Saturday, March 24, 2012

[EID Preview] The Legend of Green Dot Stables

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Local legend has it that Green Dot Stables in “Corktown Shores” was opened by a former horseracing jockey – hence the equestrian theme. But the actual history of the place is shrouded in mystery. (Ooooooooh…)

Owner Jacques Driscoll admits they haven’t actually been able to find any reliable information about the bar’s history (and why it has that unique, if entirely inexplicable, equestrian theme). There’s plenty of third-party hearsay available: Jacques heard that the original owner of the building (built in 1970) owned his own horse stables which he called Green Dot and the bar was named after them. (He heard this from a guy he met who claimed to know the original owner’s son.) Chef Les Molnar also heard that there was a guy who owned a bar in Southwest Detroit called Joey’s Green Parrot in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and that that guy was really into horses and his son originally owned the building. (This he heard from his aunt who worked at Joey’s Green Parrot when she was 17.)

Green Dot Stables seems to be a favorite focal point of local lore. Before it closed last year, people “in the know” knew that this was a popular cop hangout that regularly stayed open serving drinks well past 5 a.m.

While we may never know the true history of the Green Dot Stables – it will go down as another unsolved mystery in Detroit's history, much like where Jimmy Hoffa is buried (WHAT IF JIMMY HOFFA IS BURIED IN GREEN DOT???) – the good news is that the new owners have retained that odd equestrian motif and have stayed true to the name “Green Dot Stables.”

“When we learned about the history of the place we wanted to keep the tradition,” Jacques explains. “We wanted it to have the same look and feel with a clean, modern look to it. But we wanted to keep the history and the heritage; [the space is] so conducive [to it] and everything has that feeling already so trying to change it [didn’t make any sense]." Jacques’s wife Christine Driscoll adds, “We wanted it to have the same feel, just polished.”

The Driscolls are a very young couple originally from Detroit. They were living in California but moved back because they saw an opportunity to do something here they never would have been able to do in San Diego.

They acquired the building 8 months ago and began the extensive process of cleaning and refinishing (many years’ worth of cigarette smoke had to be scrubbed away). They kept a lot of the old materials, like the original chairs that look like they belong in a poker room and the faux-granite formica bar and phone booth (which will hold all of their beer and wine to-go). They also added a lot of their own touches to enhance the theme – the footrail of the bar is covered with old horse racing tickets they found on eBay; the hallway to the bathrooms is covered in a horse-themed mural (with newspaper clippings on old Detroit jockeys) done by local artist Jonathan Ryan Rajewski; the walls are adorned with canvas-mounted photographs taken by their friend and local photographer Ara Howrani (who was given access to the track at Northville Downs to take these photos); velvet curtains were made by Detroit designer and seamstress extraordinaire Sarah Lapinski.

“It looks like we had a grand vision that was thought out but really it just came together piece by piece,” Jacques says. “That’s a cool thing about our artwork – [it doesn’t necessarily look like it’s new], it’s just here and looks like it should be here.” They also added an electric fireplace and antique claw machine because … well, why not?

Having moved back home to Detroit after living in San Diego, Jacques got to experience what it means to open a business in the city and have the whole community rally around it. “Jacques’s vision for leaving San Diego was knowing that he couldn’t [open a restaurant there],” Les says. “And I couldn’t do it in Chicago. The community here is incredible; everybody helps. People were coming in doing physical labor; we did not expect it to go the way it did.” Les says every time they would mention that they needed something, someone knew somebody who’d be willing to do it for beer. “We just didn’t expect that. Everyone was really helpful.” Another friend did their logo, and right now an artist at OmniCorp Detroit is designing a bike rack shaped like a horse for them. “Everything in this place has a story like that,” Jacques says.

Jacques has wanted to open a restaurant ever since high school and he started to develop his concept while he and Christine were still living in California. Originally he wanted to serve California-style tacos but the concept evolved once they acquired the building (which is awfully close to Southwest and its many taquerias) and brought Les on board.

Les attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago and worked in several Chicago restaurants and as a private chef in Lake Geneva before ending up back in Detroit. He was working at Town Tavern before he connected with Jacques, then spent some of the intermittent time working at Roast waiting for Green Dot to open (the old “trying to get a liquor license in Detroit” story once again). “That was hard to leave,” he says. “I felt like, ‘This is why I went to culinary school.’ But at the end of the day doing my own food and having my own kitchen meant more to me. I really believe in Jacques and Christine as a whole and in the company; I see a lot of potential here.”

The whole team wants Green Dot to be a food place first and have great beer and liquor prices as well. One of the biggest renovations they did was completely overhauling the kitchen, and they have been planning the menu for months. They are making everything from scratch that they can with a lot of focus on maintaining low price points. Everything on the menu will be $2-3 with no additional tax. All domestic beers and well drinks will be $2; all craft beers and premium drinks $3. (And their craft beer selection will include labels like Dragonmead’s Final Absolution. “Where else can you get Final Absolution for $3?” Jacques asks. The answer, of course, is nowhere.)

They’re also very passionate about sourcing high-quality products. “It’s such a minimal price increment to buy quality food,” Jacques explains. “Just upgrade a little – that’s one of our philosophies.” They’re also using a lot of quality local products like kimchi and kraut from the Brinery in Ann Arbor and cheese curds from Oliver Farms for their poutine.

POUTINE!! Yes, poutine, a traditional Canadian dish made of French fries covered in gravy and topped with cheese curds, perfect for comfort food cravings and the late-night drunchies. Months ago when they first announced they’d be serving poutine there was no one else in the city serving it. “We started talking about poutine – why is there no poutine; we’re so close to Canada!” Now Woodbridge Pub does their own version (though it’s a far cry from the actual thing), Mercury Burger Bar has some on the menu (but it’s a disservice to the dish), and Brooklyn Street Local will be serving it when they open (and they’re actually Canadian so it will probably be on-point). From zero to four inside of a year; Detroit, meet your new “it” food!

But the real focus at Green Dot is on sliders. Not wimpy slivers of beef patty slathered in ketchup, mustard and onions on soggy buns that you get at places like Hunter House; exciting sliders like the “Au Poivre” made with beef, peppercorns and cognac aioli; and the “Hot Brown” made with chicken, bacon and mornay sauce (inspired by a sandwich that originated with the Kentucky Derby). Because the price points are so low (seriously, $2-3 each) they hope that diners will be more willing to experiment with unfamiliar dishes, like the “Mystery Meat” slider which will be a rotating selection that might be rabbit, elk, tongue or other wild game or offal. “It’s at a price point you won’t feel bad for spending,” Jacques notes. They’re also serving seven different kinds of fries (POUTINE!), a slightly spicy mac and cheese made with mornay sauce and red pepper flakes, and venison chili on their chili cheese fries and Coney slider.

The plan is to serve food late so that this can be a place for other chefs and restaurant industry people to come after work and enjoy a good meal. “We want to cater to the industry crowd so they have some place to eat that is not a Coney,” Les says. “We want it to be kind of known as a late-night place.” Just not quite as late-night as it used to be, anyway. (According to legend, that is.)

They are ready to open but are still awaiting their liquor license approval from the city (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), but starting next week they will be open serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. “It’s a blessing we’re doing lunch first so we can work out all the kinks instead of going full force into it,” Jacques says. But people also tend to be very understanding, especially in Detroit where people are all too familiar with the obstacles involved in opening a business. “If you have good food, good service and a good atmosphere, all the other shit can hit the fan and people will understand anything else,” Les jokes. They hope to be fully open in a month.

Want to see more? View the Flickr set here.

Green Dot Stables on Urbanspoon