The Midwestern dive bar sign game is strong here.
The sign that hangs above the front door of Cheboygan, Michigan’s, Johnnie’s Bar reads like a list of life’s essentials: “Johnnie’s Sports Bar. Hamburgers. Big Screen TV. Air Conditioned.” And while the reality is that Johnnie’s offers more than just those staple amenities, that the sign looks like it has withstood above 50 years of northern Michigan weather definitely enhances the dive bar experience within.
And in fact, Johnnie’s interior looks to have received a complete overhaul in the not-so-distant past, creating one of the cleanest dive bars this reviewer has ever entered, maybe even too clean to qualify Johnnie’s as a dive bar at all. Definition aside, bright wooden paneling runs throughout the bar’s interior, giving way at times to Michigan State decorations that crop up as the space extends back. A large room up front houses the main footprint of the bar, including a handful of tables, a shuffleboard game and the L-shaped apex of the bar itself.
A second room toward the back houses a pair of pool tables and the primary path to the bar’s bathrooms (also clean). Checkerboard flooring under foot and what looks to be an overhauled drop ceiling above stretch across both rooms, creating a really streamlined appearance to a bar that on the outside looks like it might be a dusty 1950s dive.
But a place like Johnnie’s Bar is built on the little things, from the tiny glass I was given to drink my High Life (everything is classier in a tiny glass, though High Life needs no enhancement) to the drinkers at the end of the bar who were clearly off-the-clock bartenders from Johnnie’s itself. The space feels like a community collection point, an oasis along the small stretch that makes up downtown Cheboygan, Michigan.
Midwestern dive bars like Johnnie’s provide what feels like a simple set of amenities, but they do it as a reflection of the community around them, an organic extension of an enduring Midwestern community. Cheboygan, near the northern tip of Michigan, is an outpost of sorts, the perfect type of town to create a place like Johnnie’s where sports, beer, hamburgers and air conditioning is about all it takes to provide the perfect experience.
The features simple, the interior rejuvenated, the surfaces spotless, Johnnie’s Bar is a classic Midwestern dive bar, and one well worth a post-diner breakfast day drink amid the Cheboygan, Michigan, regulars.