Friday, August 8, 2008

In memory of Drake's

I don't know if it still holds true, but it used to be quite common for certain Flint kids to think that Ann Arbor was the coolest place in the world, or at least in Michigan. The attraction was understandable. After all, Ann Arbor had stores that were open downtown, and you could roam around at night in blissful safety. The theaters, or at least one of them, showed movies like Dance Craze. (The major drawback was that bars and party stores in Ann Arbor actually scrutinized your fake I.D.'s.) I also got the feeling that a lot of the pretentious Ann Arbor types were slightly afraid of anyone from Flint, which was kind of novel.

There was the unfortunately named Nectarine Ballroom, Schoolkids' Records, and Drake's, which seemed lost somewhere in the fifties. I had a job there washing dishes one summer during college, and Mr. Tibbles, the long-time owner, would pull a wad of bills out of his pocket to pay me after a shift. He'd also occasionally warn me about playing The The too loud in the dishwashing room.

Drake's is long gone, but the Food Museum website has a nice little history of the place:

“Drake's had been in existence since the 1920's,” writes Jobee. “On the walls of the shop there were pictures of people, some of them quite notable, who had visited or eaten there. JFK had his picture taken with the owner, Mr.Tibbles, in 1960 after his speech initiating the Peace Corps at the University of Michigan.

“During the late 60's to early 70's, some of the customers would be John Sinclair, Iggy Pop and the Prime Movers (pre-Stooges), the MC5, and Bob Seger. It was rumored that Nico was spotted at Drake's while she was in Ann Arbor living at Iggy's Fun House but I don't know.

“I started hanging out at Drake's during the 1980's as a teenager. At that time it was a popular spot for college students, townies, and punk rock kids. Drake's was part of the young and hip ‘Ann Arbor Scene’- yes there really was a scene at one time. That was the time of my ‘Grace Jones Look.’

“Drake's was really special part of Ann Arbor life. Unfortunately, Mr. Tibbles retired and his children wanted nothing to do with the shop so they put it on the market and sold it. The shareholders of the City of Ann Arbor did absolutely nothing to stop it and in fact encouraged it. They were and still are an exclusive group of White wealthy new-age ex-hippies and expatriated suburbanites with no taste, culture or respect for Ann Arbor's urban history. For them, Drake's was only a haven for a subculture they couldn't understand and who had no spending power. So the arrogant Philistines spat in our faces with a Bruegger's Bagel franchise."

Michigan Today adds:

"Alums who graduated before the early '90s will remember pecan rolls and sandwiches at Drake's, the legendary sandwich shop that faced the Diag. Drake's closed in 1993. Other eating institutions, such as the Pretzel Bell, are also gone. In their place, a number of chain restaurants have moved in, but so have food joints that cater to today's palates: sushi bars, falafel stands, and organic pizza."


  1. I used to go into Drake's at least once a week. My dad went into Drake's, when he attended UofM. I nearly cried when I heard it was closing. I loved that description, "They were and still are an exclusive group of White wealthy new-age ex-hippies and expatriated suburbanites with no taste, culture or respect for Ann Arbor's urban history." It may sum A2, but the statement also relates to the place where I now live. So sad.

  2. It does seem like Ann Arbor has tilted more toward "bedroom community" than the "college town" it used to be.

  3. My wife is one of those Flint kids that thinks Ann Arbor is the cat's meow. I like hanging out there, but it seems a little pretentious for me. I get plenty of stares for driving a huge truck around the city, and if anyone finds out I'm from Flint, I instantly get treated lower-class. Ypsi is more my bag - it's like Flint, with a big university.

  4. J.L., I'm with you Ypsi. It's sort of like Flint's sister city. And I can imagine the reaction in A2 to a big truck.

  5. I lived in A2 from '93-'96 and was certainly much happier with the overall scene there than in Flint or EL, but let's face it: there will never be an "Elbow Room" in A2. And you can park your big truck there and nobody will think anything of it.

  6. Stares from A2 weenies at your truck are badges of honor to be worn proudly. Nurture the opportunities and savor each one. Ann Arbor was a lot more fun when it had a seedy element. Then it got whitewashed, the headshops vanished and the culture of pretension took over. I lived in A2 for about 10 years, 6 years as a non-student, and the west side of town was refreshing and fun. The last time I was there, Main St. was overrun with yuppies dining al fresco. Yuk.

  7. Yes, Drakes.... where else could you order a cucumber sandwich and bouillion cube soup? My friend Steve and I used to go there and practice speaking Russian... we usually didn't say too much except chaika (I think that was the word for tea, but who can remember now?)...

    I also miss that Harry's? bar that had the labels on the beer.....I miss the $2.50 falafel place.....I miss Dominick's 25 cent coffee.

    Ann Arbor is where interesting businesses that failed in Flint's downtown went to... not sure if they succeeded there either, but that's what I recall from the late 80's.

    Drakes was an amazing place though... it was especially nice on game days after I scalped my tickets and could enjoy A2 without all the people.

  8. One of my fondest memories of Ann Arbor is buying two or three pitchers in Rick's with Jim and Tim Perry and paying with pennies. We lived on Packard at the time and I remember walking to the bar with both pockets filled with change. I think I lived that entire summer on about $17. And we only went to Rick's because they had some special on pitchers and we wanted to go out on the town.

  9. Harry's bar - I'd forgotten about that place. And the Del Rio - I spent a lot of quality time in that place... For falafel I wonder if you mean Jerusalem Garden, Grumkin. Now that I think of it most of my nutrition in Ann Arbor probably came from the Fleetwood Diner.

  10. I graduated from U of M in '94 and spent quite a bit of time at Drakes. It was a sad day when it closed. For my food dollar, Blimpy Burgers always won out though. As far as A2 residents, my former neighbors who regularly fed their cat shrimp always typified the general air of pretention for me.

  11. OMG, I loved Drakes. I grew up in Davison and moved to Ann Arbor the summer I graduated (1984). I didn't go to college, I just went there to BE there. Everytime one of my friends came down to visit I took the to Drakes. It had it's own vibe. Hot Chocolate was never better. Ny husband and I were just friends back then and we had some fun times in those booths. Hey, remember the phone booth? So cool.



Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at