PJ's Lager House for sale for $2.2 million, owner says Corktown is 'a different place'

Owner PJ Ryder cites a changing Corktown, his age and the dwindling interest in live music as reasons for 'considering' selling the business and building

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
Bartender Dana Dunwoodie of Dearborn Heights pours shots in 2008 under the watchful eye of Merlot, the Lager House's rubber rodent mascot.

Detroit — After 12 years of hosting live music in Corktown, bar and restaurant proprietor Paul "PJ" Ryder is putting PJ's Lager House on the market for $2.2 million. 

The former record store owner, 65, cites a changing Corktown, his age and the dwindling interest in live music as his reasons for "considering" selling the business and building, which he says he purchased for around $350,000. 

"I have struggled financially since day one," said Ryder, who bought the longstanding Irish pub in 2007. "I do feel that people are not as interested in live music as they once were. People tend to not go out and see music and I have thousands and thousands of people who tell me they love me but I never see them at the bar."

The news spread Tuesday after a real estate listing popped up online with a $2.2 million asking price. Asking and getting are two different things, though, and Ryder says he's already turned down one offer for less half his asking price. 

"I'm putting it out there," he said. Unless an offer he's happy with comes through, he'll continue to operate as usual.

"I have a feeling I'll put it on the market, it will stay there for about six months ... and I'll continue to be doing what I'm doing," he said. 

Ryder said when he bought the Lager House Corktown was a different place. 

PJ's Lager House

"Twelve years ago you couldn't get a bank to lend you a dime on that building," he said. "There were no street lights. There were no banners. Corktown was a cool place to go. You had bars down the street, you want a gun or you want drugs, go to that bar, you can get them tonight. That's what kind of place Corktown was." 

He cites places like Slow's Bar BQ and Lager House as helping make the area cool. 

"Artists start it. Then the small businesses come in and then it gets so hip that the real estate companies come in and the big companies come in and then the neighborhood has changed again," he said. 

"I look at the change going on in Corktown right now and I wonder do I really want to be a part of this," said Ryder, pointing to the recent developments like new restaurants and the Ford Motors' Corktown campus at the Michigan Central Station. "It's a different place. It's becoming more different every day and I believe that people think that all these businesses are doing really well, but I can tell you that most of the businesses are struggling. There are not enough people in Detroit to sustain what we have." 

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He hopes news of the sale creates an uptick in press and business. 

"I put my heart and soul in that bar for 12 years, and yet the publicity that I'm going to get for putting it up for sale will be 100 times what I get otherwise, and that's kind of hard to take," he said. "I look at these bars and restaurants that have opened and closed already ... they got more publicity when they opened, they got more publicity when they closed, but PJ's, 'oh it's going to be there forever, we don't have to worry about it.'"

Ryder said he would leave the bar to his 10-12 employees to run, but he knows they won't be profitable with the current business plan. He says he's never made enough to give himself a paycheck, yet he's always made sure the payroll checks cleared and important bills were paid.

He did recently get a matching grant for repairs for the building. 

Ryder, who also worked in real estate for 10 years, says part of what has been able to keep PJ's afloat is the two apartments upstairs from the club that he rents out as Airbnbs. He says if the Detroit City Council goes forward with plans to curb those types of rentals, the bar could be toast. 

"I will continue to work on the building, I will continue to try to promote music, I will continue to serve great food, and if somebody walks up and says here's $2.2 million I will disappear," he said. "But I don't know what's going to happen, but I know I didn't want to give it away." 

Ryder, who is married to former Detroit News photojournalist Donna Terek, says that he hopes to retire, travel and see his 93-year-old mother more often.

"I'm not getting any younger, there are some things I'd like to do with my life before I get too old to do anything," he said. 

PJ's Lager House, 1254 Michigan in Detroit, is open daily with a full bar and kitchen. Call (313) 961-4668 or visit pjslagerhouse.com. 


Twitter: @melodybaetens