There's something about faded green paint that sparks the desire to drink.
The line between abandoned building and vintage dive bar is a fine one, an algorithm that takes into account just how faded is the paint and how ancient is the lighting. Outside, Temple Bar in Detroit is walking every bit of that line, a faded green building with opaque glass block windows that at first glance might seem like a long forgotten blue collar bar but is instead an enduring dive bar on the fringes of Detroit’s downtown core.
No review of a Detroit-area dive bar is complete without some mention of the revitalization of the urban center of the city, a reclamation project sparked by acknowledging that enough decline was enough. Temple Bar sits perilously close to some of this work, notably the nearby Little Caesars Arena opened in 2017, a stark contrast from the Detroit dive bar’s roots along the historically rough Cass Avenue. Opened in 1927 by the father of the current owner, Temple Bar has expanded over the years and weathered every possible type of urban storm during that time.
The bar was sold in 1974 but brought back to the family a decade later to revive the inclusive and welcoming spirit that has long been a hallmark of the bar. Notable due to its longevity through all manner of social change, Temple Bar has a long history of inclusion, alluded to by the bar’s rainbow neon window lighting scheme and maybe (perception is in the eye of the beholder) the T in Temple Bar looking more like a classic Christian cross than anything else. The Detroit dive bar’s urban surroundings create a rich network of nearby residents and regulars, all walks of life well represented both then and today at Temple Bar.
As one of the stalwarts of the area that has thus far refused to sell to encroaching Little Caesars Arena-attached developers, the green, chipped, faded, rainbow neon-infused exterior along Detroit’s Cass Avenue is all the more impressive, an exterior that looks a bit like a 70’s-era disco converted into a dive bar once the music lost its audience. There is a musical theme here, in fact, as Temple Bar plays host to a DJ and house music-focused live music slate that makes use of what turns out to be a pretty cavernous interior space.
The bar runs the full length of the space, original mahogany still ringing the outside of what is now a more modern metal bar surface. Behind the bar, makeup mirror-style light bulbs illuminate sections of mirrors and liquor bottles, a bright enclave underneath a low drop ceiling that hovers over the bar area. Temple Bar is not your stapled dollar bill, signage across every inch of available space style dive bar. This is a classic setup for classic drinking, the long bar giving way to a series of low tables and a pool area.
A low wall in the middle of the space serves as barrier between bar area and presumably DJ setup slash dance floor, a jukebox and disco ball making that brilliant inference possible. The flooring looks refreshed and a few of the surfaces repainted, creating a mixture of old and new inside what is so clearly a vintage, classic building. And that’s the promise of a place like Temple Bar, a Detroit dive bar that has endured every aspect of the city’s sometimes checkered history, retaining its reputation as a welcoming spot for anyone to grab a drink and a bit of escape.