Caucus Club plans to reopen soon with old school charm

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

One of the most anticipated restaurant openings of this spring — and of last spring, technically — is the revamped Caucus Club on the ground floor of the Penobscot building at 150 W. Congress in downtown Detroit.

Detroit’s London Chop House owners Les and Sam Gruber opened the Caucus Club across the street in the 1950s. It outlasted the Chop House, which shuttered in the 1990s. In February of 2012, just as Detroit’s restaurant scene was beginning its resurgence, the London Chop House reopened after 20 years. The following October, the Caucus Club closed.

When we first reported on the restaurant’s re-emergence in late 2015, owner George Sboukis was hoping for a 2016 spring debut. As anyone who has opened a new business can attest, things don’t always go as planned. Sboukis said construction issues held things up, and without the financial and moral support of his mother and two brothers, he couldn’t have continued.

Looking at the completely renovated, 155-seat dining room and the open kitchen today, though, it is clear that the Caucus Club is ready for its second act. The restaurant could open as soon as April.

Sboukis says for his version of the famed hangout, he’ll focus on having a lot of interaction with customers. This starts with the kitchen that is completely viewable through two windows from the hallway of the Penobscot building. Anyone walking through can see chef Rick Hussey and his team prepping meals or cooking dry-aged meat on the wood-fired grill. A dry-age meat locker housing subprimal cuts is also in full view.

Hussey has worked at acclaimed Detroit restaurant Intermezzo and most recently was the chef at Filippa’s Wine Barrel in Utica. He says he’ll have seasonal items on the menu and a focus on the dry-aged cuts of meat.

Sboukis, whose family owns Louis’ Chop House in Chesterfield, adds that there will be Caesar salad that’s prepared tableside, and possibly a few desserts made tableside.

Sboukis is going for a hospitality-orientated, old school approach to his new restaurant because he says “classic never goes out of style.”

Another time-honored element of the new Caucus Club is live music, likely mostly jazz combos and occasionally a vocalist. This is where I’m obligated to tell you that Barbra Streisand once performed at the original Caucus Club in the early 1960s, at the start of her career.

Besides the Streisand tale, the original restaurant was known for its “bull shot,” a mix of vodka and beef bouillon. Sboukis says his bar manager, Mike Kreger, will have a reworked version of it to fit modern tastes.

In regards to modern tastes, it’s normal now to interact with restaurants via apps Facebook and Yelp, but Sboukis says he would like to get away from that and hopes that his customers will come to him directly with questions or concerns.

“I want to build friendships,” he said. “I tell my staff: You’re not working in a restaurant, you’re working for me and this is an ongoing, never-ending George’s dinner party. These are all my friends and we’re going to treat them as such and that’s the type of experience you can expect.”

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Twitter: @melodybaetens