It's a bright green dive bar in the heart of Detroit, hard to not love.
Dive bars that exist even just a few feet underground simply hit different. Perception or not, the act of walking even a few steps downward into a semi-subterranean drinking establishment no doubt heightens the experience. Jumbo’s Bar on the fringes of downtown Detroit offers that experience, a sum total of four steps below street level creating the vibe of a cool uncle’s basement complete with the pool table and beer signage you’d expect in Uncle Bill’s man cave.
What is today called Midtown Detroit lives on as the Cass Corridor to locals, a stretch of Detroit centered around Cass Avenue with a reputation as one of the historically seedy areas of the city. Though Detroit’s urban renaissance has touched a building here or there in Jumbo’s general vicinity, the Detroit dive bar itself has emerged unscathed. Neighbors are few and far between these days, some of the past urban density demolished over the years, leaving Jumbo’s a bright green not-so-sore thumb amid abandoned lots and some nearby housing.
The visual appeal of Jumbo’s Bar is unmistakable, the stark contrast of a bright green shoebox against Detroit’s urban environment making for an easy dive bar to spot. The mural game is strong at Jumbo’s, the all-green paint giving way to some impressive artwork along one of the bar’s long exterior walls, a piece of which is inscribed with the toast, “To good friends & happiness.” That kind of timeless sentiment makes sense for a dive bar opened in 1940 by the father of the current owner, a man nicknamed Jumbo due to his temperament and mayor-of-the-neighborhood reputation rather than his stature (5’5”).
The aforementioned few steps down through the green front door unfold into a layout that looks just like the shoebox inferred by the building’s rectangular exterior. On one side of the space, a long bar under a low drop ceiling ringed in blue and purple neon. The surfaces here have been refinished over the years, standard counter-style drinking at the bar with metal-topped drink displays behind. Beer signs and old newspaper articles dot the space, but in a more measured quantity than the classic paper-every-inch dive bar density that can sometimes be found.
Opposite the bar, a series of games border a set of low tables, a range that includes a vintage cigarette machine as well as gambling-style bar video games. This subterranean cave is painted almost exclusively a soft blue, vertical wooden slats ringing not only the walls but the area beneath the bar itself as well. Where the Jumbo’s Bar exterior remains beholden to its signature green, blue sets a softer tone inside. A small stage can be found in one corner of the narrow space, enough room to presumably hold about three people, in proportion to the rest of the space.
Jumbo’s Bar may sit on the urban Detroit fringe, a Cass Corridor stalwart as the area continues to (somewhat slowly) evolve, but the appeal here is clear. The vibe is laid back, classic and maybe most importantly, well removed from the world outside, a testament to the power of a few steps down from the front door and bright green paint in a perpetually in-between neighborhood.