“This place was a bunch of sticks floating down the stream,” says PJ Ryder, on the Lager House’s condition upon his purchase in October of 2007. Scrubbing away decades of nicotine (discovering an array of hidden colors and surfaces), removing several layers of flooring, replacing the roof, clearing out binsful of debris, rewiring the electrical, replacing the plumbing, resurfacing the bar and upgrades to the stage and sound system have revealed the potential of the historic Corktown showspace. “I think musicians appreciate the fact that the building is now grounded,” he recognizes.
Popular local and substantial touring acts are beginning to make more frequent appearances at PJ’s. “A lot of bands, especially traveling bands… are at least putting us on the map. We may not get everybody… but we’re at least in some of those discussions, whereas three years ago we weren’t.”
Last April PJ and his crew (mostly local musicians) silently liberated the hundred-year-old kitchen, and have since been serving a variety of high-quality burgers and vegetarian dishes, and have expanded their hours, opening at 11am on weekdays. Most Sundays are free acoustic showcase nights, with PJ himself cooking up New Orleans-style creole gumbo, barbequed shrimp, or whatever he’s in the mood to prepare.
PJ’s Lager House is an example of what big ideas can accomplish for a city. “You rebuild an old house one board at a time. You rebuild a city one little piece of whatever at a time and just keep on going,” he says. “The city needs to get out of people’s way and let them do what they’re doing, because what we’ve been doing for the past 40 years hasn’t worked.”
He believes the “limitless energy [and] crazy ideas” of younger generations moving in to be what will ultimately save Detroit, and he sees Detroit’s oldest neighborhood as an epicenter of the city’s salvation. “These guys have taken this crazy Robocop idea, and they’ve created this whole thing, and they’re gonna make it happen,” PJ enthuses. “One of the objections is: ‘you could build something else…’ and it’s like—yes! Put it together! Get the hype going… find a place to put it, find someone to build it and find some way to raise the money. Quit asking the city for stuff and do it yourself!”
1254 Michigan Avenue, Detroit • This weekend at PJ’s Lager House: Friday 03/11 Obits (Sub Pop; ex- Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu), Jaill (Sub Pop) and Swimsuit • Saturday 03/12 Scarlet Oaks’ final show • Sunday 03/13 The Zoobombs (Japan) • pjslagerhouse.com