August 4, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Neal Rubin

Octogenarian keeps Abick's Bar going strong

Manya Abick Soviak has lived above her bar, Abick's in southwest Detroit, for all of her 85 years. (Photos courtesy of Michael Odom)

You don't worry about history when you're busy with the present, so there's a haze over the glass on the old photo. Manya Abick Soviak wipes it with a bar rag.

The customers in the picture are somber men in dark coats, drinking dark beers. That's her dad, George Abick, behind the bar, she says, and her aunt and uncle to his left. The clock on the wall is still there and still works.

The picture was taken in 1910, right where she's standing.

Abick's Bar doesn't claim to be the oldest tavern in Detroit. But Manya, 85, is reasonably certain she runs the oldest family-owned, continuously operated bar around.

If someone else can say otherwise, here's to 'em. She's not done yet, so she could still catch up.

Abick's sits at the corner of Dennis and Gilbert streets in southwestern Detroit, a block west of Livernois. It's in a largely Hispanic neighborhood that used to be Polish and Russian and before that was wheat and corn.

Manya remembers farmers pulling up in wagons to sell fresh produce. Some of the old pictures show a hitching post.

"He was a driver. He was, too," she's saying. She's looking at a group photo from the old Carling distributorship on Livernois. When the bar ran out of beer on a busy night, the workers would roll kegs of Black Label down the alley. She points again: "He was one of the office guys."

One of the regulars compliments her on her memory. She laughs. "Sometimes I can't remember if I had breakfast."

Family-owned since 1910

She's pretty sure the original owners were the Wasilewskis. That was 1907.

Her aunt and uncle bought the place in 1910, and George and Katherine Abick bought it from them in 1919.

The Abicks lived in the apartment upstairs. When Bill Soviak made it home from the war in 1946 and married Manya, he moved in, too. It's the only place Manya has ever lived.

Bill took sick and died in 1968, at only 49, and Manya has been single ever since. ("They say if you have a good one the first time, don't take a chance.") But she's never been alone, not with all the customers coming through every day but Christmas.

Her daughter died young, too, and Manya raised her grandson, Eric Lakeman. He's 28, built like a bouncer, with an easy smile and an abiding devotion to his grandmother-slash-housemate and the saloon.

He's a union carpenter as well as a barkeep, and when Manya broke her femur seven months ago, he came racing from a job site. Actually, they discovered, she'd fractured it a few weeks before that, and kept working until it splintered.

Samson, the sweet-tempered bull mastiff with a head the size of a bowling ball, was the one who went for help. He kept nipping at one of the barmaids until she followed him to the back room.

At Abick's, everybody lends a hand, or a paw.

Times have changed

There's a pool table in the front room and dartboards in back. The décor leans toward grainy old photos and mirrored Budweiser plaques honoring the five branches of the military. A small poster proudly relays the total for the latest Children's Leukemia Foundation fundraiser, held every March: $3,500.

The wall along Gilbert used to have a picture window, but it made the insurance company nervous, so a quarter-century ago it was replaced by bricks. Those were still the days when the graveyard shift at Ford Rouge would let out, and there'd be a line when Manya opened the doors at 7 a.m.

Now the opening bell rings at 10. In the next 14 hours, she'll serve cops, firefighters, neighbors, hipsters and regulars who'll step in behind the bar if things get too busy.

It's a different world, she says, but the beer is still cold, and the customers still go crazy when she makes pierogi and sets them on the counter.

She doesn't go out much -- lunch at the Greektown Casino buffet, maybe a Red Wings game -- but she doesn't need to. All the entertainment she needs comes through the door.

Abick's is the only life she's ever known, the only home she's ever had. It's plenty.

nrubin@detnews.com">nrubin@detnews.com (313) 222-1874

In this photo from 1910, at left behind the bar is Manya's dad, ...
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