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Step Inside Willis Show Bar, Cass Corridor’s Revived Cabaret

Scope out the stunning Art Moderne interior

Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Cass Corridor’s iconic lounge Willis Show Bar finally welcomed back guests again on Friday, April 27, nearly 40 years after the city padlocked its doors. The corner nightclub with its recessed and curvy Art Moderne ceiling originally opened in 1949 hosting jazz acts, but over the years fell into the seedier side of night life and was shut down by the city for drugs and prostitution in the mid-1970s. With the opening, partners Steve Livigni, Sean Patrick, Brandon Smith, and the Detroit Optimist Society’s Dave Kwiatkowski are aiming to bring back some of Willis’s classic cabaret qualities with a big emphasis on burlesque shows, live music, and DJs.

From the outside, Willis Show Bar remains wonderfully preserved. The curved corner facade still features the two-toned oxblood and rose colored tiles, chrome, and heavy metal front doors. Inside, however, Willis’s partners had to get more creative. The interior was mostly gutted when the group first began planning the renovations with the exception of “this incredible original deco ceiling,” Kwiatkowski tells Eater. The partners used a historical photo as a guide while making other aesthetic calls based on instinct.

The finished space features wood paneled walls and brown leather booths all facing towards a small circular stage behind the bar where a house band plays throughout the evening. The bar itself mirrors the shape of the coved ceiling and stage. On Friday and Saturday evenings when the bar hosts multiple burlesque shows, performers work around the room and utilize a small curved stage near the entrance.

Willis Show Bar has kept its focus on the entertainment aspects of the business and stayed classic with the beverages. Visitors can expect a short list of wines, beers, and spirits — primarily whiskey. For cocktails, the bar serves options like a French 75, a rye-based zazerac, and the Bee’s Knees.

While the bar is available for walk-ins, it’s strongly recommended that patrons make a reservation ahead of their visit and cocktail attire is suggested. Photographers Michelle and Chris Gerard visited the revived cabaret during its first weekend of service. Scope out Cass Corridor’s classy new club in the gallery below.

Willis Show Bar’s cocktail menu focuses on period-appropriate classics such as daiquiris and mojitos.
The dimly lit room at Willis Show Bar is full of people watching a band play on the center stage.
The bar is curved to match the shape of the band stage and ceiling.
Michelle and Chris Gerard
Willis Show Bar features nightly performances by Jazz trios, burlesque dancers, and DJs.
The zazerac is made with rye, bitters, and anisette.
The Angel Face features gin, apricot liqueur, and calvados brandy.
The Japanese highball is made with Japanese whiskey, seltzer, and orange peel.

Willis Show Bar is located at 4156 3rd Ave. in Detroit; open Thursday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.; burlesque shows and music on Fridays and Saturdays; cocktail attire is recommended; website.

Iconic Jazz Club Willis Show Bar Reveals Opening Date in Cass Corridor [ED]
Willis Show Bar Brings Classic Cocktails to Cass Corridor in January [ED]
All Willis Show Bar Coverage [ED]
All Eater Inside Coverage [ED]
All Openings Coverage [ED]

Willis Show Bar

4156 3rd Avenue, , MI 48201 (313) 788-7469 Visit Website

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