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Two Old-School Bars Are Given New Life in Hamtramck

Among the additions to town, a witchcraft bar where guests can cast their own spells while sipping cocktails

The exterior of Kelly’s Bar, featuring black and green detailing and a white sign that says Kelly’s Bar Liquor written in green, red, and blue, and featuring a clover in Hamtramck, Michigan. Serena Maria Daniels

Two storied Hamtramck bars will get new life in the coming weeks as they reopen under new ownership and after lengthy renovations. Kelly’s Bar on Holbrook has retained its original name since 1917 and will continue to do so under new owners Kiersten Schilinski and Garrett Ragsdale. Just a few blocks away, the building at 2764 Florian has undergone several name changes over the course of a century, and will now emerge as The Black Salt under Zoey Ashwood.

When Schilinski and Ragsdale purchased Kelly’s Bar from then-owners Brad Ruff and Patti Banas in July 2021, they knew they were inheriting a legendary-to-Hamtramck dive bar with an ardent customer base. This was only reinforced a month later, when Ruff was killed by a drunk driver.

Schilinski and Ragsdale have honored that legacy while modernizing the century-old bar, bringing it back up to health code and adding ADA-compliant ramps. They have spent the past 18 months renovating Kelly’s, refacing the exterior, leveling floors, gutting and rebuilding the kitchen, and sprucing up the place with a new back bar built by local woodworker Daniel Ross.

Gone are the hot pink plastic bathroom walls adorned with obscene graffiti, replaced by slick black tile — but with pink grouting, in a cheeky nod to their former garishness. Likewise, the exterior of the building is now clad in vertical black steel, save for the doors to the large back yard, which are still bedecked in layers of stickers and scribbled signatures. Says Schilinski, “There’s a lot of history to those stickers, so we kept that, and the back bar is a whole new back bar, but beneath it is still the original piece…We basically are going to be doing the same thing. It’s a regular bar where you can come and drink.”

Kelly’s will have its re-opening party at noon on Saturday, February 18 until at least midnight. Following that, the bar will celebrate Paczki Day in Hamtramck beginning at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, February 21. The bar will be open every Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. For now, Kelly’s will host food pop-ups, but Schilinski hopes to have a regular lunch and dinner menu down the road.

Opening March 3, The Black Salt is a self-described “witchcraft cocktail bar” on Florian Street just west of Joseph Campau. The building dates back more than a century, according to the Detroit News, and among its many incarnations the space was formerly a goth and industrial hangout known as Mephisto’s. Owner Zoey Ashwood has transformed the space into a serene, lush lounge evocative of European cafes. Ashwood told the News that the bar’s name is a reference to the practice of spreading black salt around to keep evil spirits away.

The once jet-black walls with flame details are now painted in soothing lavender and neutral colors. Posters of devils and horned pinup girls have been replaced by botanical elements, and the go-go dancer cages have been dismantled and the wood repurposed to create seating.

Like Kelly’s’ new owners, Ashwood has been at work to preserve some of the elements of the bar’s history, according to updates that she’s provided to followers on social media. During a lengthy renovation, Ashwood unearthed the building’s original hardwood floors beneath layers of tile and grungy carpeting. After refinishing the floors, she still had a small space in front of the door to fill — so she used the old sign from Mephisto’s, bridging the liminal space with a nod to the building’s past.

Other nods to the bar’s legacy include benches and a series of display cases made from wood salvaged from the bar’s upstairs furnishings, which have been converted to private apartments.

The bar will serve craft cocktails with a spiritual twist. Each cocktail on the menu comes with an optional spell performed by the bartender. According to the Black Salt website, “the bartenders perform a small ritual during the preparation process. Then you complete the ritual by following the instructions on the menu and finishing the drink.”

Each guest receives a coaster with the Black Salt logo emblazoned on it. Patrons who wish the spell to be performed place the coaster logo-side up and tell the bartender “with ritual.” Otherwise, the website states, the cocktail is prepared and consumed as any other cocktail; the only difference between the two types of drink lies in the ritual, not the ingredients.

The Black Salt’s opening party on Friday, March 3, begins at 4 p.m. According to the bar’s Facebook page, those who arrive between 4 and 6 p.m. will be entered in a raffle for a “prosperity and protection” gift bag, with crystals, spell kits, and other items from Downtown Tarot. The bar has not yet announced its hours of operation.