Monday, October 29, 2007

Field Report: The Caucus Club

The Caucus Club may seem an usual restaurant for exploration as a gay spot, but its inclusion is really almost mandatory, for reasons I'll get to in a minute.

The Caucus Club is one of Detroit's old-time classics. It opened in 1952 and pretty much hasn't changed an iota since. Located on the ground floor of the fabulous Penobscot Building (south entrance), it has a clubby, piano bar kind of vibe. It actually does, in fact, have a piano, although I believe it generally goes unplayed.

I've been to the Caucus Club only a handful of times, the first this spring on the same night I went to the last Sass dance party and most recently for lunch today. It has all the nostalgic appeal you'd hope, including vintage 40's light fixtures over the tables in the bar, circular booths, waiters who have been there since the beginning of time. And the food is really great - since Union Street cut their awesome Salade Nicoise from the menu (I hate them now) I've been looking for something equally good, and the one here possibly exceeds it. Not to mention the espresso is brewed on a stovetop espresso pot, not a machine brewer.

And let's not forget cocktails! The drinks are great, old school, and they have all the top shelf brands you expect and deserve. There is something about the vibe, though, that demands minimally-diluted liquor, so don't bother with anything but a martini or a bullshot.

The clientele, at least at lunch, is typically downtown business-y. Not in the way the Detroit Athletic Club is, but more in the real downtown worker way. I can only illustrate this by describing the tables near me today, which included a late-middle-aged businessman with a slightly younger woman, a guy in a bowtie, and a trio of middle-aged chain smoking women. No pretense, no excessive formality, just real Detroit folks who won't eat at Jimmy John's.

As for the gay, well there weren't any other gay people there that I was aware of during any of my visits. But the Caucus Club holds a very special spot in gay history because it is the place where Barbra Streisand got her first break. As their website states:

"The Caucus Club has had many celebrities cross its door. The most famous would have to be Barbra Streisand who sang in the back room in 1961. Brought here from New York, the Caucus Club was one of Streisand first paying jobs. She was young and inexperienced performer. "Watching her was like watching the first brush strokes in a picture, she was creating herself," said owner Les Gruber. Streisand left Detroit for an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jack Parr, and the rest is history!"

History indeed. If you are looking for a place to go with friends that has charm, class, character and is a part of your gay heritage, I cannot recommend this place enough. It is, frankly, ripe for a gay takeover as a swanky little piano bar. All we'd need is a decent performer. Hey Barbra ... ?

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