Where the bathroom floor is an attraction.
For the Midwest, there aren’t many tourist traps quite as blatant as Mackinaw City, Michigan, the gateway to Mackinac Island and unquestioned king of northern Michigan novelty t-shirt stores. The drive into the city is a checklist of every family-friendly budget hotel chain in America, crossed with the occasional roadside attraction or mini golf course. And that’s not to say the city isn’t fun, more that it’s surprising to find an actual dive bar, the Keyhole Bar & Grill, among the attractions.
The building’s exterior provides only a hint of what’s to come inside through a fairly basic sign above the door and a bit of green neon in the shape of, you guessed it, a keyhole. There are keys inscribed upon the awning and the glass door is strategically etched in the shape of a keyhole. And though that might seem like a robust display of the bar’s theme, I call it a hint because the interior is a living tribute to the simple and enduring beauty of one of life’s simplest devices, the key.
Inside, the view is an explosion of wood paneling and metal, the space a long and narrow corridor packed with enough keys to stock every janitor in Michigan. A long bar runs along the first portion of the room’s interior wall, a string of tables running opposite. Above the bar dangles what feels like hundreds of vintage hotel keys on hooks, an impressive display that forms the bottom layer of a sandwich, vintage beer bottles just above before giving away to a top layer of, yep, more keys.
The paneling behind the bar resembles a grandfather’s garage work bench, old (and gigantic) metal padlocks mixed in with combination locks and more keys just above and behind the bar’s liquor display. If you’re wondering what makes up the border above this vintage display, then you’re not really paying attention to the theme here. The bar itself is made of a clear epoxy of some variety, clear so that you can see the dozens upon dozens of keys encased within.
In the interest of leaving a few key-related decorations unspoiled by this review, I won’t go into full detail about every other inch of the bar’s impressive devotion to the theme, but I will point out that said devotion extends to the bathroom floor, where somehow keys have been embedded into the polished floor throughout the restroom area. No stone left unturned, as they say.
Beyond the impressive display of keys, keyholes and also keys, an impressive and down-to-earth dive bar can be found at the Keyhole, an antidote to some of the rampant commercialism just a few feet from the front door. A full kitchen doubles up the space as part dive, part diner, all of it presided over by one of life’s great gifts, a Spuds Mackenzie statue attached to one of the bar’s walls.
If a dive bar can be a spectacle without coming off as pretentious is a town built upon Midwestern tourism, then the Keyhole Bar & Grill walks that line about as well as any bar could. Some bizarro version of this bar is a weird combination of a dive bar and a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, but the Keyhole never veers that direction. Rare is the combination of visual spectacle in the absence of grimy commercialism, making the Keyhole Bar & Grill a perfect complement to (or replacement of) the Mackinaw City vibe outside.