The Macomb Daily
LAST CALL FOR PAIR OF GROESBECK BARS
Rusty Nail moving up the road to site of Rayz Bar
A longtime watering hole on Groesbeck Highway in Clinton Township is about to close its doors for good while another one will soon take its place.
Rayz Bar is shutting down after nine years on Groesbeck Avenue just south of 16 Mile Road (Metropolitan Parkway) after selling out to the owner of The Rusty Nail, located about a half-mile down the five-lane highway.
Patti Wagoner, who has owned the 70-year-old Rusty Nail since 2012, plans to pack up the bar’s dart boards, exterior sign, and other knickknacks at the end of March as she transitions operations to her new headquarters in what is now Rayz Bar.
What she can’t physically bring with her is the decades of good times and fun memories the building has hosted over the years.
“I sold this place to the trucking company next door,” Wagoner said last week. “They’re going to tear the bar down and build a massive truck complex. I’m hoping the Liquor Control Commission approves our paperwork by the end of the month so we can get in our new place.”
The liquor license transfer is pending before the Michigan LCC, she said.
The Rusty Nail was once part of Groesbeck’s gritty bar scene that peaked in the 1990s. Long known as a shotand-a-beer biker bar that housed rock and cover bands, the place is now known primarily as a spot to socialize and play darts. It hosts an occasional comedy night with Knuckleheads Comedy.
Wagoner said there’s little down time between the changeover. She and a crew have been remodeling here and there, but pretty much will close one day at the current location and open a few days later in the former Rayz.
It’s the last hoorah for The Rusty Nail in its current incarnation, she said.
“When the dart boards go, we go,” she said. “I’m going to take part of the Rusty Nail sign and put it up somewhere over there to keep the history of the place going. It’s a very sad day. I thought I’d be retiring by now, but here I am opening a sports bar.”
Longtime bartender Lori Mac agreed. She hopes the bar’s clientele make the trip, too.
“I’m sad to see it but I’m hoping all of our customers join us down the road. I’m looking forward to our new future,” Mac said.
No one seems to know precisely what the bar’s name referred to. But some old timers figure it likely references spikes and nails from the nearby Canadian National Railway railroad.
Wagoner, who grew up in Roseville, was growing weary of the economic cycles of the tool and die industry, which is what she was employed in before turning the hospitality sector. She thought to herself “there has to be something better than this.”
“I was driving down Eight Mile Road with my co-workers at the time and I said, jokingly, ‘I’m going to buy a bar.’ A year and a half later, I found The Rusty Nail. That’s how it all started,” she said.
On an afternoon when a reporter showed up unannounced, there was a good-sized crowd inside enjoying a retirement party for David Kraft, who was retiring 34 years of work from General Motors.
“This has always been a great place,” Kraft said, looking at a collage of photos of customers. “I’ve met some wonderful people here.”
Fellow customer Chris Mabbitt of Roseville said “it kind of hurts” to see Rusty Nail close after enjoying so much time in the place.
“It’s been here forever,” Mabbitt said.
“It kinds of brings you down a little bit, but it’s actually just Patti is going across the street to her new establishment. After the years she spent working her rear off, and the we’ve spent in here, and working in the area, these guys in here are my best friends.”
Added Randy Lamoreaux of Clinton Township, who has been coming to Rusty Nail for about two decades:
“It’s an awesome place with great people who come in here and are very friendly. Patti is moving forward; I’ll go with her down the street.”
The Rusty Nail’s current menu is limited to chicken wings, burgers, nachos, and grilled cheeses. Wagoner expects to have a much larger kitchen at the new bar.
One change the new Rusty Nail will have to decide on is what to do with Rayz old outdoor deck. The owner is debating between setting up a stage area for acoustic entertainment or creating a series of horseshoe pits.
Meanwhile, over at Rayz Bar, it’s another changing of the guard.
The place is probably best know for being Wooly Bully’s Rock-NDiner, a popular nightclub in the 1990s that hosted celebrities from time to time, including Las Vegas showman Wayne Newton.
Huge fiberglass guitars, musical notes and a jukebox made up the exterior. It had a run into the new century until its former owner Mark Roman and his wife, Sandra, were sent to prison after they were convicted on federal tax charges, having failed to report more than $2.4 million in income.
The club continued under new ownership for a couple of years, then shut down for good and the property went into foreclosure.
From there, the entrance was replaced by a large rendering of a city skyline with three skyscrapers reaching upwards, opening under the name B. Ditty’s The City. After that closed it stayed empty for a few years until Ray Srour purchased and opened Rayz Bar.
Srour, who has owned the place for nine years, said he’s closing up shop but keeping his liquor license in escrow in case he finds another opportunity.
“Either way, it’s a good thing to hang on to,” he said.
Srour, 55, was running a restaurant with his brother in Florida when he decided to move up to Michigan with his girlfriend, Kristen Bousquet, to operate the 6,000-squarefoot Rayz.
“I’ve met so many good people,” he said. “But I’m not going to lie — it’s a stressful lifestyle.”
He said being primarily an industrial area, the Groesbeck corridor has been particularly challenging to make a business work.
“Even Wooly Bully’s didn’t make it and look at how much advertising they did. There were seven bars in this area back in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was that much volume,” Srour said.
Over the past few years, the area has gone through changes.
According to Srour, today’s smaller bars have to not only promote themselves to get people to pay attention, but owners have to treat all customers special to keep revenue coming in the door.
“People are very needy,” he said. “They want a lot for their dollar. If bars don’t cater to them, they say ‘Fine, we’ll just go someplace else.’ That’s why we have to work harder now than ever to keep them coming in. It’s easy to lose them now.
On the other hand, customers that call a bar their own tend to be very loyal.
“Those customers who feel they’ve made an investment in your place, those who have been here in good times and bad, they feel they should have a voice in what goes on, and I respect them. They are our family and friends. They know if they screw up, their apology will be accepted,” Srour said. “That’s what makes a neighborhood bar special.”