Toast of the town … Goodbye Hamtramck Pub

When it comes to good food and great times, Hamtramck has plenty to offer. In this column, we’ll talk about what’s happening at our bars, restaurants and other events that can be found throughout the city.

The former Hamtramck Pub on Caniff burned down last weekend. It was once host to Detroit’s garage rock scene in the mid-1980s.

By Charles Sercombe

Usually in this column we celebrate things that are alive and fun.

Today, though, we are going to raise our glass to an old haunt that was once one-third of what I like to call Hamtramck’s triangle of rock.

The former Hamtramck Pub, at 2048 Caniff, burned down Saturday night. And when we say burned down, we mean totally gutted with just part of the sides and the front remaining standing.

From what we have heard the city needs to do an emergency demolition of what remains because it may fall down at any moment.

Man, so many memories here. The Pub was right at Hamtramck’s entrance there on Caniff, close to the freeway. Inside, Rod and Cole – and their buddy Paul – opened their doors to Detroit’s rock and roll community.

Probably a couple of generations of rockers graced their tiny stage. In the mid-1980s, Hamtramck was home to Detroit’s garage rock movement.

I was part of that, having played drums in the Hysteric Narcotics.

The Hysteric Narcotics play New Year’s Eve 1986 at the Hamtramck Pub.

At that time, it seemed that the only place to play in the Detroit area was the Pub, Paychecks down the street and Lili’s.

The Hysteric Narcotics were gig whores. We’d play anywhere, anytime, and it seemed like we played Hamtramck almost every weekend. We made the circle, from the Pub to Paycheck’s to Lili’s.

And then repeated it all.

Rod and Cole ran a modest little establishment. Their bar had the cheapest little PA, but they were generous hosts – in spite of being maybe a little prickly sometimes.

The most memorable night for me was one where I wasn’t even there. How’s that?

A good friend of mine, Rick Metcalf, was there one Saturday night when the Vertical Pillows were playing. After the show, he got into his car, parked across the street from the hall next door, and all of a sudden felt a sudden flash of hot pain in his left leg.

Unbelievably, a stray bullet fired by a crazed nut from the hall pierced through the car door and into his leg.

Poor Rick spent I don’t know how many months in a hospital bed at Detroit Receiving – one of the worst emergency rooms and hospitals to find yourself in.

He’s now got a metal rod holding his leg together.

In situations like this people often joke about things to soften the blow. I think it was Rod – or maybe Rick? – who came up with the joke about being able to get a “shot and a beer” at the Pub.

I also remember Rick recounting his Hamtramck police experience once the cops came. For some reason – maybe panic? – he pulled his car into the gas station down at the corner and waited for police and an ambulance to arrive.

A couple of detectives arrived, who are now long retired and will remain nameless. One of the detectives, Rick said, reeked of beer and slurred his words.

Well, we’ve gotten off track here.

The Hamtramck Pub is now gone for good.

I was hoping someone would buy it and do something with it.

Rod and Cole are deceased. And I just learned this week that their pal, Paul, who used to tend bar, died just two months ago, I’ve been told, from a stroke. He had fallen on hard times and spent most of the day walking the streets.

Listen up, all of you young dudes, Ian Hunter was right when he warned that rock and roll can be cruel.

I asked the city what was the status of the Pub’s ownership, which also featured apartments upstairs. It appeared that the building had been vacant for a few years.

According to city records, the structure came into the ownership of the city last February. Jason Friedmann, the Director of Community & Economic Development, said the city bought it for back taxes owed to the county. The thought was to rehab the building, but once inspectors got inside, a basement full of water was discovered.

It was decided then to demolish it.

So, in the long run, the Pub was going to come to its final end one way or another.

Fortunately, we still have Paycheck’s – but it’s just hanging on. Lili’s was sold and is still one of the best rock and roll joints around. It’s now called The Painted Lady.

Do yourself a favor and stop by one, or both, bars in the coming weeks. And, of course, raise a toast to Rod, Cole and Paul.

A pre-high fashion queen Muffy Kroha discovers she likes beer at the former Hamtramck Pub sometime in 1986.

In the Good News Department, last Saturday’s citywide arts festival was nothing short of a huge success, according to our pal and occasional Review correspondent Walter Wasacz.

From what he could estimate, there were several hundred visitors to the city. We’ve included a few photos he took of the event.

Sometimes in Hamtramck, it’s two feet forward and then one step back. Saturday was definitely two huge strides forward for Hamtramck.

Hamtramck was buzzing with visitors last Saturday during an all-day arts festival scattered around several venues and houses.

Do you know of a cool bar, a great restaurant or just a nice place to hang out? If you have tips on special events or just want to shine some light on your favorite spot send a message to news@thethehamtramckreview.com or call us at (313) 874-2100.

14 Responses to Toast of the town … Goodbye Hamtramck Pub

  1. craig

    October 30, 2011 at 11:06 am

  2. KG

    September 20, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    Hi there. I just wanted to thank you for the lovely article, sad as it is.

    Rod was my uncle, and he was a terrific man. Cole was my “honorary uncle” my entire life. I miss them both very much. My own band played at the Pub (shocking, I know!) and I have a thousand fond memories of the building and the people I met.

    God bless the both of you, Uncles.

  3. Tracy B.

    November 30, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Hung out many nights at the Pub, Paycheck’s and Lili’s with my sister in the mid-late 80s. Have great memories of those places, but just barely…

  4. Kevin G.

    May 2, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks for a great article. I played the Pub myself many times (Kalvin Membrane, Pardon the Wife), And Rod and Cole were always generous with their time and their venue. They provided one of the few spots in the city that would always permit unknown talent a chance. And yes, they could be prickly, but they were honest.

  5. Paul Haines

    May 2, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    I played most of my early live gigs at The Pub. (Drums, Red September) Rod, Cole and Paul were always terrific hosts. The loud music, smoky atmosphere, disgusting rest rooms, jam nights and that pool table!

    Great memories I will cherish always.

  6. Duffy

    May 2, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    They were all such interesting people. Rod was a bartender at Joe Muers during the day and my father in law ad exec often had the three martini lunch there and got us our first gig at the Pub. We had to play on a Thursday night to see if we could start playing on the weekends. Rod could be abrasive but they were all so kind to us. Cole sitting at the end of the bar smoking little brown cigarettes, Paul with one of the most awesome mullets ever. They would get so pissed if they found out you were playing Paychecks or Lili’s the same month you played there.Great memories of that time.Sad to hear about Paul I believe he was homeless before he tended bar there. So tragic.They had a soft spot for us for some reason.It was one of our favorite places to hang.

  7. Bill L

    May 3, 2014 at 7:32 am

    RIP Rod and Cole and the Pub! Beloved by all. I played uncountable gigs there as a drummer with Static Alphabet. Saddened by the loss but no regrets! Hope that we as a community in and around the ‘D’ continue to rise above our troubles and stand side by side, much like we did trying to get that last beer at last call at the pub!

  8. Steve smolinski

    May 3, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Enjoyed reading a piece of the history.

  9. Lenny Grassa

    May 3, 2014 at 9:05 am

    This was one of the great hangs in Detroit during that era. I spent many nights there with my best friends. If we weren’t playing we were watching Snakeout, The 3D Invisibles or the Hysteric Narcotics! And always sitting at the bar talking with Rod, Cole & Paul. At times Rod could be a little cantankerous but later that night you’d be having a drink with him!

    Cheers to the three of them!

    Lenny / The Leonards

  10. Bob

    May 3, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Rod, Cole and Paul were always great to us, and the Pub was a fantastic place to play. We started there on a Thursday “try-out” jam/showcase night and ended up in regular rotation there in the early 90’s. So many fun times. Sad that there is one less place for young bands to get their start.

    RIP guys, and thanks for the memories.

    Bob (drummer – Obnoxatones)

  11. Sherry G

    May 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Many great times at the Pub…when it was both open and closed. Those boys always welcomed us in whenever we showed up. I remember them visiting me when I was in the hospital and it was the first time I had seen them in the light of day! I know Cole passed from cancer, but I am unsure of what happened to Rod…does anyone know? I think Paul is homeless again. Makes me sad… Good times past. Bless you boys of the Hamtramck Pub!

  12. Sherry G

    May 9, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Someone told me Paul passed a few months ago. It’s so sad.

  13. Michael C.

    June 20, 2014 at 8:43 am

    My band The Chapter started playing at The Pub in 1991. Rod and Paul booked our first live gig ever. We were so excited to finally get a gig!! One night, I left my $800 bass guitar at the bar. I was sick over leaving it. I called the next day and Paul said, “oh yea, we got it.” Talk about honest good guys. Thanks for the cool article. I can’t believe those guys are gone.

  14. Gary

    April 26, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    My band at the time, Tanjent Image played some of our first shows there ever. We started opening up for Beer on a Penguin, Second Self, and played many other shows with Room 100, Funhouse, Jugglers and Thieves, etc. They were fun times indeed, and Rod and Cole always encouraged new area talent. Cheers to you Rod and Cole, and all of the other people who have shared many fond memories there.

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