Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lessons Learned From Steve's Place

Last Friday I had the privilege of meeting Sophia and Steve Francis, the proprietors of Steve's Place, a bar just outside of Greektown in Detroit.

We were prompted to meet them by a friend we were with who had visited the quirky bar before and had one heck of an experience.

So, looking for adventure, we entered the shady spot next to Saint Andrews and had a drink. I had a cranberry and vodka (3/4 vodka and 1/4 cranberry I might add), poured by Sophia who maneuvered slowly with the bottle of Ocean Spray. Apparently most folks just drink beer when they visit...and after I ordered it I felt slightly guilty for asking her to make it. Jason commented how she looked like a ghost walking around the dimly lit bar. She was wearing a flowery housecoat and she smiled when she handed me the drink. She had a thick accent, so I asked her where she was from. "Greece," she answered.

While we enjoyed our drinks, we all looked around in amazement, gawking at the bazillion oddities that lined the bright blue and green bar, from a giant plastic swan and punk rock band stickers to several old non-working beer clocks and a collection of lunchboxes from the 70's. A few Tigers fans were clumped together at the end of the bar, otherwise the bar would have been ours. Blues music from the "Greektown Blues Man" blared behind us and we giggled as he sang his own versions of songs we love.

As we looked around in wonderment, Steve entered. We had guessed he may have been napping because he looked slightly disheveled. He was wearing drawstring pants, up way past his belly button. He walked away for a moment and came back with a tie on, instantly giving us the vibe that he put it on just for us -- clearly the newbies at the bar.

He shook our hands, introduced himself, asked us if this was our first time visiting, poured more drinks and began talking to us about his life -- stories about the FBI and the Detroit riots, WWII and Vietnam and how he met his wife. We couldn't make out most of what he was saying (he has a very soft voice and a thick Greek accent), but were able to read his expressions well enough to see how happy he was that we were there -- so much so he gave us free shots of Peach Schnapps (apparently a common practice of his). "Yamas!" we said ("cheers" in Greek).

I was profoundly touched by Steve and Sophia, who we learned came to Detroit from Greece in 1961 and have worked their 70-something (we're guessing) tails off ever since. Wanting to know more, I got home and Googled "Steve's Place + Detroit" to see if there has been any stories written about this diamond in the rough and came across a great story from the Metro Times from 2002. (The photo of Steve that accompanied the story is below.)

I learned some interesting facts from the story:
  • Steve and Sophia have run the bar for the past 39 years. The bar is open from 10 a.m. - 2 a.m. everyday except Christmas. Steve and Sophia live in a flat above the bar.
  • Steve was raised in Greece and lived through the German occupation during World War II. He says his father died from an injury suffered in World War I.
  • Steve doesn’t know his age because he doesn't have a birth certificate.

The last lines in the article sum up Steve's Place perfectly:

"There’s a real dying-on-the-vine beauty to the bar. It’s unaffected by pretense and trend. Steve’s Place stands alone, traditional and ghostlike, quiet and almost heavenly."

It's weird the lessons you can learn from people in an hour-long encounter. We walked away dumbfounded, yet smiling about the odd experience we had shared at Steve's Place.

If you're ever in the area, stop by and say hello to Steve and Sophia. You'll not only walk away with a new appreciation for life and the value of hard work, but you'll have gained two new and interesting friends.


EstrellaBella10 said...

What an interesting experience! Mike and a group of his friends wound up at Steve's Place once at about 3 in the morning, and Mike always talks about the "obscure bar in Detroit" that we have to visit together some day. Thanks for sharing your adventure!

Anonymous said...

"Steve's Place," a short film, will premiere Sat. Jan. 23 at Steve's Place. Reception 7 p.m., film at 8 p.m. I think this is a documentary...scant other info on the flyer I mention of cost, so hopefully it's free.

Anonymous said...

I think Steve is from the U.S. I thought Washington.

He told me he's thinking about retiring and moving out to the suburbs. When asked which suburb, he replied," Dearborn."