As Detroit live music dive bar as a place can be.
The romance between dive bars and live music is a long and storied one, but few cities embody that union better than Detroit. Though the music and divey drinking vibe can be found throughout the city, the Cass Corridor is one of the focal points, a neighborhood just north of downtown Detroit with a long and sometimes rough history. The Old Miami may be the king of dive bars in this Cass Avenue-centered neighborhood, a staple since its doors opened in 1980 with a live music pedigree that boasts the White Stripes, the Allman Brothers and countless others.
Not every dive bar is lucky enough to begin life as a burned out building husk, but such is the story for The Old Miami, purchased in 1979 and renovated enough to reopen as the Detroit dive bar it is today just one year later. As the bar’s main site details, the building was purchased by a Vietnam veteran, the foundation for the long-standing veteran-friendly stance taken by the bar. Initially opened catering exclusive to veterans, the clientele has widened over the decades but veteran-focused policies like free admission to all shows maintain the spiritual tradition of The Old Miami.
And if The Old Miami’s roots were ever a mystery, the front door clears that right up, a sliding partition sitting just to its right with the two icons of the bar’s history expressed in sculpted metal, a guitar and a gun. Other than the doors nod to its veteran- and music-friendly heritage, the exterior of The Old Miami is simple, a green awning atop a flat stone façade. Inside though, that simplicity quickly gives way to an explosion of artifacts caking every inch of the space, much of it in line with the veteran roots of the Detroit dive bar.
Military uniforms hang from the ceiling, folded flags sit atop the ledge behind the bar and countless patches hang from the walls, fading but proud emblems of the bar military appreciative heritage. The area behind the bar in particular houses the most intricate and interesting collections of mementos, badges giving way to patches giving way to photographs and more. The deep reverence for veterans is clear not just here but throughout the Detroit dive bar, the long wall opposite the bar covered in historical photos of aircraft, framed magazine covers from years gone by and a host of other items atop vertical wood paneling.
The footprint of the interior space itself is open, broken up only by a handful of wooden pillars that separate a main bar area from the pool table and additional seating that runs alongside. A great first activity upon entering The Old Miami after snagging a beer is simply a lap around the exterior walls, taking in the many, many odds and ends that range from the military items discussed to a set of pool (and one hockey?) trophies that can be found in one corner. The white, stamped ceiling presides over everything, the occasional item hanging here as well, and while the paint may have been refreshed, the stamping itself looks like it could be building original.
In back, a significantly-sized stage can be found, home to the live music that cycles through The Old Miami. Ample standing room is available here atop a tiled floor with the name of the bar and a set of stars imprinted. The speaker setup and depth to the stage make for what is no doubt a compelling visual presence to a show seen here, a dedication to the music end of the concert-dive bar partnership that is a cut above what you might find elsewhere. The signage in this stage area is compelling as well, the bright orange Detroit Rock City street-style sign putting a punctuation on the concert platform’s visual appeal.
The Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit is filled with gems like The Old Miami, stalwarts in a part of town that has not always been the easiest place to build a business. Though spots of renovation and rehabilitation can be found here, the authentic, time-tested nature of the neighborhood certainly shines through and that only accentuates the appeal of The Old Miami. With clear, veteran-driven roots and a robust dedication to live music, The Old Miami makes a case for one of the best dive bars in Detroit and perhaps the emblematic dive bar in one of Detroit’s most interesting areas.