A Look at Three Historic Detroit Baseball Bars

Raise a glass to some of the best baseball bars — past and present — in Detroit and perhaps even the world.
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The Springstead family and Nemo’s have hosted generations of Detroit Tiger fans since 1965. // Photograph courtesy of Detroit Historical Society

Once upon a time, sports bars didn’t exist. Certainly people gathered at 19th-century bars, and inevitably sports were discussed, sometimes hotly. Today, the modern sports bar is ubiquitous, with its giant flat screens and autographed jerseys covering every surface.

Somewhere between these two, the murky origins of the sports bar might very easily be traced to one of these beloved Detroit baseball bars.

Lindell AC

The legendary Lindell AC — which opened in 1949 at Cass and Bagley and moved to Cass and Michigan in 1963 — is still remembered fondly by many longtime Detroiters. Former regulars still laugh about the antics of the bar’s owners, brothers John and Jimmy Butsicaris, and the drunken shenanigans of sports figures who visited the bar long ago.

Any time you mix athletes, journalists, and booze, you’re likely to get a crackerjack night. This combustible combination was possible because so many visiting athletes stayed at the nearby Leland and Book-Cadillac hotels. Players like Mickey Mantle and Alex Karras became regulars at this hole-in-the-wall bar, dropping in usually after but sometimes before their exploits on the playing field.

Sometime in the 1950s, baseball player and manager Billy Martin, a frequent barstool warmer at the Lindell, supposedly told the owners that the place looked like a dump and recommended they cover the dingy walls with some sports memorabilia to disguise the shabby surroundings. And so they did. Later, legendary Detroit sports writer Doc Greene inspired the addition of ‘AC’ to the name, a dig to the tony Detroit Athletic Club a few blocks away.

The Lindell closed in 2002 but has lived on in fond memory for many. In 2019, the Detroit Historical Museum commemorated the famed watering hole with a replica “Night at the Lindell AC” event, which celebrated the opening of an exhibit about the bar. In a 2017 documentary, Meet Me at the Lindell, former cook Terry Foster had this to say about the Lindell:

“It was old and stinky and the chairs kind of creaked and nothing worked, but it was the place to be because it was like a movie theater. Maybe it was Stella [John Butsicaris’s wife] yelling at somebody as she was cooking. Maybe it was Jimmy threatening to break somebody’s arms if they weren’t acting right. Maybe it was Johnny cracking jokes and trying to steal kisses from the waitresses. It was just fun to go there and be part of the scene.”

Owners John and Jimmy Butsicaris inside Lindell AC in the ’70s. // Photograph courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Hoot Robinson’s

William “Hoot” Robinson was an ordinary Detroit barman who was also an avid baseball fan. He opened his first joint at Michigan and Trumbull in 1936 in the Checker Cab building, with a view right across Trumbull to Briggs Stadium.

While he was serving up drinks in the Checker Cab building, reportedly Babe Ruth visited and at least one Tigers pitcher insisted on a beer and a hot meal before games.

Robinson moved his popular bar right next door, to the former Tiger Cocktail Bar, in the 1950s. The crowd on opening day in 1984 must have known something special was coming that year (the Tigers would win the World Series in the fall): Fans started lining up at the bar well before noon, and the crowd spilled into the streets all day.

Hoot Robinson’s closed in 1994, just a few months before Robinson’s death, and the building remained shuttered for 20 years. Thankfully, the UFO Factory now occupies the space, and fans can still grab a beer and a hot dog for old times’ sake.

Hoot Robinson opened his first bar in the Checker Cab building in 1936; Babe Ruth was reportedly a fan. // Photograph courtesy of UFO Factory

Nemo’s

Nemo’s might not have been around in the 1930s or even the ’50s, but the 19th-century building on Michigan Avenue just a block from old Tiger Stadium holds plenty of baseball memories for several generations of Detroiters. First opened in 1965 by the Springstead brothers, Pat and Tim, Nemo’s is still going strong nearly 60 years later.

One former batboy recalls making good tip money from Tigers players by running down to Nemo’s midgame for burgers — and maybe a beer or two.

A 1979 Detroit Free Press article declared Hoot’s, Nemo’s, Mary’s Bengal Bar, and other Corktown sports bars like the Lager House to be “of utmost significance when sleet threatens to mix with strike outs and sliders.” These beloved Corktown sports bars were “blessedly free of the shiny, plastic feel of the typical toney suburban tavern.”

Thankfully, enough bars remain what that 1979 Free Press article dubbed “hang-loose joints where you can concentrate on the basics: baseball, beer and burgers.” Stadiums may move, sports bars may change locations, but these baseball classics remain.


This story originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on April 5.