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Take a Tour of Hamtramck's Hidden Bar Houses

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This post authored by Serena Maria Daniels


The housing stock in Hamtramck is, for the most part, pretty monotonous. Early 20th century, wood frame two flats and bungalows, very utilitarian. But if you look closely, some of the houses look, well, odd. Like they could be old-timey saloons. If that's ever crossed your mind, that's because many of them were, in fact, saloons, bars and taverns.
The 2-square-mile enclave was once jam packed with more bars per capita than any other city in the United States. At its peak, Hamtramck was home to some 200-300 watering holes, tucked right into neighborhoods all over town, said Greg Kowalski, the city's resident historian. In fact, before the city incorporated in 1922, the trustees of the then village of Hamtramck were saloon keepers.

Kowalski says there were a couple of reasons for this high concentration of corner dives. First, most of the city's inhabitants worked back-breaking jobs at the Dodge Main plant that drove them to drink themselves silly before AND after their shifts. Second, Hamtramck's population flourished at the height of Detroit's bootlegging hay day when scofflaws slid across the icy Detroit River with barrels of hooch to distribute throughout the Upper Midwest.

Today, the number of Hamtown bars has shrunk considerably. Hamtramckbars.com says the city has a mere 40 bars or so within its limits. They range from your bare bones shot-and-a-beer joint (think Baker Streetcar Bar), to family-friendly (Polish Village), to the legendary music venues .

Many of the bars that have shuttered in Hamtramck have been converted into quirky dwellings, with much of the original exterior design intact. How can you tell? Does the front door face the corner? It was once a bar. If the door's in the middle, but facade is squarish, it probably was a mom-and-pop store, where one could pick up a cold one on their way home from work.

We recently counted at least eight between Holbrook and Caniff, along Brombach and Lumpkin streets. Next time you're in town, look closely and try to see how many hidden, former watering holes you can count and let us know what you come up with!