There’s something lovely about a Detroit gathering where people willingly share their passion for the city, its preservation and its stories.
That is what the recent meeting of the Detroit Drunken History Society was like. This installment was called “Working Papers,” and its goal was to unite a like-minded group of amateur and professional historians under one roof. In this case, it was at the 2 Way Inn, Detroit’s longest operating tavern on the city’s North side.
Together, we discussed everything from the city’s foodie history to its neighborhood name conundrum to how to use the ample resources at Detroit’s many libraries, historical societies and digital-photo sites. If you had a question about how to find something, chances are there was someone in that room who could help you.
And help they did. I’ve never seen such as a warm and welcoming crowd, eager to talk to one another about the city, its past and its future. Because that’s part of the reason we all are enamored of Detroit’s history – it offers insights on what kind of things we could be doing to make it better in the future. Understanding the city’s strengths throughout the years – our immigrant workforce, our feminist icons, our unique governmental structures – shows us where we were great and where we have room to improve.
Let me back up a minute. I first heard of this group through some mutual friends who were attending the first meeting of the “Working Papers” group. I couldn’t attend that night, but a review of it made me think it was a must. Here was a chance to see the faces of Facebook friends, a moment to chat while sharing a warm beverage and a way to share ideas worth sharing.
So I signed up right away for the next MeetUp, knowing there would be as many as 50 or more interested people in that room. Interested in history. Interested in Detroit. Interested in understanding where we went wrong and where we flourished. I admit – I spent most of the days leading up to the Wednesday night event counting the hours. Who knew history could garner that much excitement?
The 2 Way Inn is tucked away from downtown, Midtown or any other “hipster” enclave in Detroit. It has been in operation since the late 1800s, serving as a “one-stop shop” of sorts for travelers. There was a home there, but there also was a tavern, a jail, a store and more. It is the epitome of Detroit mainstays: A place where you feel welcome, where you can get a plate of spaghetti and a cold beer. A place where people want to talk instead of check their smartphones.
And talk we did. There was an array of topics discussed, connections made and projects announced. People stayed late after the speakers finished to just gab about what they’re working on both professionally and in their spare time. We talked about brick collectors, learning how to wire historically correct lighting and much, much more. Tired and verbally worn out, we all trudged back out into the cold Detroit night, satiated yet wanting more.
Detroit is a town on the move – anyone who has been within the city’s borders in the past five years knows that. It is a city that shows so much potential despite its problems. It is a place where you can turn something old into something new without damaging what was beloved before. You can fix what’s wrong and make it right.
But it also is a city of preservationists. A city where history and its timeless stories are embraced and remembered. It loves its mistakes and its offenses. It understands that no one is perfect and that we just don’t want to be. We’re not a slick, smarmy place. We’re a scarcastic, dramatic, wonderful city where people get together to talk, make plans and then see them through.
Bravo, Detroit Drunken Historical Society. You have made my city feel a little bit more like home, and I appreciate your efforts. And I will be back, 2 Way Inn, to hear that story about the little girl that is haunting your rooms. Because history – especially Detroit history – is fascinating.