Closure of Club Bart Marks Beginning of 'Royal Suckfest'
Megan Frye gives her opinion of Club Bart closing ... and she isn't happy.
Noun: A cheap or disreputable bar, club, or dance hall, typically where country music is played.
This is the last night at Club Bart. Ever. I’m drinking Scotch, sitting on the outside patio with my best friends and obnoxiously yelling lyrics to Guns N' Roses songs. And no one minds a bit. Actually people keep coming up to join in. This could have something to do with the fact the bar has run out of its last reserves of fermented yeast beverage, and is now doling out the hard stuff by the generous shot-ful. But I choose to believe it’s because Club Bart is the least boring bar in this town. There’s no pretense here. Just good tunes, good times and stiff drinks.
Ryan Dillaha is breaking hearts onstage, people are poured out into the alleyway and summer has officially settled in on Detroit. The crowd is laughing, hugging, dancing and singing. Where else does that hippie crap exist in this town? I’m being serious. Where else in Ferndale can you go where you’ll hear Honky Tonk one night and noise rock the next? Where strangers offer you a smile and it’s OK to show up alone. Where patrons actually come for the atmosphere and the entertainment, and nobody’s trying too hard to be cool.
Now, the bar that was voted Best Honky Tonk Bar in this year’s Metro Times Best of Detroit Awards is closing. Honky Tonk though it may have been dubbed, Club Bart has played friendly host over the years to an increasing variety of entertainment, from its comedy night, to blues, soul, jazz, country, metal and everything in between. Its average patron is a tough stereotype to pinpoint, ranging the gamut on all common identifiers such as age, race, creed, long hairs, short hairs, suits, cowboy boots, etc. Anyone and everyone was always welcome.
As we send the bar’s memory off like a flaming Viking lord into the ocean swells, I can’t help but feel fortunate. How did I end up being this lucky? What did I do in some past life to be able to have a bar within biking distance from my house, where like-minded people hang out, where many of them play great music on a regular basis; a bar that serves awesome steaks and a stiff pour of Maker’s Mark? I have pretty simple pleasures, and remarkably this bar managed to hit almost all of them with astonishing precision. More so than any other watering hole in this area.
The news of Club Bart closing brought up the same recurring question from everyone who ever frequented the joint. “Now where do we go?” There’s no shortage of fine music venues in this region. But how many neighborhood bars have a variety of live entertainment nightly and delicious food within walking distance? Well, now none in Ferndale.
So what does this mean? Well, I guess it means Honky Tonk Tuesdays won’t beget any more Hangover Wednesdays. It means one less Sunday brunch option. It means one less bartender who knows my name. It means one less venue for fledgling artists to hone their chops and for the big dogs to bring their music to a neighborhood bar free of cover charge. Unfortunately, I think this means a lot of things that haven’t quite sunk in yet but will over time as we continue to ask ourselves, “Now where do we go?”
For the record, I hold nothing against the bar’s namesake for deciding to move on. I’m grateful the place existed as long as it did, managing to plow through the roughest years of the Recession (we’re coming out of it now, right?) without skipping a beat on quality service, food and entertainment.
And also for the record, I hold nothing against the new folks who are about to set up shop. In a perfect world, this individual(s) would recognize what a unique brand already exists within Club Bart. You’ve got a loyal, built-in audience and an ever-growing group of performers, a top-notch menu, quite possibly the best staff in town, all in a prime location. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
But to each their own. My mom always said the world would be a boring place if everyone liked all the same things. One thing’s for certain though, there are two kinds of people in this world: People who go to Bart’s and people who go to bistros. I’m sticking with the Bart’s crowd.
The place always felt like home. There’s not another spot like it around, and unless any of us passionate folks suddenly happen upon a heap of cash, there likely isn’t going to be anytime soon. What made Club Bart so unique is the combintion of people who worked, played and consumed there. Fortunately, we’re all still alive and kicking. I guess now we’ll just have to kick it somewhere else.
Megan Frye is a Ferndale bar fly with one less joint to buzz around. Since Club Bart has closed, you can find her grumpily sipping out of a flask in the alley straining to listen to Buck Owens on her crappy iPhone speaker. Give her directions to your favorite honky tonk. If you mention Novi, you will be kicked.
A few quotes from those in the know – frequent stage gracers at Club Bart:
Jeremy Mackinder, band member of Whitey Morgan & The 78s:
"Losing Club Bart is like losing a great old friend. It was my cheers, my honky tonk, a place where we felt at home — and always will hold a special place in our hearts. Ferndale has lost a musical treasure that will be impossible to replicate."
Carrie Shepard, band member of John Holk & the Sequins:
“The best Honky Tonk in Detroit is an understatement I think. There was nothing better than being at Bart’s listening to The Honky Tonk Heroes playing tunes by Haggard, Jennings, Paycheck and Hank Sr. It was more like a Honky Tonk church. And I was religious as hell.”
Joel McCune, band member of Duende!:
“Well it's all over now and what is there really to say? Some people will hardly notice Club Bart bein gone, others like myself are completely heartbroken. There will never be anything else like it and Ferndale will never be the same. Quirky from the staff to the stage to the food. First rate, down to earth, charming. And the food! John Fante said it best: Beautiful hamburgers singing in cheap cafes ... Goodbye Bart's, you will be missed.”
Jeff Howitt, band member of Duende!:
“So here's some thoughts about losing Bart's:
- I saw Jack White, Brandon Benson and the Soledad Brothers there in '99 with Carjack.
- It was where I took out of town friends for breakfast then ate the next day for lunch. The staff was nearly in place for the whole run so they became part of the character and why you went. I even broke up a fight and gave a police report once when a customer attacked a waiter.
- Honky Tonk Tuesdays gave the roots crowd a club house and helped introduce Whitey Morgan to more than the country ears.
- DUENDSDAY though it will continue under the auspice of Woodward Avenue Brewers gave us a monthly forum to have an open rehearsal and hone new material on top of being able to bring in various musicians to do the same. We are gonna miss working with Kelly and Melissa on those nights.
- I feel for the staff. I hope people realize how well trained they are and hire them up fast so this doesn't become more of a tragedy than a loss of a Ferndale favorite.”