Ye Olde Tap Room is Detroit’s third-oldest bar and has  been a longtime staple of the city’s east side.

Ye Olde Tap Room is Detroit’s third-oldest bar and has been a longtime staple of the city’s east side.

Photo by Sean Work

Ye Olde Tap Room endures as a classic neighborhood bar for more than 100 years

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published January 9, 2018

 Ye Olde Tap Room’s manager, Matt Armstrong, preserves the bar’s history and tradition.

Ye Olde Tap Room’s manager, Matt Armstrong, preserves the bar’s history and tradition.

Photo by Sean Work

DETROIT — The idea of the old corner bar has often given way to larger chains or constantly changing establishments, but Ye Olde Tap Room in Detroit has maintained its local “bar down the street” atmosphere for 105 years.

Opened in 1912, the 105-year-old bar has been a mainstay on Detroit’s east side for thousands of people. The third-oldest bar in the city, it is filled with a sense of history. It’s walls are covered with photos, memorabilia and other signs of decades of continuous use.

“I try to keep the traditions of this bar going,” said Matt Armstrong, the bar’s manager. “We have a lot of older patrons — our oldest regular is 92 years old — and I want people like him to feel this is the same place they came to in the 1950s.”

Armstrong, who has run the bar for the last 16 years, handles the day-to-day operations on behalf of its owner, Russell Mack. Armstrong ensures the classic atmosphere of the bar is maintained and that there’s always a wide selection of beers and other drinks for customers to choose from.

He said the key to the bar’s longevity is always putting its customers first and ensuring it remains the same place people remember from years before.

“Luckily, I believe we’re still embraced as a local corner bar when a lot of others have come and gone,” remarked Armstrong. “We still have those patrons who come here looking for that local community feeling. We’ve always had a good core group of people who are sort of a family.”

Armstrong said the building itself dates back to the 1800s when it began as a trolley repair garage. It went through a variety of owners throughout the years after being converted into a bar, including some less-than-reputable benefactors.

“There was a bar downstairs during Prohibition,” explained Armstrong. “Upstairs was a barber and a Belgian grocery store, but downstairs was an illegal bar with a dumbwaiter going upstairs to the apartments that had these little, tiny rooms. The second floor may have been a gambling den and had prostitution going on. We’re pretty sure it was a Purple Gang operation. We did some digging, and there’s so much history here.”

He said there are countless stories about things that have taken place in the bar, including a pigeon racing ring and a gun club that would fire weapons in the basement.

Armstrong said the history of Ye Olde Tap Room is best seen in those who frequent it.

“I love the characters and the taproom lore,” laughed Armstrong. “When people come in and say this is where they had their first drink, or this is where their grandparents met, it always blows me away.”

Shawn Dempsey, from Armada, and Paul Kurtz, of Chesterfield Township, who were interviewed coming from a Detroit Lions football game with some friends, have made it their tradition to stop by Ye Olde Tap Room every time they go into the city. They have been visiting the bar since the 1980s, and they said it is a unique and special place.

“I think the place is unique,” said Dempsey. “It’s got a warm feeling. You come here with your friends. It’s laid-back and you can just come in and relax; it always has been that kind of place.”

“The bartenders have whatever you like, and if you ask them to find something for you, they’ll pull out something great that you’ve never even heard of,” added Kurtz. “If you only ever drink Bud Light or Miller Light, they’ll find something new. If you like beer, this is your place.”

Armstrong prides himself and his staff on their beer knowledge. He said people can come in and describe what they like or dislike, and the bartender can provide them with different styles at different prices for them to try.

“If you’re a beer guy or a beer girl, we try to have something you like and something you’ve never tried before,” said Armstrong. “We have more than 300 different beers available at any given time. We want people to be impressed.”

Armstrong said he hopes the bar is always there, at the corner of Alter Road and Charlevoix Street, to serve as a constant presence for people and a great place to drop by and chat with some friends or meet some new ones.

“Although we have customers of all ages, we’ve always prided ourselves as an adult bar for adults,” said Armstrong. “There’s no fights or trouble. We don’t play the games of college bars. ... We just try to be the comfortable place where you can get an old favorite or try something new.”