If hallways that serve beer is your thing, you're home.
For even the most hardened dive bar connoisseur, Baker Streetcar Bar in Detroit-area Hamtramck is as minimalist as it gets. Attempting to document the entirety of the Hamtramck bar’s interior and exterior grandeur took a grand total of five minutes and four photos. And as any hardened dive bar connoisseur will agree, these are good things, positive indications that a truly divey experience can be found behind the faded, mustard yellow façade along one of Hamtramck’s heavily traversed roads.
The name of Baker Streetcar Bar can be traced to, you guessed it, the Baker Streetcar that ran the length of what is now Joseph Campau Avenue in Hamtramck. Though the streetcar has long since departed, left behind is an urban core that today houses an evolving set of businesses that in many ways mirror the upswinging fortunes of Detroit. As such, a mix of vacated and occupied businesses surround Baker Streetcar Bar, adding to its destination appeal.
The opening date of Baker Streetcar Bar is unclear, recent owner Rocky Radtke’s tenure stretching from the early 2000s to 2023 when management of the bar was transferred to fresh owners. Radtke investigated a sale as far as 2021 when a crowdfunding petition appeared online started by the owners of Detroit-area Russell Street Deli in an attempt to fund a takeover of the space. The crowdfunding round was closed unsuccessfully and ownership of the bar remained with Radtke.
Though the Hamtramck bar’s backstory is a bit murky, the purity of the experience found inside is clear, the floor plan as simple as the modest exterior suggests. Baker Streetcar Bar sits in an ancient building, occupying half of the main structure’s space, creating what amounts to a dive bar in a Detroit hallway. Outside, a bit of paint, a handful of windows and a simple neon sign reading “Baker Streetcar Bar” provide the only clues that drinking can be found inside. The bricks that line the building look ancient, as does the paint, as do the windows, as does Baker Streetcar Bar.
Every dive bar checklist box is ticked off inside, from the wood paneling that runs the length of the building to the drop ceiling overhead. Though updates can be seen in spots (a fresh-looking keg system toward the front of the bar, for example), well-worn carpet and a sprawling, weathered back bar anchor Baker Streetcar Bar to its long-held moment in time. The amenities here are simple, ranging from alcohol to also alcohol, topped by a pair of televisions anchored in opposite corners of the space.
The walls are bare by dive bar standards, holding the occasional framed, black & white photo offering a glimpse of the area’s past. Indeed the Joseph Campau Historic District that houses Baker Streetcar Bar was once one of Michigan’s most heavily-trafficked shopping destinations. Today, the Hamtramck area is a hotbed of a different kind, offering a selection of dive bars as pure as Baker in addition to a wide array of fantastic Middle Eastern food options. Only a few steps away from Baker Streetcar Bar sits area staple Polish Village Café, a must-visit for those in the area with a passing interest in things like sausage and pierogis.
Though Baker Streetcar Bar’s ownership situation and bar programming are likely to fluctuate going forward, there is precedent here for the types of communal celebrations unique to dive bars. Notable is the long-running Paczki Day party often housed at Baker Streetcar Bar held the day before Ash Wednesday as part of a Catholic tradition that has evolved to include paczki, a unique pastry in the spirit of a filled donut. Grilled meat nights, hot dog specials and other bursts of food-based value have been found at Baker Streetcar Bar over the years, something to keep an eye on as ownership adapts to its long-held kinship with the area’s other Hamtramck bars.