If you ride the backstreets of Detroit, Mich., there is an old watering hole on the north end of the city that’s as classic as a Vincent Black Shadow. At 19803 Ralston St., just a block off famed Woodward Avenue, sits The Stonehouse Bar. Touted as the longest continuously operating bar in Detroit, the bar, with its Victorian-style covered front porch, was once a farmhouse for the Anthony Grobbel family back in the 1930s.
Following the repeal of prohibition in 1928, Grobbel ran the place as a tavern and named it The Sportsman’s Rendevous Bar. He moved his family into the upstairs and operated the first floor as the tavern. During prohibition, before Grobbel owned the building, it was a hang-out for local rumrunners and mobsters who were part of the Detroit Purple Gang, Al Capone’s Motor City muscle. The downstairs served as the gang’s clubhouse and the upstairs was a brothel. When Grobbel died in 1940, the bar was sold and renamed The Stonehouse Bar.
Today, the bar is a stop-off for the area’s independent bikers. Inside, you can grab a cold beverage and pick out some tunes on the jukebox. You can stay inside or sit out on the front porch at a picnic table to enjoy the music and beverage, noting the names of riders and people who have passed through before you carved deep into the table tops.
In a time when so many things seem prefabed, The Stonehouse Bar is the real thing. From the impression it makes the first time you ride up, to the regulars who make everyone who steps inside feel right at home, this place is one of a kind. It’s a step back to a time when small neighborhood bars dotted this country’s cityscapes. Bars like this were gathering spots where the friendships and camaraderie of the American working class thrived. That’s how it feels at The Stonehouse today, sitting at the bar sipping a Bud, listening to the old-school bikers unlock their memory banks with stories of the days when the machinery coming out of bike shops like Earl Buck’s and Blackie’s Custom Engines ruled the streets of Detroit — it just doesn’t get any better.
The Stonehouse regulars have a saying, “Come as a stranger and leave as a friend.” There is also the more humorous, “Come as a stranger and leave even stranger.” The bar is also home to many local blues bands. Bartender Tally and his Easystreet Band, Christopher Leigh and the Boogie Chillens, the Immortal Winos and The Alley Cats perform at The Stonehouse regularly. Come Christmastime, the front windows are stacked high with toys and the place starts to look like Saint Nick’s workshop, as local bikers give generously to the Toys for Tots drive. Along with helping out with Toys for Tots, owners of The Stonehouse have put on many fund-raising gatherings to help injured local riders with medical expenses and the like.
So if you’re ever out riding Michigan Route 1 on the north end of Detroit, do yourself a favor — stop in at The Stonehouse for a cold one, and bring your camera to take a picture of your bike in front of the old bar. Whether you’re riding a Harley, Indian, Triumph, Norton or Beezer, the classic lines of The Stonehouse will surely complement your ride. — Ron Piskor (aka Norton Ron)