Nov 12, 2015

Both hospitality and history at Jake’s South Inn

Joni behind the bar at Jake's South Inn
Doc’s report:

Within the square mile defined by St. Stan’s traditional parish, from 18th to 28th and Madison/Michigan to Lincoln, St. Stan’s is the only church of any denomination. I say “traditional,” because St. Stan’s is now incorporated, with St. Hyacinth Church, in the larger South End as Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish, due to a grant from the National Spelling Bee.

But in that square half-mile are nine bars (if you count the PLAV hall). That nine-to-one bars-to-churches ratio seems about right.

These bars, along with many of the bars of Bay City, go by various names -- bar, tavern, hall, lounge, room, pub, hub, hut, quarters. But only one is called an inn: Jake’s South Inn, on the northeast corner of 18th and Farragut and on the Number 3 bus route.

“Inn” has connotations of hospitality and rooms for rent, e.g., Holiday Inn. Indeed, 50 years ago, the house attached to the bar, then known as Sandy’s, did have available rooms.

The house is now closed up. But back in the day, the main occupants were the inn’s owners,
Old street signs give the bar's location
the Lewandowski family, as Polish a name as you’re going to find, after Kowalski. (Two of their kids -- Gail and Gary, born 11 months apart -- were classmates of mine in St. Stan’s High class of ‘67.)

Other Bay City bars have living quarters attached to or above the bar: the Bell Bar, the Green Hut. It’s hard not to imagine that the proximity of the owner’s house to the bar heightens the culture of hospitality and family, especially when family members also work there.

For example at Jake’s South, bartender Joni is the owner’s sister and calls all the men “honey.” (That might be a trend. I made a business call at the county emergency dispatcher’s office this week, and the receptionist said, “It’ll just be a sec, honey.”)

Joni is a great hostess and businesswoman. A few months back, we spilled a beer while playing shuffleboard back at Jake’s Corner Bar downtown, and she had the spill picked up almost before
Shuffleboard table at Jake's South Inn
it hit the floor. She refers to herself with only a little irony as a therapist. One lesson from her years of experience: The crowd follows the bartender -- in this case, from one Jake to another. (Note: “The Two Jakes” is Jack Nicholson’s sequel to “Chinatown.”)

And that’s an important lesson for anyone interested in Bay City’s ever-shifting bar scene. Just in the last year, we’ve seen openings and closings at Tavern 101, Malickey’s, the Bell Bar and the bar at the Real Seafood Company.

Perhaps the clearest recent example that nothing is permanent in the Bay City bar scene was the Nov. 7 public auction of Pulaski Hall, including its bar and the contents. It’s just seven blocks south of Jake’s South Inn on 25th and Farragut. I stopped by for old time’s sake. The bar stools, bowling trophies, and bingo supplies were flying off the shelf.

But some things never change. When I popped in at Jake’s South after the auction for some “fact checking,” a wizened local assured me that the bar’s name has a second meaning: It’s a pun on “South End.” With a Polish accent, “End” would be pronounced “Inn.” The South “Inn” is the South “End.”

So I hope the new owners of Pulaski Hall, as was the case with the Bell Bar, and is still at Jake’s, will keep what’s best in its history and revive its hospitality.


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