Aug 24, 2016

Bemo’s: It's where the bands come to play (but later)

Judy at home behind the bar at Bemo's
Doc’s report:

It was Harry’s idea, not mine, to visit Bay City’s premier music venue on an enervatingly humid mid-August Wednesday afternoon. And a good idea it was, because it gave us the time, space and the quiet to reflect on bars, music, the impending election, the Bay City Cooperative Market, and so forth with our only companion, Bemo’s delightful daytime bartender Judy.

You don’t have to ask Judy twice what her customers like:

  • “PBR has made a comeback. Kids drink it like water.”
  • Throw-back drinks called tooters. Judy shared her encyclopedic knowledge of such concoctions as the delightfully-named Slippery Nipple (butterscotch schnapps and Bailey’s), Johnny Vegas, the Superman (amaretto, Blue Curacao and Irish cream), Liquid Marijuana (melon schnapps, pineapple juice, triple sec, and -- you could knock me over with a feather -- Blue Curacao); and -- brace yourself, Bridget ... 
  • Jameson’s Irish Whiskey with a pickleback, or pickle juice chaser, for which Judy always keeps a jar of pickles handy. (I have already adopted this practice in my cuisine.)
Judy then shared her secret for a great Bloody Mary: garlic horseradish and Worcestershire. And as another happy hour approached, she responded to Harry’s request of a Manhattan with the practiced insouciance of a James Bond seduction.

Of course, you don’t go to Bemo’s for the bar but for the bands. It’s a myth that Bay City has more bars per capita than any other city, but I’d like to see another city its size that has produced more good music.

I mean, I was born in the same hospital as Madonna, played on the same stage as Question Mark and the Mysterians, and lost to Gershwin maven Kevin Cole in bar trivia last week at Chet’s Corner Bar.    

When I returned from my 30-year exodus in Chicago five years ago, the first place I went was
Record covers and video games
Bemo’s, to hear the solo act of my nephew Joe Sullivan, who sometimes plays with a Bemo’s favorite, Jedi Mind Trip.

Next, at Bemo’s, I saw Donny Hartman, whom I first played with at Daniel’s Den and the Bay City Roller Rink in 1965 -- yes! 51 years ago -- when he was with the Chevelles. Donny later teamed up with the late Dick Wagner to form the Frost, before Dick left to become the lead guitarist for Alice Cooper.

More than booze, or perhaps in tandem with it, Bay City is drenched in music. Whether it’s the eponymous Bay City Rollers; the Michigan Rock & Roll Legends Hall of Fame, which is based here; or the Steve Drzewicki Band at Comerica Park for the Tigers’ Polish American Night …

As the August evening descended at Bemo’s, and patrons filed in, someone brought up Trump’s proposal to build a wall. Someone else remembered Ronald Reagan challenging “Mr. Gorbachev” to “Tear down this wall.” The Berlin Wall. The end of the Soviet Union.

Someone else at Bemo’s pointed out that, separating the bar from the music venue at Bemo’s, is a
Wall of guitars at Bemo's
wall of classic guitars. If you haven’t already, you should see it.

Then someone else said that Bay City is a city of bridges – four bridges – not walls.

If we do have a sense of community in Bay City, that’s in part because of the unsung bars. And our music.  In the ’60s, everyone was either in a band or wanted to be. It seems to me that that’s the same thing right here, right now, whether it’s Drift Lifted or the Kowalski Brothers Polka Band, and that’s great.

At Bemo’s, it’s the House Katz. Or Blues Mobile at Scotty’s Sandbar. You should hear them. They’re great. Bay City is great. Right here, right now.


No comments: