The Lager House Re-Opening

Last Saturday, The Lager House proved that rumors of its death as a Detroit rock n’ roll mainstay have been greatly exaggerated. The Corktown dive bar’s Grand Re-Opening Celebration featured a night of music with Beggars, Murder Mystery, and with champagne courtesy of the new owners for all of those who came to christen the new Lager, which really doesn’t look very different from the old one.

Most of the changes and fixes were to the less visible parts of the building itself, particularly to the roof, which could very well have fallen in after another abusive winter, says new co-owner P.J. Ryder. Electrical upgrades were also made, along with new paint for the ceiling and walls on the bar side of the building. Thankfully, the stage side has been left as it is–stained, sticky, stickered, and thoroughly rocked from the residue of the great bands that have graced its stage.

P.J. Ryder is noticeable by his long gray mane of hair, tied back into a ponytail, and by the visible nervous energy with which he carried himself that night. “Way back in 1982,” he recalls, “I saw a financial advisor who asked me what I really want to do. I said, ‘Own my own rock n’ roll bar.'”

The former owner of PJ’s Used Records in Ann Arbor, Ryder worked in real estate for years but realized in 2006 that his future happiness depended on getting out of that business. “It’s just like they say,” he reflects, “you gotta do something you love.”

And so Ryder left the real estate biz and began searching for a bar to buy.

There were a few opportunities in Hamtramck, but they fell through. So when Ryder heard that the Weakly family, which has owned the Lager House since 1977 and transformed it from a restaurant to a rock n’ roll club, was putting the bar up for sale, he knew he had found the opportunity he had been looking for.

Aware of the history of the Lager House and its importance in the history of Detroit Garage Rock, Ryder hopes to bring “a fusion of energy and money” in order to sustain it as a great rock bar for years to come.

Ryder also wants to bring different kinds of music to the Lager. “I want a cross-pollination of music,” he explains, and talks excitedly about exposing Lager patrons to many different kinds of music, including blues, folk, and even Zydeco.

But some of the Detroit music purists I talked to that night see these changes as tell-tale signs that this will not be the same old Lager. “Too plain looking in here,” noted one Lager-goer that night, “Needs personality.” Another told me, “I just hope it doesn’t get any more bourgie than this.” Others I talked to feared that local bands wouldn’t get as many opportunities to play the venue if national blues acts start coming through.

But others I talked to were more optimistic, including one local Detroit musician who conceded “Less dirt, but same attitude.”

These fears stem from the flurry of rumors back in October when news of the sale got out. Some feared that the Lager would be turned into a jazz club

Ryder has no idea how the rumors started, but couldn’t say anything to the contrary because he hadn’t closed the deal when the rumors first began to spread. But he says he is dedicated to making the Lager a great venue to see a rock show.

Comparing the Lager to the staid Ann Arbor folk venue, Ryder told me that “the Ark is great, but it’s not the kind of place to have fun. This is a rock bar where you can have fun at a show. There’s a dance floor.”

And Ryder’s enthusiasm for the local rock scene and the quality of Detroit music is obvious just by talking to him for a few minutes. It’s the love of the music and the love of the city that made Ryder want to buy the club. And as he walked around talking to patrons and picking up empty glasses and full ashtrays, you could see the sense of excitement in his steps and in his enthusiasm.

“I can work at the bar for 16 hours,” he says, “go home and to bed, wake up the next morning and can’t wait to get back to work.”

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