Duck in from the Corktown crowd with an aquarium view.
When the phrase “old man bar” is used liberally in online reviews, signs point to a compelling dive bar experience and such is the case for LJ’s Lounge in Detroit’s Corktown district. Equally promising is the seldom-seen wood panel exterior, a level of commitment to wood paneling simply to strong to be confined to the Detroit dive bar’s ample interior lining.
On the surface, LJ’s Lounge is a classic shotgun-style dive bar, a long skinny room on a busy city block to grab a drink. But given the almost constant redevelopment of Corktown and the upscale offerings nearby, the ability of LJ’s Lounge to endure largely untouched is a remarkable feat. Despite a renovation in 2010 that produced a revamped exterior to match the hot and heavy development of the block at that time, LJ’s Lounge looks largely as it did when it opened in the late 1970s.
But the Detroit dive bar’s location in the heart of one of the hottest parts of the city and indeed next door to a pretty potent dining option (Slows Bar BQ) gives it new context as the perfect anchor to otherwise explore the area. Late dinner reservation? Stop in for a beer. Long wait at your preferred destination? Grab a round? Simply have a hankering for a Jello shot? LJ’s Lounge is the spot for you. Outside, the eye is inevitably drawn to the sign over the door inscribed with LJ’s Sweetheart Bar, a different spin on what is more officially known as LJ’s Lounge online.
The collection of decorations here does dive bar heritage proud, the sheer density of vintage Budweiser mirrored frames an impressive feat before taking into consideration the rest of the collection. What looks to be a full set of “Great Kings of Africa” Budweiser pieces is the star attraction, the depictions of some of history’s greatest rulers paired with the implication that if they were still alive, Budweiser may very well be their drink of choice. Other beer brands make appearances, of course, including a few co-branded pieces with Detroit sports teams.
Behind the bar, the curiosities continue, including an aquarium that looks like it has seen better days perched above the LJ’s Lounge cash register. The bar itself is fairly standard, a lineup of cooler doors that look like they could be original below a few illuminated platforms filled with liquor bottles. Between the large mirrors that run almost the entirety of the length of the space behind the bar sit tall, reflective, copper-colored columns that add yet another distinct element to the appeal of LJ’s Lounge.
Aside from the ceiling, every inch of the interior space is lined with wood paneling, of course, the space brightened a bit by multicolor string lights that run the length of the bar’s opposite wall. A few hightop tables can be found opposite the bar leading back to a small alcove that houses the Detroit dive bar’s pool table. Keep an eye out for the old school barometer on the wall, the kind of thing your grandpa definitely had that you probably never noticed on the wall of his study (or perhaps I’m projecting).
As one might expect from the description, drinks here are affordable and the food selection is largely limited to the vending machine in the rear of the bar. But that simplicity is LJ’s Lounge’s greatest asset, a counterpoint to the dining and drinking options nearby, adding a much-needed affordable collection point to a city blocked filled with waitlists and crowds.