Cliff Bell’s owner to take over Park Bar

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Popular downtown Detroit bar and music venue Park Bar will change hands at the end of December.

Owner Jerry Belanger told The Detroit News Thursday that he’s sold the business to Paul Howard, owner of neighboring jazz club Cliff Bell’s. Belanger has leased Cliff Bell’s to Howard since both bars opened in 2006.

“It’s changing hands, not so much as it’s closing,” said Belanger. “We’re very good friends and he is a great owner and I’m really grateful that he was able to make the acquisition of the building because he’s such a good guy and he’s an independent. He’s a guy who cut his teeth in this town for many years, came with me into this endeavor when nobody was down here ... downtown when there were no streetlights.”

Howard says he’ll close the bar for few days in early January for some improvements, but it will be back open in mid-January.

“We’re going to keep the name for a while, and then change it later on,” Howard said, adding that he and his partners wanted to buy the building that houses both bars to secure the future of the historic jazz club.

“It’s 80 years old and it should last another 80 years,” he said. “The idea of a new landlord was not appealing to us.”

The Park Bar, 2040 Park, will hold a final concert on Dec. 2 with some of the singer/songwriters who have played the venue regularly over the past decade or so, including Doop & the Inside Outlaws, Alison Lewis & the String of Ponies, Pat V & the Detroit 3, Ty Stone, Matt Dmits and Tino Gross.

Doors open at 8 p.m. that night, and there will be a $10 cover.

“I’m honored to be playing the last show there,” said Ty Stone, who said he’s been hanging out with fellow musicians there since the bar opened and along with Don Duprie, Lewis and others, played one of the first shows there. “The Park Bar was a home for us when Park and Elizabeth had the only lit street lamp north of Adams and west of Woodward.”

Belanger says the bar will be open “fairly regularly” throughout December.

The Park Bar was the ex-home of the popular Bucharest Grill, which moved out in early 2016. Currently that kitchen is home to GoGo’s, a Hawaiian food joint that serves plate lunches (a full dish of meat, rice and salad popular in Hawaii), poke and late-night snacks.

Howard says he he will “re-concept” GoGo’s once he takes over.

Park Bar is also home to the upstairs Elizabeth Theatre, which is used to host theater, music, comedy and private events.

Belanger said the development in the area has been difficult for him and the Park Bar.

“Now there’s a new arena, there’s stadiums, there’s Janet Jackson and U2 — which is great and I love all of that, but it’s very hard ... it’s like trying to be a cookie shop in Manhattan surrounded by skyscrapers. It’s too overwhelming,” he said. “People are going to come down for these huge events, long lines down the expressway, and (I’m) just trying to do Shakespeare.”

Last year The Detroit News reported that Belanger had purchased a dozen parcels on Tillman Street in Detroit, including some vacant homes and the Bohemian National Home, a two-story building that was used as a music venue in the 2000s, and dates back to the early 1900s.

Belanger says he’d like to have arts programming at the Bohemian, but restoring the building is “not a done deal.”

“It’s going to be a very expensive restoration, it’s going to be very difficult,” he said.

As for the Park Bar’s future under new ownership, Belanger would only say that Howard is “faster, smarter and better in every way at operating than I am. I have great respect for him so I can only assume that it’s going to thrive with whatever he does.”

Twitter: @melodybaetens