Saturday, February 25, 2017
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
|Johnny in front of the original Lindell Bar|
In 1949, Greek immigrant Meleti Butsicaris with his sons—Johnny and Jimmy—leased the ground floor of the run-down Lindell Hotel and opened their bar on Cass and Bagley avenues. At first, they couldn’t afford to have a sign made with a different name, so they went with the hotel’s signage and called their tavern the Lindell Bar and the name stuck. The bar was near Briggs Stadium, where the Tigers and Lions played, and the Olympia arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings.
Legend has it that a young New York Yankee second baseman—Billy Martin—suggested to the brothers they change the drab atmosphere of the bar with an athletic theme. That would not be difficult. In addition to being co-owner of the bar, Johnny Butsicaris was also the official photographer for the Olympia. He had plenty of original sports photographs he could use. It was not long before sports memorabilia adorned the walls with autographed photos of Detroit sports stars, signed team jerseys, bats, and hockey sticks--even a jock strap belonging to Wayne Walker, a Detroit Lion linebacker. The new look helped define the bar’s clientele.
|Jimmy with Andre the Giant.|
The Lindell soon became a hangout for Detroit sports figures and players from visiting teams. It wasn’t long before local sports writers and celebrities performing in Detroit found a home at the Lindell. National celebrities like Milton Berle and Jayne Mansfield would stop in. Local celebrities like Detroit’s favorite weatherman Sonny Eliot and Detroit News sports columnist Doc Greene were regulars. Even the Beatles and their entourage went to the bar after their Olympia concert.
The most notorious event in the history of the original Lindell Bar was a publicity stunt for a wrestling match between Detroit Lion defensive tackle Alex Karras and wrestler Dick the Bruiser. Karras needed the cash since he was no longer drawing his NFL salary. The week before, Karras was suspended from the NFL for the 1963 season for admitting he bet on football games.
|Karras and the Bruiser in publicity still.|
The Butsicaris brothers took Karras on as a business partner with his $30,000 from the wrestling match. After the bar brawl, the three partners moved the location of the bar to Michigan and Cass avenues. They had no choice. The Lindell Hotel was condemned and scheduled for demolition.
Detroit News sports reporter Doc Greene suggested adding AC (Athletic Club) after the new bar’s name as a sly reference to the Detroit Athletic Club, an exclusive members-only club. Only the city’s business elite and socialites were members. Even famous sports figures could not enter the club without a special guest invitation from a member.
Doc Greene got many of his exclusive sports stories sitting at the original Lindell Bar. He did not want his bosses to know how much time he spent there getting his exclusive stories. In his Detroit News sports articles, he would write he was interviewing this or that athlete at the Athletic Club. It became an inside joke at the bar. Greene would call his wife and say he would be home soon when he was finished at the Athletic Club. As a tribute to Doc Greene, the reincarnated Lindell Bar became the Lindell AC.
Johnny’s son Mel Butsicaris remembers working the night an elephant was brought into the sports bar.
|Sonny Eliot behind the bar at the Lindell AC. Photo courtesy of Mel Butsicaris.|
“The most talked about photograph in the bar was not of an athlete or celebrity. Back in the 1970s, Bell Telephone and the Yellow Pages had a slogan about an elephant never forgetting, but you have the Yellow Pages for help. They were making a commercial across the street with a baby elephant.
"You don’t see an elephant in downtown Detroit too often, so my dad and I walked over to watch. My dad told the film crew to come over to the bar and he’d buy everyone a drink. As a joke, my dad said while petting the elephant, ‘Bring your friend along.’ About an hour later, the front door opened with this guy pushing this beast through the door. We still can’t believe it, but the elephant fit through. We worried if the floor could handle the weight. Everyone had a good laugh when Sonny Eliot started giving the elephant Coca-Cola to drink. Shortly after, the Coke acted as a laxative for the animal. We used snow shovels to clean up the mess.”
|Alex Karras and Curtis Yates|
In 1980, CBS filmed a made-for-television movie in the Lindell AC bar called Jimmy B. and Andres. It was based on the true story of Jimmy Butsicaris, who wanted to adopt an African-American boy. Alex Karras starred with his wife Sharon Clark, and as the young boy, Curtis Yates. The bar was sanitized as a restaurant for the movie. The spin off became the ABC sitcom Webster with Emmanuel Lewis playing the child’s role.
Jimmy Butsicaris died in 1996, and his brother Johnny died in 2011. The Lindell AC sports bar, said to be the first in the nation, closed its doors in 2002. The building was scheduled for demolition to make way for the Rosa Parks Transit Center.
More information on the Alex Karras/Dick the Bruiser bar brawl:
Monday, February 13, 2017
Before signing with the Detroit Lions, Karras was a rookie professional wrestler and learned the skills and secrets of the squared circle. When the Lions picked him up, he gladly quit the wrestling game because he did not like daily life on the road.
Alex Karras played football for twelve seasons with the Detroit Lions from 1958 through 1962 and again from 1964 through 1970. One week before the bar brawl in 1963, the NFL gave Karras a one-year suspension for gambling on professional football games. NFL officials urged Karras to disassociate himself from the Lindell Bar because of alledged organized crime influence.
Mel Butsicaris explained to me that Alex Karras bought into the Lindell with brothers Jimmy and Johnny Butiscaris. Johnny was Mel's father and Jimmy was his uncle.The bar business was on the bottom floor of the old Lindell Hotel, a rundown flopshouse. The bar was less than a block away from the Leland Hotel where visiting sports teams stayed. The bar became a gathering place for Detroit and out-of-town sports teams. With Karras's recent NFL suspension, the Lindell was his only source of income, now that he was no longer drawing his football salary. Karras refused to sell his interest in the bar until his suspension was lifted.
William Afflis was an offensive left tackle for the Green Bay Packers from 1950 until 1954 before becoming a professional wrestler and changing his name to Dick the Bruiser. There was much more money to be made wrestling, so he quit the Packers. The Bruiser was five feet, eleven inches tall, built like a fire plug and just as tough. He wore a crew cut and had a gravelly voice that struck fear into his opponents. His finishing moves were the Atomic Drop and the Diving Knee Drop. After thirty-two years in the wrestling game, the Bruiser retired in 1986.
According to Mel Butiscaris, the Bruiser walked into the Lindell Bar on cue at 1:25 am on Tuesday, April 23, 1963. The Bruiser pointed at Karras and bellowed in his gravelly voice, "I want that fat, (expletive deleted), four-eyed bartender to serve me." He was belligerant and continued verbally abusing Karras as the staged confrontation was scripted.
Tavern co-owner Jimmy Butsicaris refused to serve the Bruiser, and the wrestler grabbed Butsicaris's shirt and threw a short punch at him, tearing Jimmy's shirt as planned. Mel tells me that his uncle wore one of his old shirts for the occasion. That was part of the publicity stunt. Everybody in the bar knew the scene was staged. Everyone but Jimmy's visiting out-of-town uncle. He had just walked in the bar when he witnessed the mayhem.
Uncle Charley took a pool cue and came to his nephew's defense. He pasted the Bruiser in the face leaving a cut beneath the wrestler's left eye that needed five stitches to close. Dick the Bruiser on a good day had an impulse control problem. Bleeding profusely, the Bruiser gave free range to his rage and virtually tore the bar apart. The Bruiser tore a peanut vending machine off the wall and threw it through the television screen. Some of the bar patrons tried to subdue the Bruiser. Big mistake!
The Detroit Times reported that Karras hit the Bruiser across the back with a chair, but Mel Butsicaris disputes that account. He says the newspaper story was written before the brawl happened as part of the carefully planned publicity stunt. The real story is that Karras wanted nothing to do with the brawl and ducked out the back door.
Two Detroit cops walking their beat looked in the window and saw the melee. They phoned for some backup. It took eight Detroit policemen to subdue the Bruiser with wrist and ankle manacles before taking him to jail. Two policemen were seriously injured. The Bruiser easily made bail and had to appear in a Detroit courtroom the following Monday morning where he was arraigned on assault and battery charges.
On April 27, 1963, a mere five days after the brawl, the men were scheduled for a grudge match. A disappointing crowd of only 10,000 showed up for the match which lasted only eleven minutes and twenty-one seconds. The crowd thought the two men were sell-outs. Nobody was fooled. The match was a humiliating defeat for the out-matched Karras, who took a beating in the ring for a $30,000 pay out. What the Bruiser made that night is not known. Whatever the amount, the two injured policemen sued William Afflis, AKA Dick the Bruiser, for a total of $50,000.
After his career with the Detroit Lions, Alex Karras became a television and movie actor, and co-host of ABC's popular Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, from 1974 until 1976. Suffering from dementia in his final years, Karras died of kidney failure at the age of seventy-seven on October 10, 2012.
After retiring from the ring, the Bruiser bought the National Wrestling Association and became a promoter. Dick the Bruiser died from internal bleeding on November 19, 1991 in Largo, Florida at the age of sixty-two. He was weightlifting with his adopted son when a blood vessel ruptured in his esophagus.
More tales from the Lindell Bar courtesy of Mel Butsicaris:
Sunday, February 5, 2017
The yearly Detroit Marche Du Nain Rouge celebrates the liberation of Detroiters from Nain Rouge--the Red Dwarf. Legend has it that in 1701, Detroit's French founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was telling a fortune teller about a vision he had. Cadillac described a dwarfish creature with blazing red eyes and rotten teeth dressed in fur boots who was haunting his dreams.
Of course, there are no public accounts to support the folktale which first appeared in Legends of Le Detroit written in 1883 by Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin. She was a local folklorist who wanted to perserve French heritage in Detroit, where English had become the predominant spoken language. Since the Nain Rouge story, everytime Detroit was in trouble the Nain was spotted more than the Gnome in the Travelocity commercials. If there was a crisis, Blame It On The Nain.
Folklore has it that Nain Rouge reappeared on July 30, 1763 before the Battle of Bloody Run. Fifty-eight British soldiers were killed by Chief Pontiac's tribesmen. A tributary of the Detroit River turned red with blood for days after the battle. The river became known as the Rouge River. It was said the Nain was seen dancing on the banks of the Detroit River celebrating.
|Detroit's Masonic Temple|
The parade begins near the campus of Wayne State University, continues down the Cass corridor, and ends at the Masonic Temple where the embodiment of the Nain bashes the city from atop his float. An effigy of Nain is destroyed--banishing the evil spirit from Detroit for another year. The parade and celebration are meant to be light-hearted and fun. It's an opportunity for Detroiters, who anxiously await the rites of spring, to blow off some steam after three months of winter.
For a more detailed account of the devilish Nain Rouge, read this account from the Detroit Metro Times: http://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/the-legend-of-the-legend-of-detroits-nain-rouge/Content?oid=2404384