Owners selling Detroit's legendary Anchor Bar

Julie Walker Altesleben
The Detroit News
The original Anchor bar was opened by the grandfather of current owner Vaughn Derderian in 1959.

The Anchor Bar, a longtime popular spot for Detroit journalists, the people they covered who worked or played downtown, sports fans, travelers, and many others is being sold, the owners said early Monday.

The bar was located at various locations in Detroit over its 60 years, most recently at Fort and First streets downtown. News of the sale was kept "relatively quiet until this past week" said Vaughn Derderian Jr., whose family owns the bar and who helps run it. 

The bar first was opened by his grandfather, Leo Derderian, in 1959 and had moved since then from Howard Street to Fort and Fourth, Lafayette and finally to its current location. 

"Everyone is keeping their jobs," said Derderian, "and every current employee is getting a bonus out of the sale proceeds."

The Anchor and the rest of the building at 450 W. Fort is being purchased by the Elia Group, which also owns Parc restaurant in Detroit's Campus Martius and 220 Merrill in Birmingham. The group also owns the Ford Building and is working on renovating the lobby and the space where Green Room Salad Bar was until its exit this spring. 

President Zaid Elia said his intention is to keep the historical integrity of the Anchor intact, updating things like bathrooms and hallways. He doesn't want to change much of the menu's staples in regards to content or price, but he will add new items. 

"It's an iconic property," said Elia, "It has a lot of history ... everyone has a good story behind the place, and when I'm looking to make an investment and work around a project like this I believe that we've had a lot of good will and a lot of people rooting for the success of it." 

Elia adds that the rich history and tradition of the building and the bar make him already emotionally connected to the deal. 

“It truly is the end of an era,” longtime Anchor manager and bartender Amy McDonald said. She's worked there since 1995. “I’ve spent half of my life at the Anchor and can’t imagine walking in without seeing Big Vaughn in his fanciest flannel shirt in the office giving me lip, Vaughn Jr. behind the bar giving me the blow-by-blow of what I missed on my days off or seeing the usual suspects in their prospective spots at the bar.”

Customer Wayne Amyot of Windsor thinks hockey was the reason Derderian decided to sell. 

"Nobody comes down there now," he said, adding that he's retired and a baseball fan and although he's from across the border, "I'm over here a lot more than I'm over there." 

Elia said the Anchor will continue to offer customers rides to and from downtown's major sporting and entertainment events. 

One of the attractions of the Anchor is its wall of photos featuring beloved Anchor regulars and Detroit notables. A favorite question among newcomers: How do you get on the wall? "You have to die," staffers will answer.

With the exception of a few pictures that belong to Derderian's personal collection, this wall of fame will stay intact. 

Melody Baetens contributed