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On the Problem of Disappearing Dive Bars

By Harry Winston

Last week while driving up Michigan Street hill on the way to visit Steve after his hip surgery, I admired the impressive cluster of medical buildings that in recent years have become part of the city’s downtown skyline. But after I parked my car and was walking down the street in the shadow of those gleaming high-rises, I felt a twinge of nostalgia as I recalled that at one time about a half-dozen or so watering holes had been tucked into the stretch of Michigan Street that is now known as the Medical Mile. I’m not opposed to change, especially when the departure of the old translates into so much beneficial new. But I still felt kind of bad about the disappearance of those taverns.

A lot of the old bars are disappearing all over the city and for some reason I find that a little disturbing. Some have been bought by new owners who have done a fine job of cleaning them up, renovating them, and making them attractive to a much younger clientele. But whenever that happens it seems something gets lost in transition. Steve [the boss] and I used to love going to those old bars in our younger days. We drank a lot of beer from long neck bottles. We played countless games of pool, got in a fight or two, and enjoyed taking to the older, world-weary waitresses. Maybe the wisp of nostalgia surfaced that day because I was already in a melancholy mood. My old friend and bar-hopping buddy, a man my age, was in the hospital because his hip joint had worn out, and if it could happened to Steve it could happen to me. Maybe my sometimes throbbing right knee is arthritic too. Maybe the inability to sometimes remember my own phone number is the first stages of Alzheimer’s. As you age you begin considering those things. “Every discoloration of the stone/Every accidental crack or dent/Seems a water-course or an avalanche." Yeats wrote in Lapis Lazuli.

When I got up to Steve’s room he was in a sour mood because a nurse had just removed his catheter.

“How did that go?” I asked him.

“You don’t want to know.”

“How’s the food in this joint?”

“Wonderful.”

“How’s your roommate?”

“I’m ready to kill him.”

I tried to cheer him up by talking about the fact that it was August and the Tigers were in first place, that the nurses were calling him a rockstar because he was already moving around so well, that the store was running smoothly without him. I finally got a wisp of a smile when I mentioned the old bars on Michigan Street.

“Those were some great joints,” he said. “Too bad that there’s not many like them around anymore.”

“There are plenty of bars in the city, my friend.”

“You know what I mean.”

I did. And I promised him that when he was ready and able, we would go out and find a few of them