The Little Bar looms large in my childhood memories. I grew up in a nice, middle-class neighborhood in Marine City, MI so the Porsches and Ferraris that often parked there stood out.
I haven’t been able to find much established history on the place (maybe someone can help me with this) but I do know it started up in the early 20th Century. Its name was appropriate, as it was a tiny building with just enough room for a bar, the kitchen, and a handful of tables. I’m not sure when but sometime after the automotive boom, it became a hangout for automotive executives. Even Henry Ford was known to eat there.
The drive from Detroit to Marine City is about forty-five minutes now but in those days it was a much longer haul. So why did they make the trip? Word is it was a good spot to talk business away from spying eyes. For the same reason, it was a good place to take your mistress out for a good meal. I’ve heard from many sources, though it’s never been one-hundred percent verified that Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca over dinner at The Little Bar.
I’ve run into people from all over who have heard of The Little Bar. For a certain crowd of people, it was a famous place. This never stopped surprising me. To me, it was just the place across the street. As a kid, The Little Bar meant money. As I mentioned, the cars that parked there were awesome. On Halloween, the owner handed out full-size candy bars. He also tipped big when I had my paper route. The place was a wealthy nook in a blue collar city. For a good period of time, my family was friendly with their chef. His name escapes me but he was a large, African American man who would always come out to give our beagle, Lucy, scraps when we were running her in the field next door. She’d lose her mind every time he appeared in the side door. We never saw him outside of his white chef’s uniform, which included a big, old fashioned chef’s hat. One time, my parents invited him to the Maritime Days Beer Tent. He was easy to spot when he arrived, as he was a large black man in a chef’s hat in a sea of good ol’ boys.
Out of all of these memories, my fondest is of the boat people. They would dock at the marina and walk the block over to get dinner and drinks. They would pass our house well dressed and proper. They’d pass in the other direction disheveled and howling with laughter. I pity the other boaters they encountered on the way home.
Some time ago, when I was in college, a new owner bought it with big plans. He added a large, two story section onto the back. The lower floor was a nice, expanded dining room. The upper story was turned into three “hotel rooms” of different themes. I remember one being a jungle room but can’t remember the rest. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking. In short order, they went out of business and The Little Bar sat empty for the first time since it was built.
It stayed that way for several years until the current owners, Greg and Char Faucher, decided to invest in it. They found it in a sorry state. The exterior looked fine but the inside was a borderline death-trap. They went to work for many months putting it back together again. They kept the back dining room but converted the upstairs to a very nice apartment, which they lived in. By the time they were done, they’d not only gotten the place up to code but also managed to bring back the spirit of the original establishment. In the following years, the members of the Trudeau family had become regular patrons. The food was very good and unlike in the past, not expensive. It may not have been The Little Bar of legend but it was a great place to have dinner. Part of the charm was Char and Greg themselves, as they were always friendly and happy to have you in.
Then some idiot set it on fire.
We had a string of arsons in town, hitting The Marwood Inn, Anita’s Bar and Restaurant, and The Little Bar. The Marwood was already closed and people were at Anita’s when the firebomb was tossed into the basement, so they managed to put it out quick. The Little Bar was not so lucky. Ben, Beth, and I watched the fire trucks descend on it in the middle of the night and we hoped the damage wouldn’t be too bad. It was, though. The outside looked fine but the inside was a total loss, with an entire section of the floor collapsing into the basement.
They’ve been working hard in recent weeks to get fixed and open again. The great tragedy is that to get it up to code, they had to demolish and rebuild the front section. In other words, the “real” Little Bar. I just watched machines tear it down. I’m sure Char and Greg will make it a great place again and they can expect the Trudeaus to return for their usual take-out order. I’m still sad to see the original building go, though, as a lot of history went with it. At one point, it was a meeting place for the businessmen who helped shape the American Century.