In Detroit, Nancy Whiskey’s his­tory mir­rors the city’s.

For 115 years in Detroit, that con­stant has served Nancy Whiskey

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY TIM CAR­MAN AND FRITZ HAHN — Fritz Hahn tim.car­man@wash­post.com | fritz.hahn@wash­post.com

The dive bar’s obit­u­ary prob­a­bly has been writ­ten a thou­sand times, and yet: The ra­tio of dive­bar lis­ti­cles to dive­bar obits must be about 10 to 1. Ei­ther the dive bar’s demise has been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated or the def­i­ni­tion of such wa­ter­ing holes has be­come so un­man­age­able that it en­com­passes just about any place that doesn’t serve a $20 Man­hat­tan. ¶ So how can we char­ac­ter­ize the Amer­i­can dive bar so that ev­ery­one agrees? In short, we can’t. But we needed some guide­lines as we searched for the coun­try’s most au­then­tic dives over the past months. True dives pos­sess a hand­ful of ba­sic at­tributes: They must have his­tory; they must have reg­u­lars; they can­not be ex­pen­sive; they can­not have craft cock­tails. ¶ You might dis­agree with our op­er­at­ing nar­ra­tive, and no doubt you’ll dis­like some of our choices. But this is our point: A dive bar is per­sonal. It’s where friends gather, drink and ar­gue loudly — and still walk away as kin­dred spir­its.

Nancy Whiskey’s his­tory is a mi­cro­cosm of Detroit in the 20th cen­tury. The Ir­ish bar, a con­verted gen­eral store tucked away on a side street of the his­toric Cork­town neigh­bor­hood, got its liquor li­cense in 1902. It sur­vived Pro­hi­bi­tion, al­legedly as a speakeasy. When the city’s econ­omy roared, it be­came a hang­out for Team­sters, in­clud­ing for­mer union pres­i­dent Jimmy Hoffa, who used a phone booth near the front door to con­duct pri­vate busi­ness. Mem­bers of the Detroit Tigers base­ball team used to come in af­ter games to drink un­til the wee hours, since the bar was only a 10-minute walk from Tiger Sta­dium.

When Detroit be­gan its well-doc­u­mented de­cline, Nancy’s did, too.

“When I first started here, around 1992, this was a re­ally bad neigh­bor­hood,” says bar­tender Sh­eryl Gro­gan, who grew up in the neigh­bor­hood with her brother, Ger­ald Stevens, the bar’s cur­rent owner. Things got worse in 2000, when the Tigers moved to a new sta­dium across the city and a neigh­bor­hood full of large, va­cant park­ing lots be­gan to lan­guish. “But this is a big city cop-and­fire­man bar, so this bar would be full all the time, with the shift changes,” Gro­gan says. “Through the rough times, I think that’s what kept the bar.”

Boarded-up win­dows and caved-in roofs ap­peared on houses on sur­round­ing streets. A de­vo­tion to R&B, blues and Mo­town, with jam ses­sions and live bands on Fri­days and Satur­days, con­tin­ued to bring crowds to the bar, prop­ping up the slow nights. And dur­ing the past few years, as Detroit has be­gun to rise, Gro­gan says, she has be­gun to see a change.

“All the young peo­ple are mov­ing back, buy­ing up all the houses, re­do­ing them,” she says. “Our night busi­ness has changed. It’s young pro­fes­sion­als, hip­sters — just a big dif­fer­ence. We sell more craft beer now.”

Drop in to Nancy Whiskey on a Tues­day and busi­ness is brisk, with reg­u­lars greet­ing friends as they walk in the door and groups meet­ing at the bar to watch base­ball. Visit on a Satur­day, and the whole place is sip­ping whiskey and groov­ing as one to a Temp­ta­tions cover. Whether you’re a 20-some­thing new­comer or a 65-year-old with mem­o­ries of Briggs Sta­dium, “every­body loves cheap beer,” as Gro­gan rightly points out.

Nancy Whiskey, 2644 Har­ri­son St., Detroit. 313-962-4247. nan­cy­whiskey detroit.com.

FROM TOP: First-time vis­i­tors to Detroit’s Nancy Whiskey are treated to a free shot of Tul­lam­ore Dew; James Stod­dard gets ready to knock back a shot from be­hind the bar; Me­lanie Ter­rian and Pa­trick Collins cel­e­brate Collins’s birth­day; a pa­tron checks his phone while stretch­ing out at the bar.

PHO­TOS BY SEAN PROC­TOR FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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