Jul 22, 2015

Everything old rings true again at the Bell Bar

Co-owner Gina Woods, with bell behind her
Doc's report:

When I was a student and professor in Ann Arbor in the '70s, the Village Bell and Pretzel Bell -- or “V-Bell” and “P-Bell” -- were the places to hang out: the V-Bell for faculty, the P-Bell for students.

Both have since closed or moved, but there is something about the clear, loud, reassuring dong of a bell that beckons everyone of good will. “We have heard the chimes at midnight,” so to speak (Henry IV, Part II). Wikipedia tells us about Bell Bar, a hamlet in  Hertfordshire, England, named after the ancient Bell Inn, with its petrol station, a few garden centres, a restaurant and, of course, a pub.

And so I was as happy as anyone when the Bell Bar at Lincoln and Columbus re-opened under new owners after a brief (six months and five days) hiatus. I cherish the past more with each passing year, and had known the previous owners, the Borkowskis, through a mutual friend.

The visit did not disappoint: There was bartender Jay Hahn, with whom my brother played Little League baseball in the late '50s. The Malusis, married 63 years, who live across the street from
Sign outside
my boyhood home. Sue, of Sue's Salon on Kosciuszko at Monroe, my barber. A man from Saginaw St. Andrew's with whom, I discovered, I saw Sonny and Cher at Daniel's Den in 1965.

Old friends -- and new: The new owners' (Matt and Gina Woods) son Austin, his friend Cody, and Cody's girlfriend Marta. Austin and Cody's band, Drift Lifted, combines blues, psychedelic and rock. They'll be at Bemo's, on Madison, Aug. 15. I'll be there.

The Bell looks great, smells great. Clean and bright. Gina tells us it took three days to strip and re-wax the floor, which, with the re-covered bar stools, looks great.

Austin tells us they tried not to change too much. That's the respect for history: The blooperball trophies, shaped like home plates, are still on the wall next to the pool table, which is still 50 cents a game.

But the game doesn't improve. Our comrade the G-man tells us, borrowing a golf term, that our pool game suffers from too much LOFT. It's an acronym: “Lack Of Fucking Talent.”

Austin tells us that the the nurses from McLaren come in after their third shift, when the Bell
Birthday deal at the Bell
opens at 7 a.m., to blow off a little work-related tension. I went back twice at 7, and it took some effort to get up. But no nurses. Jay told me: “Sometimes, they come; sometimes, they don't.”

Even without my training, I recognize a symbol when I hear one.

So I drove around the South End and noted new facades on the former Beaver Den at Cass and Broadway, and Trinity's at Lincoln and Kosciuszko.

And as the Tigers struggle to maintain a .500 won-lost average, I was buoyed, at the Bell, to see a poster of Schoolboy Rowe, Mickey Cochrane, Elden Auker, Tommy Bridges and Alvin Crowder. The boys of summer, preparing to win the Series in 1935, 80 years ago. Time to repeat?

See the hairy guy’s report on the Bell Bar: It's back from the dead, complete with cheap pints, doughnuts, sloe gin and (maybe) nurses

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