pub!