A Bit of Britain
The basement of a southwest Detroit home takes on the aura of an English pub, complete with Guinness pints, British snacks, and a lot of talk about soccer
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Six friends from England bought six plane tickets to visit a grad-school chum in Detroit — a trans-Atlantic excursion with two goals: Hang out with the guy with whom they’d spent many a drunken night while studying in England, and, maybe more important, check out their pal’s English-style pub in the basement of his southwest Detroit home. The only problem: Their chum hadn’t exactly built it yet.
“I told a few friends about it, and the next thing I know they grabbed six plane tickets without checking with me first,” pub owner Sean Mann says, his elbow resting on his wooden bar and the smell of beer in the air. “[Their visit] put me on this finite deadline; I had to finish it. And so my dad and I built it out.”
The task consumed every weekend of last summer to get this thing up and running for the visiting Brits. His authentic décor includes soccer scarves, lithographs of the British Parliament, and tabloid newspaper clippings of bare-skinned cuties posted on the bathroom wall.
About the ‘loo:’ It was too clean, his visiting pals said, to be anywhere near authentic.
“My friends went to town on the bathroom with a Sharpie pen,” Mann says. “It’s some pretty colorful stuff, all really lewd. I don’t think there’s a single comment that’s repeatable in any publication.”
Now, if you dim the lights just so, pour a pint of Guinness, and click on a televised soccer game, it’s almost as if you’re in merry old England. The friends were right at home here in Detroit.
“When I was living in the U.K., going to grad school, there was this dive, dive, dive [emphasis on that last dive] of a bar by the docks called Mardyke,” Mann says, by way of explaining what inspired his personal pub. “The people in that bar probably hadn’t worked since Thatcher [Margaret Thatcher, British prime minister from 1979-1990] was in office. My friends and I hung out there every day.”
To help re-create that distinctive Mardyke mood, his chums brought a suitcase stuffed with bags of British pub-style snacks (bacon and scampi flavored) and a supply of famously racy British tabloids.
Mann studied international relations across the pond, and returned to Michigan, where he bought a foreclosed house in Detroit’s Hubbard-Farms neighborhood. After spending time as a policy analyst at the state level, he founded the Let’s Save Michigan campaign, which is aimed at creating a sense of place in the Great Lake State.
He also set about creating a sense of place for himself.
“When I came back here, I thought that when I hit it big and got a big house, I could have a bar just like [the Mardyke] in my basement,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve hit it big, though. … But it’s super cheap [in Detroit], and you can have a house like this.” For the record, his house is bigger than it is smaller. Also for the record, the 1900-built home once served as a funeral parlor, or so a neighbor allowed at the grand-opening party for Mann’s pub. The elderly guest said he last set foot inside of Mann’s home to pay respects to his grandmother in “like 1957.”
On this particular Monday night in April, the pub could be as busy as any bar on a Monday in Detroit. Of course, Mann’s basement pub is private, but it’s a meeting place, nonetheless. And tonight the topic was soccer, but not the World Cup, which starts this month in South Africa. It was a captain’s meeting for the newly formed and inaugural season of the Detroit City Futbol League, which kicked off last month.