I’d already heard about “the rules,” so I entered Stan’s Bar in Spring Lake through the back door. Only newcomers, it seems, use the front entrance. No one wants to look like a newcomer.
The bar is a narrow room with a few tables at the back, a few more at the front. Then there’s a long, long bar. Almost as long as a bowling lane. The old, dark building is instantly comfortable, like a hug.
Owner Joe Stalec was behind the bar, dressed in a T-shirt. His baseball cap was turned backwards. A Philadelphia Phillies cap, here in Detroit Tigers territory. He gets a lot of static for that.
This isn’t exactly a sports bar, but TVs – nine of them – usually broadcast a game. The same game is often on all nine.
Pandemonium erupted in January after the Detroit Lions beat Green Bay and, for the first time in years, finished with a winning season. It led to the flipping of the mirror.
Years ago, a beer distributor gave Stalec a Detroit Lions mirror for the wall. Stalec hung it upside down because the Lions were upside down. He said he’d flip it “as soon as the Lions finished above .500, and they finally did this year.” Lions fans packed the bar for the “official” flipping ceremony.
Stan’s was born 76 years ago when Stalec’s great-uncle Stan Kulik bought Walt’s Tavern on Savidge Street. Kulik moved the bar from one side of the room to the other. Because it’s so long, it couldn’t be turned around inside the building. So, a bunch of strong guys picked it up, walked it out the front door, turned it around in the middle of the street and walked it back in to the other side of the room. That describes Stan’s clientele to a T: friendly, helpful, eager to be part of the bar’s history.
The building looks a lot like it did all those years ago. “Don’t take the Stan’s out of Stan’s,” patrons tell Stalec.
Collectibles are everywhere. And Keno, pull tabs, slot machines, lottery tickets. An ATM, too. Along with the requisite alcohol and cheeseburgers. But no fries. Don’t even ask.
Perhaps most important is the camaraderie. Stan’s has seen proposals, wedding receptions, a wedding ceremony. It has hosted book clubs, cribbage groups, even a grief group. “Joys and pain,” Stalec says.
The night before Thanksgiving, stopping at Stan’s is known as “the official Spring Lake homecoming,” Stalec reports. “You get to town, stop at your parents’ house to say ‘hi,’ then come down here.”
Community fundraisers happen often. The Laker Liter Loop, for example: a .33K, the distance around Stan’s block. It just about matches the volume of beer in a Laker Liter. Funds are raised for multiple local programs.
Drinking contests just might include the root beer barrel. That’s root beer schnapps in a shot glass set in a wide glass of draft beer. The trick is to drink out of both glasses at the same time. It comes with a free bonus: unsolicited coaching from patrons.