Even with third shift no longer operating at the Lansing Delta Township GM assembly plant, the bars supporting third shift workers still hold on tightly to the tradition, with no signs of stopping.
Among Lansing’s morning bars, one distinctly rises to the top: LeRoy’s Classic Bar & Grill, which has been serving third shift drinkers since the ‘60s.
Once the front door shuts out the morning sun, LeRoy’s lit gas pump globes and subtle neon lights compose a warm, dark atmosphere more at home at midnight than early dawn.
“I try to keep it where it feels like night to them,” LeRoy’s daytime bartender and manager Joe Cardwell said. “A lot of people don’t understand the whole concept.
I hear things like ‘I can’t believe you are letting people drink at 7 a.m.,’ but it is 5 p.m. to them.”
Third shifters are a central part of the bar’s business, Cardwell said. The morning crowd consists of nurses, doctors, firefighters, policemen, BWL workers, 911 dispatchers and factory workers from local GM suppliers.
Sometimes the early lunch crowd gets mixed messages from the group, Cardwell added.
“The third shifters are hanging on and they are having fun with the jukebox playing. Lunch people come in and think ‘Wow, who are these people partying so hard in the morning?’ I have to tell them they got off work and are having fun.”
Most days the bar sees between 10 and 50 third shift workers. “Back 30 years ago with the plants, there were a lot more people working the shift and it was more consistent,” he said.
“Third shifters are generally really laid back and honestly happy they have somewhere to go,” Cardwell said.
Running the early shift does present some challenges, however.
“You have to watch for the people partying all night and know you are open at 7 a.m. They are trying to keep their night going and we need to catch them coming in intoxicated before they accidently get served.”
LeRoy’s wouldn’t be the same without the morning crowd, Cardwell said. “We know 95 percent of our morning customers and a lot of times have what they want to drink and eat ready for them.”
The bar throws them morning karaoke parties several times a years, including a Christmas party.
Within walking distance from LeRoy’s is Lucky’s Hole in the Wall Sports Bar, another staple bar of third shift patrons.
Owner Jeffrey Jones acquired the bar in 2012. He grew up on the same street as the bar 46 years ago. “This is a shop bar area,” Jones said. “I don’t advertise and we get the same morning crowd plus some.”
Third shifters come in for pool, darts, burgers and breakfast pizza. A good crowd of third shifters is 45 in the morning, Jones said. “If I knew a crowd is coming in like that I’ll do a buffet.”
Lucky’s expects more third shifters to develop after seeing the progress in REO Town, he added.
“The whole area has seen a big uplift in six years. It takes one to change one street and a street to change a neighborhood. LeRoy’s dealt with a lot of stuff, but they hung in there,” he said.
“They’ve done the grind and planted the tree. I’m just continuing to water it and making sure it grows.”
Art’s Pub owner Greg Sinicropi made sure to honor the tradition of keeping early hours for the third shift when he reopened the classic Eastside bar in late June.
For 30 years under previous owners Rick and Nancy Yager, the bar catered to the third shift who mostly only drank, Sinicropi said.
The kitchen at Art’s Pub is open for pizza, dinner items and breakfast in the morning.
“They didn’t have a breakfast menu, but were definitely open and the third shifters could come in and hang out,” he said.
“With us, we thought LeRoy’s does it and they do it right.”
Catering to the third shift crowd harks back to Sinicropi’s job as a beer distributor when he was 19, he said. “I used to deliver to Gus’ Bar at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday and had no idea why everyone was drinking. I never thought about it until this place.”
Despite the old guard of plant workers gone, the third shift is still a big demographic without much choice in Lansing, Sinicropi added.
“I think we are going to see more places like us pop up and see they are out there. To be able to get a burger, beer or breakfast at 7 a.m. was how we wanted to do it and we stuck to it.”
Unlike the other bars, Art’s pays extra liquor license fees to serve early on Sunday’s for the crowd.
Sinicropi said he is happy local bars can thrive by being open so early. “They deserve to have a place to go and we need to take care of them. Because of them, we knew what we signed up for and knew we would be open 7 a.m. to 12 a.m.”