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Bar tour reveals hidden gems

July 1, 2004

(Port Huron, Michigan) Times Herald


I learned an important lesson Saturday about judging bars, taverns and saloons based on appearances. Just because a bar looks like a condemned building doesn't mean a gang of bikers is going to knife me as soon as I walk through the door—they'll probably wait to knife me until I play a song they don't like on the jukebox.

No, really, the bikers were some of the nicest people I hung out with (and by “hung out” I mean “sat near”) during my tour of local bars I never had visited.

I decided that if I'm going to be an expert on entertainment in Port Huron, I better familiarize myself with some off-the-beaten-path watering holes. I recruited my friends Ryan and Todd to help me.

(Don't worry. I stayed sober so I could drive us between bars.)

We started out calling it “the sketchy bar tour.” In hindsight, that's not very fair to the fine establishments we visited, even if they did have beef jerky for sale and a group of old-timers at the bar arguing about the best way to get there from here.

Here's where we went:

  • Office Lounge and Sports Bar, 1951 Water St., Port Huron Township: We started at 3:30 p.m. (yikes!) Saturday. We enjoyed two games of pool (only 50 cents a game) and a pitcher of Killian's (only $5). That makes the Office the place I'll be next time I'm partying on a budget. Characteristic music: “Cryin'” by Aerosmith.
  • Hillgers Bar, 3663 Lapeer Road, Port Huron Township: “Mambo No.5” by Lou Bega was playing when we walked in, and frequent readers know how I feel about that song. I'm afraid it ruined the whole Hillgers experience. Characteristic music: Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow's duet “Picture” was a more typical jukebox selection.
  • Jack's Tavern, 2410 Conner St., Port Huron: I've driven past Jack's 10 gazillion times and had no idea it existed. We were pleasantly surprised. The regulars invited us to playa game of “liar's poker.” The highlight was reading the humorous plaques on the wall (“Honesty is like pregnancy—either you is or you ain't”). Characteristic music: Just a golf game playing quietly on the TV.
  • Whiskey Pete's Saloon, 1925 24th St., Port Huron: We stayed for several hours, listening to local bands Donkey Show and The Guild. The biker bar was celebrating its one-year anniversary with all the roast pork, corn-on-the-cob and macaroni salad you could eat. Yummy. Characteristic music: Danzig's “Mother,” played by Donkey Show.
  • Outpost, 52124th St., Port Huron: We were a little worried some good o1' boys might not take kindly to Ryan's tattoos or Todd's Dead Kennedys T-shirt. Boy, did we have the wrong impression about the venerable country bar, and I had a blast. Characteristic music: The “Dukes of Hazzard” theme, performed live by Tony Phillips of Nashville. We seriously were impressed with Phillips and his band. He will be back Friday and Saturday, and he's well worth checking out.
  • Seekers, 3301 24th St., Port Huron: The drag/cabaret show was in full swing by the time we arrived at midnight. Once again, we found a bar that was very accepting of folks who didn't fit the normal clientele profile. Characteristic music: “Naughty Girl” by Beyonce.

There still are others I need to visit. Frank's Swissel Inn, you're next!

What I'm digging: Rachael Yamagata is a 26-year-old songstress who has been getting all kinds of press calling her the next Fiona Apple or Norah Jones. Plus, she was a theater major at my alma mater, Northwestern University; which means we probably were in the same macroeconomics class or something.


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