What better dive bar mascot is there than the ratalope?
Detroit’s Hamtramck neighborhood is filled with hole-in-the-wall destinations thanks to the convergence of Polish heritage and a range of great Mediterranean & Middle Eastern restaurants. Where great Polish food is found (see the nearby Polish Village Cafe), great dive bars are never too far behind and Hamtramck is no exception thanks to Whiskey In The Jar and a string of unassuming Detroit dive bars nearby.
Joseph Campau Avenue serves as the heart of Hamtramck proper and Whiskey In The Jar can be fittingly found just off of that beaten path along Yemans Street. The sign atop a pole outside of the bar looks straightforward at first glance, but a deeper look at the red circle in the corner of the “Whiskey In The Jar” inscription hints at one of the great oddities found inside. The red circle lettering reads “Local Order of Ratalope Local 212,” a nod to the taxidermy rodent sporting a pair of antlers that serves as the de facto mascot of the Hamtramck dive bar.
The building itself cuts a short, squat profile, a pale brown building under a sloped, well-weathered roof that counts only a handful of opaque glass blocks among its notable exterior features. As with any great neighborhood dive bar, the Whiskey In The Jar bar blends in well among the residential homes that stretch west along Yemans. Inside, a layout straight out of the dive bar playbook can be found, a short bar anchoring the space atop cracked tile flooring.
Warmth here is provided by the comforting allure of wood paneling, a theme that extends throughout Whiskey In The Jar bar across multiple color palettes. Wall coverings are minimalist by dive bar standards, limited to a well-distributed set of bar mirrors paying tribute to a number of classic beer brands. The occasional one-off can be found hiding among the mirrors, including a Hamm’s skunk poster attached to the ceiling and hand-painted ceiling tiles found in bursts overhead.
Behind the bar, illuminated liquor bottles are flanked by mirrored panes that stretch the full length of the space almost entirely covered by stickers. String lights, glass bottles and what looks like a cinder block ceiling make for attractive dive bar drinking surroundings, a theme extended to the drink colors behind the bar also caked with stickers. A handful of rotating draft beer selections can be found here in addition to the usual domestic culprits. The Polish heritage of the area means that Zywiec can often be found at Whiskey In The Jar and other nearby dives, a must-try for any first-timers.
Also a must-try is the long string of themed events held at Whiskey In The Jar that includes prominent Labor Day, Halloween and summer-time, Hawaiian-shirt filled “Magnum” days in tribute to Magnum PI. But the Whiskey In The Jar calendar is punctuated by Paczki Day, much like other area dive bars, a Fat Tuesday celebration tradition marked with drinking, filled pastries and the occasional plastic syringe filled with liquor plunged into said pastry. Whiskey In The Jar celebrates Paczki Day in style with a covered tent and participation in the area’s frigid Hamtramck-area run that celebrates the occasion.
As any good dive bar, Whiskey In The Jar lives in service to the community that supports it, extending from theme days into frequent viewing parties for local soccer team Detroit City FC. The action all takes place under a ring of string lights extends throughout the bar’s footprint, including over the bar’s lone pool table near the rear of the space. A small patio can be found out back, a mini oasis that feels more like drinking at a neighbor’s house than anything else.