Most people are aware that Detroit had a pretty important role in Prohibition – mostly through keeping our bars well-stocked even when the laws suggested otherwise – but it goes so much deeper than that. To fix this we’ve put together a deep dive history tour with real-deal professional Detroit Prohibition History historian Mickey Lyons to get you the true facts and stories you won’t hear elsewhere. We’ve got a great itinerary with lots of very cool stops – and we don’t wanna spoil the surprises we have for you – but we can share some of them to wet your whistle:
We’ll start the tour at Cliff Bell’s, with our very own space for drinks and mood setting. Cozy up on a bar stool—which Cliff might have had a hand in inventing!—and hear all about speakeasy culture in the city. Cliff Bell was downtown’s consummate host, owning no fewer than 4 different speakeasies during Prohibition. His final and namesake bar opened (legally) in 1935.
Detroit was responsible for 75% of the illegal alcohol that came into the States during Prohibition from Canada, and once you hear these stories you’ll understand why. Windsor was kind enough to end their own Prohibition just in time for us to start importing, by any means necessary, Hiram Walker’s whisky and the many other Canadian types of hooch so conveniently placed right there. We’ll learn all about the different methods of smuggling, by plane, train, automobile and more, into the US.
Speakeasies also weren’t just dimly-lit basement rooms protected by goons and passwords. If you knew the right people and paid off the right cops, you could host lavish parties for Detroit and Grosse Pointe’s elite. We’ll stop outside some infamous and swanky places like the Aniwa Club, once home to gamblers, gangsters and aristocrats alike, before it finally went too far and was shut down, forcibly, by the police. Here we’ll learn what it took to run a high-end club, and what padlocking did and didn’t do for Prohibition enforcement.
With big money and big opportunity come big crime. Home to Detroit’s pre-Prohibition brewing industry, Eastern Market and adjoining Forest Park were home to some folks who kept right on producing the good stuff, laws or no. We’ll learn about the Great Grape Crackdown, how some breweries survived legally and others illegally, and just how hard it is to make safe and palatable moonshine. We’ll also find out about the inevitable and bloody gang violence that resulted from the struggle for all that sweet, sweet moonshine money. The Purple Gang, after all, wasn’t the only game in town.
There’s so much more juicy stuff to cover and you’ll get it all when you hop on the bus with us.
ABOUT YOUR GUIDE
Mickey Lyons is a Hamtramck-based Detroit historian and author who specializes in the history of drinking in Detroit, from frontier saloons to Prohibition-era speakeasies to modern day cocktail bars. This work has taken her to some surprising places, including abandoned police social clubs, cruise ship lecture halls, and archives from all over the city.
Lyons’s work can be found in local and national outlets, including Metro Times Detroit, Hour Detroit and NBC News. 2018’s Wicked Detroit tells the story of Detroit’s earliest scoundrels, cads and frauds, from Cadillac through the early 20th century. Her current project, ProhibitionDetroit.com, chronicles Detroit’s turbulent and exciting history during Prohibition.
The Pickup Location & Time
We’re starting our tour inside of Cliff Bells in the private side room at 7:00PM sharp. We’ll board the bus after our presentation inside. Cliff Bells is located at 2030 Park Ave, Detroit, MI 48226. They have excellent food and drinks plus a bathroom, which is nice. Your name will be on the list so you don’t need to bring anything with you. If you’d like to get a drink or food, show up a bit early and get that out of the way so you’re well-equipped when the storytelling starts.
We’ll be back to Cliff Bells by about 11:00PM.
There are a number of surface parking lots right near the Cliff Bells that range from $5-20 to park. There is a great parking deck just across Woodward called the Z Deck at 1234 Library St. that features a bunch of really cool murals throughout the levels and there’s some bars and restaurants tucked in the bottom. Basically there’s a lot of parking around.
Refund and Cancellations
Your tickets are fully refundable up to 14 days before the date of your tour. After that period there are no refunds. Sorry to be so mean about it. You’re welcome to reassign your tickets by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What happens if I miss the bus? Will the bus wait for me if I’m late?
Unfortunately we can’t hold up the bus for late comers, there’s a schedule we gotta keep. Be on tiiiime please.
Can I drink on the bus?
Yep, you definitely can. Because this is a history tour we’re asking you to take it very easy. Think less hardcore, more White Claw. If you’re looking for a little more party to go with your history, our historic bar tour Drunks of Antiquity is real good at that.
What about food and soft drinks?
Snacks and soft drinks are cool! We just ask you leave them on the bus when we enter our locations. These locations aren’t plastic-wrapped like grandma’s couch.
What if I can’t show up? Will my friend be able to go instead?
Totally. Just let us know ahead of time via email@example.com and we’ll update your tickets with the new name or send them with your printed tickets.
Will you be selling extra seats at the bus?
Nope. Sorry. All passes gotta be bought online. There’s a limited number of seats and we want you to have plenty of room – no roof riders no matter how cool that might sound.
What about weather SNAFUs?
We live in Michigan. Sometimes Mother Nature likes to throw us a curveball. We keep safety as our highest priority. In case of gnarly weather, you’ll receive an email the day of the event with a raincheck/snowcheck date. If you cannot make the rescheduled date, you’ll get a voucher good for a future tour with us.