Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nick's Gaslight endures changing times in downtown Detroit

Nick's Gaslight Restaurant is quiet on a Wednesday afternoon at lunch these days, but it wasn't always this way. The Gaslight used to buzz during the lunch hour, with office workers from the neighboring skyscrapers popping across the street for a burger, or a bowl of soup, or a slice of liver. It was that kind of place.

Once upon a time, Detroit was that kind of place.

“There used to be more people, but things change,” owner Savvas Kazelas says with a heavy Greek accent and a shrug. He was talking about his lunch crowd. He could have been talking about Detroit’s entire Times Square area.

To stay in business, Nick’s has changed with everything around it, and over the years has transformed from a restaurant hotspot that relied on its daytime traffic, to a quiet neighborhood bar that caters more to the evening crowd. Kazelas, who took ownership of the bar in the mid-1980s after a fire left the place boarded up for more than a year, has added flat-screen and large projection TVs to please Detroit’s sports-crazy crowd. The food’s still good and the drinks still strong, and now more than ever, the Gaslight relies heavily on its regulars. It is, amid the more touristy and trendy bars that have sprung up across town in recent years, just a neighborhood bar. It’s Detroit’s answer to Cheers (with a menu), right down to the four-sided rectangular bar that could have served as the blueprint by which the TV version was created.

What it also is a slice of Detroit history, a hangout that opened for business in 1925 and has ridden the Detroit rollercoaster since. By the time Kazelas got his hands on it in the ‘80s, the evacuation of much of Detroit was already in full swing. And now that the city’s rebirth is gradually getting footing, Nick’s is still serving, changing what it must but remaining as true to its roots as it can. Even in name.

“It’s always been the Gaslight, but not always Nick’s Gaslight,” Kazelas explains. “For a long time it was Eastman’s Gaslight. So we make it Nick’s Gaslight. People know it as the Gaslight, I don’t want to change it completely or they say, ‘What the hell is it?’”

For more info: Visit Nick’s Gaslight Restaurant at 441 W. Grand Boulevard in Detroit (at the corner of Grand River and Bagley), or call 313-963-9191.