Detroit fire officials are investigating a fire that destroyed The Woodward Bar & Grill, noted as the oldest LGBTQ bar in Detroit, on Monday, a blaze that forced evacuations of nearby businesses.
The fire was reported about 11 a.m. Tuesday at 6426 Woodward Ave in the city’s New Center area when, according to the Freep, a woman at New Life Orthopedics and Prosthetics up the street said she smelled smoke. Flames continued to burn the building over several hours and appears to be a total loss. The cause of the fire was unknown. No one was inside the property at the time of the blaze and no injuries were reported.
The Freep says that William Karagas first opened the Woodward in 1954 and that over time it began to attract customers from nearby Wayne State’s notable gay population. Curtis Lipscomb, executive director of the nonprofit LGBT Detroit, told the paper that by the 90s, the spot had shifted to become more welcoming to the city’s Black LGBTQ community.
Krystina Edwards, community engagement manager at the Ruth Ellis Center, the Highland Park-base nonprofit that provides support to LGBTQ youth, told Crain’s that the Woodward is considered a safe community space for queer people, particularly those of color.
“We are sending out nothing but hopes and best wishes for the owner and that we are able to possibly go back into a moment or a safe space again with the name so that it can continue to live on,” Edwards told the business publication.
The history of the LGBT community in metro Detroit spans the city’s past, but it took new shape right after World War II when gay clubs began opening mostly downtown. Like the migration patterns of many Detroiters, the scene began moving north, mostly along Woodward Avenue into neighborhoods like Palmer Park and suburban Ferndale and Royal Oak. That legacy can still be seen to this day in stalwart bars like Woodward Bar and Grill, Menjo’s, Soho in Ferndale, and Pronto in Royal Oak.
Eater has reached out to James Harris, chief of community relations for the Detroit Fire Department, for further details and will update this story as more information becomes available.