MOTOR CITY JOURNAL: Legendary Lindell bar to fade into city's storied sports history
December 4, 2002
BY BILL McGRAW
Detroit Free Press
The aroma from the grill smelled the same Tuesday evening at the Lindell A.C., and former Detroit Lion Wayne Walker's bronzed jockstrap hung augustly from the wall alongside museum-quality hockey sticks, bats and black-and-white photos.
But it felt like a wake inside the cramped, mythical, formerly rowdy saloon at Cass and Michigan in downtown Detroit. That was an appropriate feeling, because the Lindell is closing Sunday night after 52 years of serving burgers, beers and sports as one of the state's best-known bars.
"I've done my share of crying already," said waitress Lisa Soria, 42, who began working the counter in 1979.
Owner John Butsicaris, 82, said the bar will close with a party featuring an appearance by the Stanley Cup.
"There are so many years here," Butsicaris said. "So many people. So many incidents. My whole life has been here."
Butsicaris said he would like to reopen the Lindell near the downtown stadiums, but he is not close to a deal. The new owner, who could not be reached, plans to open a nightclub in the Lindell location. Butsicaris will take the memorabilia with him.
The Lindell attracted little attention in recent years, but it was one of Detroit's true hot spots into the 1970s -- when all of Detroit's professional teams played nearby, numerous local stars and visiting VIPs made the bar their home-away-from-home, and many people believed several vodka tonics before bedtime was good for you.
In 1968, the Tigers gathered at the Lindell with hundreds of patrons the night they clinched the American League pennant just blocks away at Tiger Stadium.
In 1963, National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle charged that the Lindell was a center for illegal sports betting, and forced Lions tackle Alex Karras, the future actor, to sell his share in the bar.The Lindell also was the site of a brawl between Karras and flamboyant wrestler Dick the Bruiser, whose real name was Richard Afflis.
Those incidents gave the Lindell a raucous reputation, as did its association with Billy Martin, the rambunctious Tigers manager who became the bar's patron saint. Martin, who began drinking there as a New York Yankees infielder with teammates Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, befriended Butsicaris and his late brother Jimmy.
"They would come to town and borrow my car," said Butsicaris. "I had a real snazzy Buick convertible."
Martin soon suggested they convert the place to a sports theme. Martin told them how they could split a baseball bat lengthwise to better fasten it to the wall, and he procured bats from all the American League teams.
In 1969, Martin added to the bar's legend when he made national news by punching out one of his pitchers, Dave Boswell, in the alley behind the bar. Boswell received 20 stitches; Martin got seven. At the time, Martin was manager of the Minnesota Twins.
The Lindell also drew notice because John and Jimmy Butsicaris promoted the career of Ron LeFlore, a Jackson prison inmate who became a Tigers star.
Jimmy Butsicaris was the subject of a 1979 TV movie on CBS, "Andre and Jimmy B," the story of how Butsicaris became a foster father to young Andre Reynolds, son of a heroin addict. Karras played Jimmy B in the film. Jimmy Butsicaris played a bartender in the movie "The Paper Lion," George Plimpton's saga about the Lions, starring Karras.
The Lindell began to fade when the Lions moved from nearby Tiger Stadium to distant Pontiac.
"I took that personally," said Butsicaris. "I have never been to the Silverdome."
The Lindell began life in a fleabag hotel nearby at Cass and Bagley, when the area was Detroit's skid row. It moved to Cass and Michigan in 1963.
"Jimmy never let a hooker work the bar," said longtime radio personality Sonny Eliot, a close friend of the Butsicaris brothers. "It was a neighborhood bar in downtown Detroit.
"It saddens me to see it die. Well, not really die, but fade away."
Remembering Detroit's Original Original Sports Bar: The Lindelll AC [Detroit Athletic Co. Blog]
Photos from the Lindell AC in Detroit Facebook Page [Facebook]
Lindell A.C. No More [Faded Detroit]
Lindell AC in Detroit [Facebook Group]
Discuss Detroit: Lindell A.C. [Discuss Detroit]
Last of the Lindell AC [Flickr]
Lindel AC (sic) (Athletic Club) [Silentbuildings.com]
Lindell AC 1310 Cass Avenue Detroit [DetroitYES]
Lindell AC owner John Butsicaris dead at 91 [WXYZ Detroit]