Aug 24, 2016

Bemo’s by day: A quiet corner bar with game shows, Liquid Marijuana and a reminder that disco still sucks

Bemo's: Live music at night, quietude by day
The hairy guy’s report:

A few weeks back, Harry found himself in the Old Miami, a bar in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. By day, it’s a mild-mannered place long known as a hangout for Vietnam vets. At night, the music brings a different crowd.

Harry, showing up for an old friend’s evening retirement party, asked for a PBR and got a curt lecture about hipsters. He ended up instead with a can of Carling Black Label (once brewed in Frankenmuth), which he’d have happily asked for if he’d known it was available.

Back in Bay City on a Friday night soon afterward, Mrs. Hairy Guy wanted to see a poet who was reading at Bemo’s on south Madison. In the interest of marital bliss, Harry agreed.

The poet, Marc Beaudin, is a local guy now living in Montana who was in town for a high school reunion. He talked of “trout and transcendence” and “the erotic pull of gravity,” among other things. The mostly full house listened without talking, applauded at appropriate moments, and nobody left when the music started. It was good, though not Bemo’s usual nightly music fare.

And it got Harry to wondering about Bemo’s by day.

Turns out it’s just what he guessed: a pleasant, quiet neighborhood bar. TV, no music. The stage is dark. The patio in back is empty.  A handful of regulars sit at the bar.

We’d been there before for music at night, when the scene is altogether different –packed
Judy the bartender trying her luck on the drums
with people, loud music, a crowd talking and smoking out back.

Bemo’s is one of those places in town that’s been around for years, by the way. Stanley Marciniak owned it in 1935, according to city directories. Later, it was the Madison Square Tavern, then Gwiz’s Bar before becoming Bemo’s – a name concocted, according to Judy the daytime bartender, from the names of two previous owners (which explains the capital M in the sign out front).

Judy, it turns out, remembered us when we introduced ourselves, though we didn’t at first remember her. Her daughter Angie bartends at the Shot & Shell in Essexville, where two years ago we tasted what had to be the worst house drink in town, something called Grapes of Wrath. Judy had stopped in to see Angie. We tried to palm off the drink on her, but she was smart enough to decline. We shudder at the memory (of the drink, not Angie).

And now at Bemo’s with mom, we were faced with more strange drink offerings – called Bemo’s Tooters. These are test tubes filled with $1 concoctions. The four choices are called Slippery Nipple, Liquid Marijuana, Johnny Vegas and Superman.
 
Harry tried the Liquid Marijuana, just because its name sounded more appealing than the others. Actually, Superman does sound appealing, but we’re assuming that a mere $1 shot
Inside Bemo's
doesn’t actually produce the power of flight or X-ray vision. (A woman at the bar, one of the regulars, bore a slight resemblance to Lois Lane and might have appreciated a quick flight with Superman around the South End. But she was busy checking dog photos on her phone, and we didn’t get to suggest it.)

The Liquid Marijuana turns out to contain melon schnapps, triple sec, blue Curacao, Parrot Bay something and pineapple juice. It was green and very sweet. In the future, we’ll stick to other forms of marijuana.

Back to regular fare, Busch Light, PBR, Killian’s and Founder’s Dirty Bastard are on tap. Lots of craft brews are in cans and bottles.

Then came our moment of truth. We asked Judy if she could make a Manhattan.

“Yes, I can,” she said. And she did, and delivered it with three cherries. (That’s “if I like someone,” she said. Harry was honored.) Judy said she’d actually never made one before but
The back wall in Bemo's side room
knew what was in it, though she does make martinis for one of the regulars.

Bagged snacks are the only food served at Bemo’s, but bringing in stuff from outside is OK. Harry tried a bag of garlic dill pickle potato chips, (the bag says $1.09, but they were $1.25) which were great with a beer.

For games, there are a lottery machine and a couple of those electronic game consoles. And there’s an actual piano, if you’re in the mood.

A back wall is covered with music memorabilia (“Disco still sucks,” one item says). Guitars make part of a room divider.

The drink prices got too confusing for us to figure out: The first happy hour runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with some drafts for $1 a pint and well drinks at $1, then the second happy hour runs 3-7 p.m.  Suffice it to say there’s a lot of happiness.

If you want a smoke, or if you just want to head outdoors, you’re in luck: A large outdoor patio is in back, with tables and lots of chairs, canvas covers and even a Johnny-On-the-Spot brand
The scene on the back patio
portable toilet. And a garage beyond that has a ping pong table (or table tennis, if you want to get fancy about it).

Bemo’s is open from 10 a.m. (noon on Saturday and Sunday) until 2:30 a.m.

Throughout the afternoon we stopped in, the TVs behind the bar had on game shows – a welcome break from the sports found in most bars. But Judy said that woman who reminds us of Lois Lane likes crime mysteries on the Investigation Discovery cable channel. So, said Judy, it’s “game shows or murders.”

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  The particulars:
  Bemo’s
  701 S. Madison
  989-893-7071

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