Where to Drink in Detroit: Grand Trunk Pub

Posted on Oct 10, 2017


Where to Drink in Detroit: Grand Trunk Pub

We were in Detroit for a conference, in a great big, conference center in the massive GM building on the river. While the conference was great, we felt the compelling need to feel the outside air and escape the convention crowds at least once a day. Since the schedule was full, we could rarely afford our destination to be too far from the conference center, though. Luckily for us, our search for ‘Best Cocktail Bars in Downtown Detroit’ gave us more than one option four blocks away, just far enough to take us out of the conference’s orbit. Thus we found ourselves at Grand Trunk Pub.

I was wondering what exactly the play on words was, naming the bar after the iconic 70s band Grand Funk Railroad, but something didn’t seem quite right even as I thought it. When I saw the train-themed direction to the bar and noticed that the look of the building had a vague look of an old train station to it, the picture got clearer. Of course, Grand Funk Railroad’s band name was the play on words. Apparently, they were named after the Grand Trunk Railway, an old Canadian rail line¬†with a spur going through Detroit to Chicago–and passing through Grand Funk’s hometown of Flint on the way. The bar’s location served as the Grand Trunk’s grand ticket office in Detroit from 1905 to 1935. By that time, Detroit’s automobiles had stolen all of the Grand Trunk’s passenger business, and the ticket office was sold to become a hotel bar. It’s passed through several hands over time, but always as a bar. The latest owners, fiercely devoted to Detroit history, decided to rename it after the grand, old train ticket office of a bygone era, and they proudly celebrate 612 Woodward Ave. as the longest continuing address in downtown Detroit to find a drink.

If you’re trying to escape from the Renaissance Center, and can’t afford to go too far afield, Grand Trunk is a good destination. Well-worn with a sense of history, it’s like the place itself knows how to serve good drinks, whether they be cocktails or Michigan beers from their many taps.

What We Ordered

Midnight Stinger: Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey, fernet, lemon

What We Thought

Fernet is a bartender favorite, quite possibly because it’s hardly ever a fan favorite. Intensely bitter, with a strong menthol undertone, it’s not an easygoing liqueur. Mostly it’s consumed straight, partially out of a sort of daredevil mentality and partially because it’s hard to find a good blend for it in a cocktail. Midnight Stinger really worked, though. Irish whiskey is the perfect base to tame fernet, hefty enough to be overwhelmed but amiable enough to smooth fernet’s harshness. Toned down in that way, the fernet interplayed intriguingly with the sour of the lemon. Somehow, Midnight Stinger made sour, bitter, and menthol work together as a team to create an unusual but enjoyable drink.