Like the aging prizefighter that should’ve retired years ago, Detroit has been beat up over the past few decades but still shows up.

Once great, but now battered and bruised, the city is seeing an influx of new growth – restaurants and bars especially – crowding its famed downtown. But on this journey to the Motor City, we’re bypassing the slick new joints and heading to some of the oldest spots in town – places where Detroiters (and a few bootleggers back in the prohibition days) have been wetting their whistles for a century or more. Let’s check them out.

The 2 Way Inn

17897 Mount Elliott Street

On Mount Elliott Street, you’ll find one of the best bars you’ll ever visit. Tucked in among the many shuttered buildings and ruined neighborhoods is a squat, two-story white building that you probably wouldn’t pay much attention to if you were strolling past by (not that you would do that in this part of town).

But inside (after you ring the buzzer to get in), you’ll find an 1873-founded paradise that only a few years ago was named the Best Dive Bar in the Country by attendees of the Night Club and Bar Convention in Las Vegas. It’s easy to see why it won. The floor is wooden, well-warn, and very old. The shining bar itself is long, oak and beautiful, dripping with an ancient patina you just can’t replicate with a recently-made lookalike. Above the bar is a bell. It beckons you to ring it. But if you do, you owe the bar a round (evil, no?). The bartenders are friendly and warm, making you feel welcome as soon as you step foot inside. They don’t have beer on tap, only bottles, but they do have an extensive spirits selection, so try ordering something classic, befitting of a place like this.

"Above the [Two way Inn] bar is a bell. It beckons you to ring it. But if you do, you owe the bar a round (evil, no?)."

Christopher M. Bjornberg, Special To The Free Press

Nancy Whisky

2644 Harrison Street

Next we stumble over to Harrison Street, where we find Nancy Whiskey, just on the outskirts of downtown in the section of the city called “Corktown,” so named because of the many Irish immigrants hailing from County Cork, Ireland. Here, in 1898, this small bar (starting as a grocers) was opened.

Since then, it’s been a mainstay of the Irish population and a popular gathering place for most every holiday we celebrate, but especially Saint Patrick’s Day. You’ll need the Luck of the Irish to get in here for that party, but most any other day you can usually find some room in which to bend an elbow. Of interest is that Nancy’s is just down the street from Teamsters Local 299, which was the headquarters of famed union boss Jimmy Hoffa from 1957 to 1971. He’s the reason for the telephone booth inside, close to the door. Legend has it that because Hoffa knew his phone was bugged by the FBI, he’d drive down here to make phone calls. The booth stands as a quiet memorial to the days when guys like Hoffa would stop in for a drink. The bar has a great selection of whiskey (I know, right?), but is particularly known for Irish Whiskey, so get a shot (or a few) and be sure to take a selfie in the phone booth.

Tommy’s Detroit Bar & Grill

624 3rd Avenue

A bit further downtown at 3rd Avenue, we find yet another monument to the city’s past. Tommy’s was built in 1880 and has served as a bar ever since. Well, sort of. During prohibition it was a “respectable” restaurant upstairs, with speakeasies run by the city’s notorious Purple Gang downstairs. In fact, underneath the place you’ll still find the basic structure of what must have been a really swinging nightclub, reportedly with live bands and a full cocktail program.

Also down there is the remains of a tunnel, now filled in with dirt, but which at one time helped to get runaway slaves to the river and then into Canada, as the place that stood here before the current structure was part of the underground railroad. Today the place looks more like a sports bar and grill, and in fact it really is. This place is always hopping when one of the home teams is playing, and watching a game here is a fun experience that’s well worth the crowd you’ll have to elbow your way through to find a seat. They have a grill here (the burgers were great), and an extensive beer and spirits selection, so order anything you can think of, but it seems only right to get a locally-made brew on gameday.

If you have an excuse to visit Detroit, you really need to. This city is fantastic, with a ton of history and character. There are great place to eat, great places to drink, and great things to see. And when you get thirsty, definitely stop by one (or all) of these great bars.

"Legend has it that [Jimmy] Hoffa knew his phone was bugged by the FBI, so he’d drive down [to Nancy Whisky] to make phone calls."

Clint Lanier is a professor in the English Department of New Mexico State University. He is also the co-author of Drunken History, Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs, and Dives of America, and Craptails: the World’s Worst, Weirdest, and Most Disturbing Drinks. He has also written about spirits and travel for The Huffington Post, Fodors, Eater, and