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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Sean Mann and his father drink in the vibe of the basement pub, which they built together. // Photographs by David Lewinski

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.

 

It’s an 11-team, neighborhood-based league, with squads coming from Mexicantown, The Villages, Cass Corridor, Midtown, Woodbridge, Hamtramck, New Center, Green Acres, Corktown, downtown, and Mann’s Hubbard-Farms team.

Nine of the 11 team captains were discussing the rules of the league: How big should the goals be? Should they have goalies? When should the championship match be played so as not to interfere — as one captain mentioned — with a weekend trip to Chicago to see a Hall and Oates concert?

Mann was the architect for the league. But it was just a coincidence that it’s happening at the same time as the lead up to the World Cup.

To fans, World Cup soccer is like the Stanley Cup, the World Series, the Super Bowl, and whatever that pro basketball championship is called, all rolled into one. Sprinkle in the pride of an entire nation, and you’ve got the approximate magnitude of the 208-country world event. It’s a big deal. For Mann’s league, however, there’s a little less at stake, except maybe bragging rights.

“This is our inaugural season. It’s been a learning experience, but I’ve been blown away by the response,” he says.

Past attempts at starting city leagues, similar to the Detroit City Futbol League, were unsuccessful. But this time, it was different. Mann attributes its success to the neighborhood-based model, rather than independently formed teams. “There’s more pride when it comes to neighborhoods,” he says. It also doesn’t hurt that each team has a bar associated with it. And nothing goes better with soccer than a pint. “So, after the games, we’ll go have a happy hour at a different local establishment,” he says.

Mann, a champion for Detroit, started the league for reasons beyond his love of soccer. “I wanted to promote the idea of the neighborhoods in Detroit. To show that Detroit isn’t desolate, that there’s activity here,” he says. “I wanted to give people a chance to come together and enjoy each other’s company. … And I wanted everyone to come out and enjoy the spring, summer, and Detroit.”

As for the basement bar, you can’t ignore the fact that it’s an English pub, that Mann is a soccer fan, and that the World Cup will be starting soon.

“June 12th, USA vs. England. I’ll be having a party,” he says. “I work from home, so I plan on watching a lot of the games.” And although Mann went back to England earlier this year, returning with another suitcase stash of tabloids and bar snacks, make no mistake: He’ll be cheering for team USA.

But he won’t only be watching. He’ll be playing. Not in the World Cup, of course, but in the Detroit City Futbol League, for Hubbard-Farms.

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