Bars plan for overtime after final Wings season at Joe

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

When the final buzzer signals the end of the last Red Wings season at Joe Louis Arena, bar owners near the arena plan to go into overtime.

Tommy Burelle, left, owner of Tommy’s Detroit Bar and Grill, plans to shuttle patrons to the Red Wings’ new home next year. Other bars around Joe Louis Arena plan to do the same.

They’re confident Detroit hockey fans won’t dump tradition and move on to nightspots in the Midtown neighborhood around the new arena — especially if the bars around The Joe offer to drive fans to games.

Tommy’s Detroit Bar and Grill owner Tommy Burelle, Anchor Bar owner Vaughn Derderian and Cobo Joe’s owner Richard Cadreau say that after the Red Wings move next fall, they will offer shuttle service to home games in an effort to remain the party places of choice for Wings fans.

They’re following what Derderian called “the Nemo’s model.”

Nemo’s bar is two blocks from the Tiger Stadium site in Corktown. When the last pitch was thrown there in 1999 and the Tigers left for Comerica Park, Nemo’s didn’t die.

In fact, business grew.

“It called for some change,” said Pat Springstead, co-owner of Nemo’s. Springstead has six buses he uses to shuttle Wings, Tigers and Lions fans from Michigan Avenue to games downtown. Nemo’s also runs shuttles to big concerts and shows. The shuttles make it easy for longtime Tigers fans to cling to nostalgia, Springstead said.

“What really is a sports bar?” the 74-year-old said. “People can eat and drink any place. They go somewhere because they’re comfortable.”

The bar owners around Joe Louis Arena hope to tap into that sentiment among hockey fans.

Derderian isn’t worried about the future of the Anchor Bar. “If the Wings are downtown, I’ll compete,” said Derderian, 69. “The future looks pretty bright.”

The bar on West Fort his family has run for 59 years is patronized by more than Red Wings fans, which gives added comfort.

“We have good and bad days,” he said. “We can make it without hockey.”

But Derderian can’t deny the boost from hockey. The season’s home opener last week brought 270 people to the Anchor. A normal night usually sees between 50 and 70 people come through the doors.

“Really, we pack them in almost every single game,” he said.

Derderian said he’s in the process of buying more buses to run shuttles to the new arena from his bar. He currently runs service to Joe Louis Arena, Ford Field and Comerica Park. The expanded service should keep fans coming to the Anchor, he said.

Owner Vaughn Derderian said the Wings’ home opener brought 270 people to the Anchor Bar. A normal night typically sees up to 70 people.

Cadreau, owner of Cobo Joe’s on West Congress, feels the same.

“I’m looking for the whole thing to actually be a plus,” he said. He sees around 500 customers on game days. He plans to shuttle them to the new arena in buses emblazoned with the Cobo Joe’s logo. He believes he can keep his crowd, and advertise to more at the same time.

“Coming to Cobo Joe’s and going to hockey games are synonymous with each other,” said Cadreau, 70. “I’m not too concerned at all ... Parking at the new arena is going to be expensive, traffic is going to be horrendous. I can offer $10 parking, no traffic ... and $3.50 beers.”

The Ilitch family plans to build 180,000 square feet of retail space at the new Little Caesars Arena site. Some of that will house new restaurants and bars, though no final plans have been made public.

Meanwhile, the owner of Tommy’s on Third Avenue will miss what are already becoming the “old days.”

“Nothing is for sure,” said Burelle, 56. “But I’m confident in our regular core group. We’ve got a good product, and people feel at home here.”

The bar already shuttles fans to Lions and Tigers games, and Burelle said he’ll expand Tommy’s shuttle service to Little Caesars Arena.

The shuttle service should help normalize things, he said. Though he is confident, Burelle isn’t as optimistic as Derderian or Cadreau.

“Things aren’t all bad, but hockey is still my bread and butter,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not going to have the foot traffic. We’ve established ourselves with a lot of hard work, and it’s heartbreaking, you know?

“I don’t have all the answers, and I wish I had a crystal ball.”

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau