Nothing, it seems, can kill Tom’s Tavern.
Not the truck that thieves drove through the back wall earlier this winter so they could get a few free bottles of booze. Not the runaway van that took down the front wall a few years ago, killing a woman on the sidewalk on its way. Not the fire that once burned half the building. And not the death of its beloved owner.
There’s no other place in Detroit quite like Tom’s. It’s a tiny shed, a rickety shanty, an 86-year-old shack of a bar that should’ve fallen in a heap years ago. It’s one of the oldest, most legendary dives in the city, the only city around here where a place like this could exist.
“The place looks like a northern Michigan bait shop,” said Bob Erickson, 68, a regular who first walked in here 40 years ago. “And it has the virtue of continuing to exist against all odds.”
Everything here leans. The floor slopes steeply from the door because half a century ago its owner had concrete poured on the rotting oak floors and left the drinking patrons to smooth it out best as they could. The old wood bar dips downward to the left. Put a bottle on its side and it’ll roll away. The back wood cabinet behind it tilts right. The door frames are geometric puzzles.
There are no plasma TVs, no karaoke, not even beers on tap. There’s only a jukebox stocked with soul and blues classics, an old piano, and some tables and chairs and bar stools that wobble. It’s cash only for everything, and hours are unpredictable.
Yet it’s always drawn a loyal, eclectic crowd that dive bars normally don’t. Professors and priests from the University of Detroit down the street. Autoworkers and auto executives, sometimes at the same table.