Typically change is hard and laced with anxiety. Even if change is for the better, we still long for the days that have since passed, often when times were “simpler”. Nostalgia is as popular now as it has ever been. Period pieces, retro flashbacks, reboots, origin stories; these are all present in today’s movies, television, fashion, video games, etc. One such period piece captured the imagination of America when it premiered in 2006. I’m speaking of the AMC network television series “Mad Men”. The 1960’s clothing, hairstyles and music all made a comeback thanks to the nostalgia evoked by this very well produced show. With “Mad Men” coming to an end soon, I’d like to celebrate this series with a review of a Detroit bar that could very well transport you to a simpler time.
The Buhl Bar, located at 535 Griswold St. at the base of the historic Buhl Building, is a time capsule. It exists in Detroit’s Financial District and is only open Monday through Friday during “cocktail hour” (better known as 3 pm to 8 pm). The Buhl Bar isn’t trying to cater to the suburban crowd coming down for a hockey game. They’re not looking to attract college students with shot girls and club music. They’re for an after work crowd if you work at a place like Sterling Cooper. Strong, classic drinks (beer is available too) and good conversation are all that is on the menu. There’s a plate of cheese and crackers available to all for snacking on, but if you’re here, that’s not why you’re here.
When approaching the building the bar may be hard to find. It doesn’t have a flashy sign in front, in fact you may not even know it’s there when you walk by, though, it seems appropriately quaint. It’s not hidden like a speakeasy, it just doesn’t need some big, gaudy, colorful sign to entice spectators. It’s just…classy. This remains true after stepping inside. Dark blue walls and dark wooden furniture soothe your eyes from the sunlight. The space is small, but warmed with the soft glow of old style lamps that are fastened to the all wood bar. If this had been a different time in Detroit’s history, perhaps only a few years earlier before Michigan’s smoking ban, one could picture intermittent plumes of fire and a cloud of smoke from the endless stream of cigarettes and cigars flaring up. There’s a barely audible jazz track being piped in that adds a velvety calm to the room.
The bartender is as much a callback to an older era as the bar in which he works. He’s no frills and won’t take your lack of respect in his bar, but he’s also a gentleman and he’ll be there to listen to the story you need to tell. He’ll make small talk or he’ll give you your space. He’s got high-end liquor for the connoisseur, all the way down to mid-level liquor for the mid-range executive who needs to own up to his expenditures to the missus. The drink prices are what you’d expect for the types of liquors you’re drinking. Don’t expect foo-foo or cutesy named drinks, just the classics. Manhattan. Vodka Gimlet. Whiskey Sour. Old Fashioned.
The patrons are mostly business men and women. Suits and skirts of all calibers and costs. Most have their ties loosened, some have their sleeves rolled up. Some are sunken into their drink, others are telling war stories to a group. They seem relaxed as though they’ve done this before. This is their place. A place that can live in its own time and never have to change. This can be your place too. You don’t have to wear a suit or a dress, but once you see the scenery, once you take in the ambiance and the atmosphere you’ll want to dress the part.
We live in a time of distraction. Created by us and by others for a variety of purposes, but none-the-less with the goal to keep us constantly busy and forever seeking for the next best thing. The Buhl Bar doesn’t have a single TV. It’s not meant to distract you with shiny objects. The bar will provide you with a place to sit, a drink and the opportunity for a good conversation. That is all. It does what it does, and it does it well. This may sound old fashioned and that’s because, well, it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just simpler.
As we bid adieu to “Mad Men” by toasting our Old Fashioneds one last time, we prepare for what’s next because, after all, we know that’s how life works. But it’s nice to know that at some time in the future, whenever we get the urge or a need for that familiar sensation, The Buhl Bar is there to bring us back. Back to a simpler time. To a place where things don’t have to change and the forgotten drink tastes the best.
For more information on The Buhl Bar you can check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/TheBuhlBar or call (313) 963-6118.