St. Patrick, arguably one of the most famous saints to have ever been canonized, gets to share rare air with some other famous saints with such prestigious names and Valentine and Nicholas. St. Valentine gets a day represented by passion and love. St. Nicholas gets a day represented by gift giving and reindeer. So what represents St. Patrick’s day? Green beer and good times…and repeat. Many epiphany have been made after several pints of Guinness recognizing how amazing it is that at the heart of all that partying on March 17, the day really is all about celebrating a patron saint of the Catholic church. What may amaze even more is that St. Patrick isn’t the only patron saint who is held synonymous with drinking and good times. He isn’t even the only Irish saint related to drinking.
Probably the best known Irish saint after Patrick is Saint Brigid (b. 457, d. 525). Known as “the Mary of the Gael,” Brigid founded the monastery of Kildare and was known for spirituality, charity, and compassion. St. Brigid also was a generous, beer-loving woman. She worked in a leper colony which found itself without beer, “For when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed the water, which was used for the bath, into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty in plenty.” Brigid is said to have changed her dirty bathwater into beer so that visiting clerics would have something to drink. Obviously this trait would endear her to many a beer lover.(as cited in http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/patron_saints.shtml)
The resurgence of Detroit has seen the rise of several new bars and restaurants each featuring its own unique look and tone. St. Brigid’s Bathtub Pub, or The Bathtub Pub named after this mostly unknown yet uniquely interesting saint can claim itself part of this resurgence.
Opening its doors on Opening Day of the Detroit Tigers’ 2013 season, The Bathtub Pub is, by definition, a dive bar. There’s no doubting or denying this fact. As soon as you walk in the door it becomes evident. This isn’t a put down, as the “dive bar” look is a growing one in popularity in major cities all across the country. The most popular of these do the “dive bar” chic well resulting in high revenue and good word of mouth. The dark, smoky, beer sign lit bar. The greasy, home style, soul food type cooking. The loud, crackling, bassy speaker system thumping 80’s, 90’s and today’s pop hits. The halfway-decent TV playing nothing but “the game” or Seinfeld reruns. These are but a few of what you’d see. Though, if done wrong, the bar doesn’t have to create a gritty look for itself as much as it just IS gritty. Unfortunately, as of this writing The Bathtub Pub falls on the wrong side of the scale, though there does appear to be a silver lining.
At its core, The Bathtub Pub has several building blocks for success. It has a phenomenal location being right next door to the famous and always busy Lafayette and American Coney Islands. Having these two legendary restaurants next door is great for the potential foot traffic and food options they bring, though the focus here is dive bar food, and more importantly the kind you can get without having to leave your bar stool. The Bathtub Pub’s menu is small and somewhat expensive, but the food is cooked in a mini kitchen right in the bar and the result is some of the best greasy spoon bar food around. The bar would do well to expand its menu a little more and lower the prices on some of its plates. Also, adding special lowered prices such as a happy hour or a late night discount would help to avoid losing customers and revenue to the big boys next door.
The bar’s selection of beers is a good one. Several local and imported brews make for quite a selection. Though, the owner has employed the use of a computer portioned and monitored liquor bottle control system that is commonly recognized by a black ring being placed around the top of a liquor bottle every time a bartender pours a drink. While this is good for the owner, this is generally bad for the common bar goer. It means lighter poured drinks for the same if not higher cost as those poured at other bars that allow their bartenders to free pour. Installing managers or responsible employees the owner trusts would allow for better service and hopefully a removal of this horrible use of technology.
The ambiance of the bar is near perfect, but several intangibles are in need of upgrading. The bathrooms are atrocious, though bathrooms typically are bad in dive bars these by far are the worst. Some remodeling and heavy bleach could make them bearable. The HDTVs behind the bar are acceptable, but they were not displaying a live Detroit Tigers game upon my last visit. The bartender was not only unaware a game was on, but unable to find the channel it was playing on. Then once she found it, she only found the SD channel (they still have these?), and it took further searching to find the HD channel. This is easily remedied by posting schedules of games and the channels they are on. Finally, there was just one bartender working upon my last visit and only a moderately filled bar rail of patrons were present. The bartender seemed overwhelmed at times even waiting 20 minutes to print my bill after asking for it. This is forgivable if it appeared she was busy, but rather she was not, though she did appear busy chatting with a particular group of patrons at the other end of the bar that appeared to know her outside of work. Though she apologized for her poor service, her attention being shifted away from the needs of her other patrons (including this writer) resulted in a diminished experience. It goes without saying if a patron’s service is bad, a return trip is unlikely. Filling a bar with friends and family is generally a good thing so long as the employees that those people come to see are able to handle their job first and their friends and family second.
The potential is there. Will The Bathtub Pub rise to be one of the next great downtown Detroit dive bars or will it falter due to its inability to make some fairly simple modifications? If the owners are as clever at developing their bar as they were at naming it then the future for The Bathtub Pub may be very bright, but for now it’s still too early to tell. Revisiting this bar in the future (perhaps in a couple of months) may paint a clearer picture as to what type of future this bar has in downtown Detroit.