Detroiters are passionate about several things, very few more than their hockey teams, specifically the Detroit Red Wings. In fact, Detroiters relate so much with their beloved hockey team that the citizens (and the majority of the NHL community) refer to Detroit as Hockeytown. Though the name Hockeytown began as a marketing campaign by the club in 1996, it has remained long after as an official nickname of the city of Detroit to go along with such staples as the Motor City, Motown and Rock City. The nickname is very much deserved as well. Here are some reasons why:
- The Red Wings have won the most Stanley Cup championships of any North American team, and 3rd most overall.
- Between the 1933-34 season and the 1965-66 season the Red Wings missed the playoffs only 4 times.
- Over the last 27 seasons the Red Wings have made the playoffs 25 times, including the last 20 in a row. This streak is the longest for post season appearances of any team in all of the North American sports.
- Most recently, the Red Wings won their 23rd consecutive game at home which broke an NHL record that dates back 82 years.
To capitalize on the branding, as well as the team’s success, Hockeytown Cafe was opened in 1999 on Woodward Ave. across from Comerica Park and right next to the Fox Theatre. This bar/restaurant is easily one of the most identifiable in Detroit. The bar sports a massive hockey puck sitting atop the building and just as massive a sign bearing the name of the bar with the classic Red Winged wheel in the background. There’s also a 116 foot long sports ticker along the side of the building similar to what you’d see in Times Square in New York giving updates on local scores as well as events coming up at the bar, as well as the Fox Theatre. These props are eye catching to say the least, and they don’t stop at just the outside of the building.
Inside the building there are pictures of past and current players that appear all over the walls with their stats strewn underneath. As one would expect, there are tons of memorabilia on display. Several of the rarer pieces are the Red Wing themed motorcycles which can be found located in different spots all over the bar. With such a diverse and history-spanning set of artifacts and pictures, this is the closest the city of Detroit has to its own Hockey Hall of Fame.
Once you’ve gotten past staring at all the memorabilia and gotten settled at your table, you’ll find as far as food and drink are concerned, this bar is about as average as it gets. The prices range from average-to-mildly expensive, and there are no specialty drinks or beers, or chef delicacies on the menu. Here you’ll find that your old friends Bud, Miller and Labatt are on hand to help you wash down your standard buffalo wings, burgers and pizza. It seems the bar’s busiest and best times to eat are during the day at lunch (12:00 pm – 2:00 pm). Outside of this time frame your results may vary.
If you’re a local who lives in Detroit and you just want to stop by Hockeytown Cafe for a beer and a burger, you might want to call first. Besides lunch hours during the work week, your odds of blindly walking up to the bar and finding it to be open stand at around 50% of the time, even on the weekends. Some of this has to do with the fact that it’s currently winter, and it seems the equation this bar uses is: less sporting events/less events at Fox Theatre = less open. Now, if you know in advance that there’s a HOME Red Wings game, or a show at the Fox, you’re most likely in luck and will be able to enjoy the scenery at Hockeytown Cafe. As it warms up outside and the boys of summer start playing regular season games again, as you can imagine, Hockeytown Cafe will be open much more often, but in the meantime prepare to be kept out in the cold more often than not (pun intended).
What Hockeytown Cafe lacks in hours of availability it makes up for in fan experience. What really separates this bar from the other sports bars in town is its affiliation with the Red Wings. If you’re a Wings fan and you want to come down and experience a home game, but can’t afford a ticket, the next best place to be is Hockeytown Cafe. During the game, you can watch the Wings play on one of several glorious HDTVs, but what truly makes Hockeytown Cafe unique is the fact that the broadcast of the game you see “in bar” is the very same one that can only be seen on the large screen (aka “Joe Vision”) over the ice inside of Joe Louis Arena. Also, you get the benefit of hearing the arena’s music blaring over the bar’s loudspeakers. To give you an example, during a recent game, when there was a stoppage of play, rather than a commercial coming on the bar TV (as would be the case in every other sports bar airing the same game), a clip from the movie “Shrek” was played where Shrek was urging the crowd to make some noise. This was followed by a snippet from the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin'” where Steve Perry sings, “…born and raised in south Detroit…”. If you’ve ever been to a Wings game before you know that this experience is unmatched in the pure joy and excitement that it brings to its fans. That said, as stated before, it would be nice if Hockeytown Cafe were open during Red Wings regular season road games, not just home games, so that fans could experience the same authentic Joe Louis Arena feeling in a sort of home away from home environment.
It’s impossible to sum up this bar without being of two minds. The first of which is the passionate Detroit sports fan, specifically of the Red Wings and Tigers. The second is the rational, casual sports fan who is your average bar goer looking for a nice hangout to watch an occasional game. The passionate Red Wings fan would most likely call Hockeytown Cafe his Mecca and declare it the best place to watch a Wings game (and to some extent a Tigers game). He would conclude that Hockeytown Cafe would deserve nothing less than a 5 star rating, and he would be right to think this, because to a Red Wings Fan, Hockeytown Cafe represents everything you’d want in a sports bar. Unfortunately for Hockeytown Cafe, not everyone is a Red Wings fan, let alone a sports fan. If you hailed from somewhere outside of metro Detroit and had never seen a hockey game before, and were to step off a plane at Detroit City Airport and took a cab into the city and Hockeytown Cafe was the first bar you stepped into (if you were lucky enough to find it open), you’d more than likely be unimpressed. Imagine the thought of going into a Planet Hollywood if you weren’t a big movie buff or going into a Hard Rock Cafe if you weren’t really into rock and roll music. Take away the name, the memorabilia and the Red Wing simulcasts of “Joe Vision” and you’re left with an average, somewhat overpriced sports bar with average food, average drinks and horrible hours of operation.