The owner of one of Detroit’s hallmark bars has died. John Thompson, former owner of Honest John’s, died at age 66 on July 10 of congestive heart failure at his home in Cape Coral, Florida, according to the Detroit News.
Originally located near Belle Isle on Detroit’s east side, Thompson relocated the bar and added a grill to its current location in Cass Corridor in 2002. The original building was demolished in 2016. Thompson, who grew up in Cass Corridor and bounced around foster homes throughout childhood, saw relocating to the neighborhood as a return to his roots. The wryly placed “?” after Honest in the signage was a mark of his personality. “Honey, I’m only honest with you if we’re not sleeping together!” he once told the Metro Times.
He sold the bar in December 2014 to Detroit Optimist Society, owners of Sugar House, Wright & Co., and other popular cocktail spots. At the time of the sale, Thompson told the Detroit News that the building had brought up old “demons” related to his childhood. Running the bar, also made maintaining his sobriety difficult.
Still, Thompson’s sense of humor and name left a permanent mark on the bar. Neon signs around the bar with iconic statements like “Sobriety Sucks,” mirrored Thompson’s own struggles with alcoholism, according to past interviews with the Metro Times. As a proprietor he was also known for his dedication to charity fundraising and offering kayak tours. He also wasn’t shy about chiding people for trying to order overly complicated drinks at a dive bar.
Thompson, a widower, moved to Florida in early 2019, where family cared for him until his death. The bar remains open on Selden Street with much of its character intact.