Nailing down Lansing’s oldest bar is a tricky proposition. In one sense, there are no bars that predate Lansing’s extended prohibition, which ended with the end of national Prohibition in 1933. Then there’s the issue of ownership. While the locations of many of the earliest bars are still bars today, most of Lansing’s oldest bars have changed hands and/or names since the 1930s, some several times. And then there’s the matter of evidence. Reconstructing the lineage of these bars means cobbling together city directory listings, newspaper clippings and oral histories — and even then some details are fuzzy. But, after weighing the
West side pub Harry's Place is Lansing's longest running family-owned bar.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

information available, one name jumps to the top of the list: Harry’s Place.

Harry’s Place is Lansing’s longest running family-owned bar. Harea Bates is the third-generation owner of the pub. Bates’ great-uncle and the bar’s namesake, Harry Andros, opened the business as the Star Café at 404 N. Verlinden Ave. in 1922. The café was named after the Star automobile, a product of the now-defunct Durant Motors factory that stood across the street from the café. The bar changed its name to Harry’s Place in the late ‘50s.

For years, the only Lansing bar that rivaled Harry’s Place’s longevity was the east side’s Emil’s Restaurant (2012 E. Michigan Ave.). Emil’s dubbed itself “Lansing’s oldest restaurant,” but here you get into semantics. The restaurant traces its roots back to 1921, when Emil DeMarco opened the fruit stand that would eventually evolve into the Italian eatery. The first listing of Emil’s as a restaurant shows up in the 1933 city directory, right at the end of prohibition. Family lore claims that Emil’s was the first restaurant in town to get a liquor license after prohibition. This is all a moot point, at least in terms of this discussion, because Emil’s closed for good in October.

RUNNERS-UP
A 1948 photo shows the eastern wall of the Rustic Village, which would eventually become Stober's Lounge. It's original name, German Village, has been painted over.
Photo courtesy the Capital Area District Library

There are several sites in Lansing that have been bars since the early ‘30s, but went through several ownership and/or name changes over the years.

In Lansing city directories, a slew of bars pop up in 1933 through 1937 in the wake of Prohibition. This includes a grocery store/ bar at 600 S. Pennsylvania Ave. named DeMarco’s. The bar, which opened around 1933, was originally owned by Joe DeMarco, half-brother of Emil DeMarco. He later passed the business on to his four sons, Ed, Vic, Bob and Jim DeMarco. The business closed in 2002; the building is now home to Leo’s Outpost.

There were also two German-themed bars that opened in 1933, Alt Heidelberg (327 E. Grand River) and the German Village (812 E. Michigan). The latter changed its name to the Rustic Village in 1940, presumably to avoid anti-German sentiment triggered by World War II. Rudy Stober purchased the bar in 1963 and renamed it Stober’s Lounge in 1973. Alt Heidelberg became the Shamrock in the early ‘50s. After a string of unsavory incidents (including two murders), owner Anastasios “Tommy” Malvetis changed the bar’s name to the Unicorn Tavern in 1986, a desperate attempt to attract a new crowd.

Just down the road from Alt Heidelberg, a bar named the Golden Slipper (611 E. Grand River Ave.) opened around 1934. The bar was purchased by Ed Czubek in the early ‘40s and was renamed Ed’s Bar. It later became known as Zoobie’s, a play on the owner’s last name. The bar closed in 2009 but reopened in 2013 under the ownership of the Potent Potables Project.

Another early Lansing bar was the Country Tavern (2700 E. Michigan), which opened around 1936. The bar was purchased in the 1950s by Clare McKenzie, aka Mac, and the bar eventually became known as Mac’s Bar, the moniker it carries today.

A pair of South Cedar Street bars also appeared in the 1930s: Schultz’s (1511 S. Cedar St.) and the South Cedar Tavern (1526 S. Cedar). Schultz’s eventually turned into Corey’s Lounge, while the South Cedar Tavern is now Leroy’s Classic Bar and Grill.

On the eastern edge of Lansing, a bar named Trianon opened at 2803 E. Kalamazoo St. around 1937 and later changed its name to Nim’s. The bar was purchased by Derwood Root in 1946. According to the bar’s website, Root thought that “Dagwood’s” would be more memorable than “Derwood’s,” possibly because of the connection to the bumbling, sandwich-loving husband from the comic strip “Blondie.” Root sold Dagwood’s in 1987, but it has kept the name since.

Thanks to Harea Bates, David “Mad Dog” DeMarco, Heidi Butler, Timothy Bowman and Bill Castanier for contributing to this article.

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