At Hamtramck bars, Paczki Day for adults

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — For decades, Paczki Day, Fat Tuesday has been the one event guaranteed to bring a wide swarth of Metro Detroiters to Hamtramck.

In recent years, bars in Hamtramck have taken advantage of the increased foot traffic by opening their doors early to accommodate those whose tastes required something stronger than sweets.

At New Dodge Lounge, on the 8800 block of Joseph Campau, from 7 a.m. with live music and shot girls, the bar offers an experience that feels like a fusion of Fat Tuesday and St. Patrick's Day.

Had it been 10:30 rather than 8:30 a.m., bar patrons and employees advised, both levels of the bar would've been packed with paczki eating, Jager-drinking fans of the Polish Muslims, a popular local band that hit three venues on Fat Tuesday.

Hungry Metro Detroiters line up for paczki

"We'll get Greyhound buses full of people rolling up," said Jen Ritz. "Fifty, 100 people at a time. Elbow-to-elbow, both floors, barely any room to move."

Early on, mostly regulars took part, listening to JoTown, the regular Fat Tuesday opening act, perform his spin on hits like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" and The Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil." JoTown's shirt read: "I got paczki'd at New Dodge."

If this were a normal Tuesday, Ritz, a 24-year nursing veteran who works in Detroit, would be at work.

Instead, she was selling $3 beers to customers as they walked in. She does it to help her friends, bar owners Lew and Cathy Gordon, on one of their busiest days of the year.

Her daughter, Lolli Page, sold shots of Jägermeister a few feet away.

Of the 16 years Whiskey in the Jar has been in Hamtramck, it has opened early to host to Paczki Day festivities for 15 of them, said owner Tom Jankowski.

Opening the bar six hours before it normally would at 4 p.m. means everything that came in was a bonus.

In the noon hour, the bar had a crowd of about 100 patrons, socializing, drinking and eating paczki bites and mac and cheese. Couples danced along to Polish songs performed by the Kielbasa Kings, who will hand the stage off to the Polish Muslims, once they finish their set at New Dodge.

As Jankowski explained it, Paczki Day crowds tend to head north as the day goes on, starting at New Dodge, then Whiskey, then to Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 10.

"It's good for the city," said Jankowski said, whose bar is around the corner from New Palace Bakery, which was so popular Tuesday that its crowd stretched almost as far enough down Yemans to be directly across from the bar.

Back at New Dodge, the Polish Muslims provided the bump in traffic bar owner Lew Gordon had expected. "I told you," he said.

Co-owner Cathy Gordon, Lew's wife and a former Hamtramck City Council member, stood on top of the bar and poured shots, something the 68-year-old says the crowd has come to expect of her on Paczki Day.

Meeting those expectations is so important to Cathy Gordon that she does it despite two bulging discs in her back that will require attention sooner rather than later.

"I'm fine doing it, but if I sit down, I'm done," Cathy Gordon said.