Remembering Detroit’s Original Sports Bar: The Lindell AC

The days when athletes used to frequent local sports bars and mingle with the fans stopped some time ago, and definitely came to an end when the Lindell AC Bar on Cass Avenue, truly one of America’s first true “sports bars” closed its doors. It was Detroit’s version of Toot Shor’s in New York.

The following is an excerpt of a piece I wrote on the Lindell AC for Hour Detroit magazine.

Lindell ACFor half a century, the legendary Lindell AC bar in downtown Detroit was a mecca for visiting athletes, sports fans, hometown heroes, and media personalities who would feast on burgers, fries, onion rings, stories and a favorite drink, while surrounded by wall to wall photographs and museum quality sports memorabilia. The forerunner of its kind, USA Today once crowned it the “number one sports bar in America.”

When Johnny Butsicaris and his son Mel closed the storied saloon at Cass and Michigan under a flourish of media coverage, mourning patrons couldn’t accept the idea of “one last call”. After all, this was the place where Detroit Tiger players squeezed behind the bar and gave out free drinks to customers on the raucous evening the team clinched the 1968 pennant.

In 1949, Greek immigrant Meleti Butsicaris and his sons Johnny and Jimmy purchased the bar located in the seedy and since torn down Lindell Hotel at Cass and Bagley.

Thanks to a suggestion by Yankee infielder Billy Martin, ( who would later create his own Lindell legend) a sports theme was created in the mid 50’s with photographs and donated game used artifacts. Visiting athletes from all four sports stayed at the nearby Leland and Book-Cadillac Hotel and joined local scribes in adopting the watering spot as a favorite hideout. Before long, sports junkies began frequenting the bar to rub elbows with Mickey Mantle, Detroit athletes, and traveling entertainers like Milton Berle who were taken care of by the street wise Butsicaris boys.

When the bar relocated just down the street at Cass and Michigan in 1963, it officially became the Lindell AC (“Athletic Club”) thanks to the late Detroit News columnist Doc Greene, a regular drinking patron and the joint’s “Godfather”. It was Greene who added the moniker “Athletic Club” in a left hook aimed at the high brow Detroit Athletic Club (“DAC”) a few blocks away.

Pugilistic episodes in the 1960’s involving Lion star Alex Karras and Billy Martin along with two television films brought the bar national attention.

In 1963 NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Karras and Packer Paul Hornung for gambling on games and ordered Karras to sell his one third partnership in the Lindell, claiming the bar was a haven for undesirable characters.

During his one year suspension Karras wrestled professionally. Six days prior to an Olympia Stadium bout against “Dick the Bruiser”, the two were involved in a Lindell brawl that tore up the bar and sent a handful of Detroit police officers to the hospital. Years later as a movie actor, Karras portrayed Jimmy Butsicaris in the CBS film, “Jimmy B and Andre”, the true story of how the tough bar owner had taken a young black ghetto kid under his wing.

scan0001Six years after the Karras-Bruiser donnybrook, Twins manager Billy Martin KO’d his own pitcher, Dave Boswell with 20 stitches in the alley behind the Lindell after the drunken hurler “sucker punched” teammate Bob Allison. A decade later, Martin and Jimmy B played themselves in the TV movie, “One In A Million: The Ron Leflore Story” which described how Butsicaris convinced then Tiger manager Martin to give Jackson Prison inmate and future All Star Leflore a baseball tryout.

A favorite pastime of Lindell patrons was walking through the bar and identifying the dozens of sports photographs and 8 by 10s of celebrities who had frequented the tavern.

With the closing of the Lindell, along with Reedy’s Saloon, and the Hummer in Corktown, Nemo’s on Michigan Avenue just east of the Tiger Stadium site is really the last of the true sports bars in downtown Detroit where players used to mix with the fans.

What a shame.

© 2009 by Bill Dow.  All rights reserved.

19 replies on “Remembering Detroit’s Original Sports Bar: The Lindell AC

  • dan sperzel

    What about the Andre story. Worked for ATT from 1970-1982 and ran accross case from the Bell Bldg to the AC front door for only one beer! Well anyway stayed to clossing. Saw an awfull lot of LindellAC. What the hel is Lindell?

    Loved the place!

    Jimmy provided the greatest concert tickets, allways the first 8 rows at any venue!!!!

    And another thing, Roxanne gave away my $10K lottery ticket and didn’t even get a tip.
    Wonder if she remembers?

  • Robert

    My story is this. Summer of 1976 I was working in Port Huron and the woman I was dating asked if I wanted to see Mark Frydrich pitch. Of course! She had worked at Lindell AC a summer or two before and asked Jimmy if she could have two of his box seats. He said they would be at Will Call window. We went to the window and the reply was “Jimmy didn’t leave tickets for you, but just go to the gate and tell the guy you are using two of Jimmy’s seats.” We did, and walked in, sat in Jimmy’s seats and enjoyed ourselves. That would never happen at any of the newer ballparks – for any event. Whenever I tell this story, everyone laughs and I say, maybe we would have had our legs broken if we sat in those seats without permission. Sorry to hear the stadium and Lindell’s are both gone.

  • MIKE


    • Valarie ((Hawkins) Green

      Hi Y’all! My story is this; I worked on the movie Jimmy B and Andre in the late 1970’s. We filmed inside I of the Lindell AC!! T’was an exciting time… My “film”debut. Alex Karras became my HERO and his wife, Susan Clark, my SHE-RO!!! I have very fond memories of the Butsacaris family. I’d love to share some of the experience(s)!

  • stephanie

    the lindell ac does not live again in waterford. lets be real, nothing will ever compare to the original. exspecially the fact its not family owned anymore. what wannabes. and if your going to open a lindell why would you do it in waterford? what sports teams are going to celebrate there or go for a beer and cheeseburger?

  • Charles Kaye

    I was an nephew and employee of the brothers Butsicaris in the years following my graduation from college and before beginning graduate school 1973-1974. Johnny and I flew all over Michigan and New York (my home state). Had a ball with Sonny Eliot, Billy Martin, Art Fowler, Alex Karras, Andre. I was there when they went upstate to Jackson to look at Ron LeFlore.

    Best cheeseburger or steak sandwich and fries in Michigan. Best Bartender (Roxanne).

    I met everyone. Boog Powell, Bill Lanier, Norm Cash, Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Phil Esposito, Mickey Mantle, Detroit Shirley, Whoopsie the Clown, and just about everybody else in the NHL, NFL, American League and NBA. It was quite an ego trip.

    But in all honesty, a great deal of the unsung credit for the success of the Lindell goes to Johnny’s wife Stella. She worked hard, managed the books, made it possible for Jimmy and Johnny to gad about town like celebrities while she stayed behind and minded the store. She invented the burgers and steaks and cooked almost all of them personally. She literally wore herself out working and supporting this enterprise and stood quietly in the wings while others took all the credit. Anybody who really knew the joint, knows what I am saying is true.

  • john klem

    I miss the place, was planning a revival until I went to google, used to take a bus downtown to sneak away from work for a burger and a beer and the ambiance that came with it, without question the friendliest place I’ve ever been, and that includes home!!!

  • Layne T.

    I was named after Bobby Layne and born and born in 1953. Stafford just broke his passing record today, a record that stood for 55 years. Ironically this happened against the Steelers, where Bobby ended up after the Lions booted him in 1958.

    I used to work in downtown Detroit from time to time. I went to the Lindell only once. I wanted to experience the place before it became just another piece of history.

    Soaking up the atmosphere, just imagining what the place was like over the years, was indeed a priviliege.

  • larry

    Lindell AC had great food and characters that hung out there pre and post game . Sure miss the tasty burgers that they served up. We would stop there then onto Hoot Robinsons and maybe Nemos . The funny thing is the owners of the Taverns were always on hand to greet you . Unlike the bars of today where most owners are absent . Our great traditions are now only fond memories.of our trips to Tiger Stadium .

  • John B.

    Having moved from MI to CA as a kid, I finally returned to Detroit in the 90’s where my MI cousins treated me to burgers and beers at Lindell AC after a Tiger victory at Tiger Stadium. I was awestruck with the history and tradition of the place. What a shame it and Tiger Stadium are gone.

  • Andrew Allen

    I was a transplant from Pittsburgh and quickly adopted the Tigers as my American League team. We went to.many games, and really going to the Lindell. Miss it

  • dreamingeagle

    it is so ironic how Karras got suspended for betting on other games but Milt Plum received no punishment for literally throwing the 62 championship away up in Green Bay, presumably to pay off his gambling debts;

    and this was done by the owners–Cooke, Rooney, Rosenblum, Reeves, Mara, etc.,–most of whom gambled on their teams every Sunday while paying their players so little they had to take off-season jobs;

    before we wax too nostalgic, let us remember that save for the occasional token representatives like LeFlore, Lindell’s was well known around town as a place not particularly hospitable to minorities even in the height of the Civil Rights era;

    in that regard, Detroit was not too dissimilar from Gary, Indiana or Springfield, Illionois at that time or Cleveland, Ohio and St. Louis, Mo. of today–divided and demonstratively unequal;

    i know this personally because several times i asked my father to take me there after Tiger games in Briggs Stadium, and each time i got a silent but firm refusal, followed by a suggestion we go to Big Boy’s or J.L. Saunders in its stead;

    and lastly, it was well understood that the owners were connected with and the bar considered the turf of the Purple Gang, who doubtless refused to share with the NFL owners the gambling take, which many today would suggest the real reason Karras was suspended and had to sell his stake just as Namath was forced to do nearly a decade later;

  • Richard Champagne

    Went to school and hung out with Andre, he took me down there once. Wondered what ever happen with him.

  • Linda Hare

    I worked at the Lindell AC in 1983 and 84 for Jimmy and Johnny my Uncle Tom work for the Detroit Tigers at that time and got me the job there what a great place I have a Detroit baseball hand signed by all the Tigers when they won the World Series awesome X miss that place

  • Ronald Wilding

    My 10 year old son loved noting more than to go to Lindells and then the ball game. He loved the ice cream cups with the wooden spoons and hit dogs with fried onions. So many great memories of Tiger Stadium and Lindells.
    Those were heady days.

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