Lenny Fritz, author & illustrator from Southwest Detroit
I remember Lenny Fritz vividly. He was a big dude who looked intimidating and whose peripheral manifestation evoked possibilities of an outlaw biker or a club bouncer to those who didn’t know him.
In actuality, Lenny was a fun, cool, extremely creative and hilarious individual. He lived down the street from my family’s house on Springwells Street in Southwest Detroit.
His family, the Fritz’s, grew up with my family, the Place’s. The Fritz’s lived at 2655 Springwells Street and my family lives at 2606 Springwells Street. Lenny was a popular figure around the neighborhood due to his good nature and artistic abilities.
Graciously, his mother Mary Anne Fritz and sister Patty Saenz (pronounced ‘signs’) sat down with me recently at Patty’s home Downriver to discuss the uniqueness of Lenny and the enduring impact of his work.
Lenny was the middle child. He had an older sister Patty and a younger brother Eric.
“Lenny and I were Irish Twins,” says Patty, “We were born one year and five days apart. Lenny was born on June 27th, 1967 and I was born on June 22nd, 1966. He passed away in September 2012 from cancer. June 27th, 2017 would have been his 50th birthday. I miss him so much.”
Lenny went to school at St. Gabriel’s (8118 Vernor) and Holy Redeemer Catholic High School (1721 Junction) in Southwest Detroit.
Lenny Fritz house (2655 Springwells Street, Detroit)
Mary Anne tells us more about Lenny.
“Lenny graduated Holy Redeemer in 1985 and went on to WSU. He worked a variety of odd jobs around the neighborhood, including being a janitor at St. Gabe’s and grass cutting at Holy Cross Cemetery. Lenny’s true passion though was writing and illustrating comic books.”
“Lenny was even a Detroit Firefighter for a little while until life took him elsewhere. He was playing basketball in flip-flops in his backyard one day with the guys when he stepped off the curb and broke his ankle. As a fireman, he had the fastest time in doing the stair running exercise drills with 50-pounds of equipment on.”
“Lenny was a regular customer at John K. King Books, a great big bookstore a few miles from the house.”
Exclusive Interview with John King
Exclusive Interview: JOHN KING, owner of John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, internationally voted one of the World’s Best Bookstores!
“He also used to hang out at K-Andy’s Bar (8736 W. Vernor) and Bucks Good Eats on Dix, it’s now the Mexican restaurant Mi Pubelo (7278 Dix). Many of these places factor into his work.”
“On Thursday nights, he used to head up to Beacon Bowling Alley (6735 W. Vernor) and go bowling with his Dad, Uncles and cousins. Detroit was the bowling capital of the world back then.”
“Lenny was 6’3”, 250 pounds and at one point he had a Travis Bickle type mohawk that he got from Ralph the Barber. He also sported a ‘To thine own self be true’ tattoo on his forearm that he, Patty and Eric all have.”
“Lenny was great friends with Father Anthony Bologna from St. Gabe’s. Fr. Bologna was legally blind and Lenny would drive him around and take him shopping. They would also go to Sunday dinner in St. Clair Shores at Fr. Bologna’s family’s home. He would pick him up at St. Gabe’s in Southwest and drive him out there. While they were out, a trip to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up Fr. Bologna’s favorite Progresso soup was always a must.”
“Lenny’s dad, known as Lennie, was a Detroit cop at the 7th Precinct, located at Mack and Gratiot near Eastern Market. His dad would often come home with vegetables and fruit from Eastern Market vendors and nuts from Rocky’s. He was a cop from June 1967 to September 2007. He finished the police academy on the day Lenny was born. Many of his true tales as a cop are woven into Lenny’s writings.”
“About a month after Lenny was born, the Detroit Riots erupted. The National Guard was camped at Patton Park, Dix and Woodmere Street, tanks and all, right down the street from us.”
Patty & Mary Anne Move Out of Southwest Detroit
Southwest Detroit (photo courtesy of Michigan Radio)
The neighborhood used to be great but it changed quite a bit over the decades and became very dangerous with gangs, burned down houses, graffiti, drugs. It was time to leave. Patty moved her family out of Southwest in 1998 after a 10-year-old kid broke into their car.
“My husband Reuben caught a little kid breaking into our car one day,” says Patty, “We called the police but they never came. So, after a few hours, we went down to the kid’s house and it was some kind of big drug dealing house. His parents just laughed at us, they didn’t care. They didn’t care at all, they didn’t even get up. At that moment, I realized we needed to move to get our baby son Ricky out of there.”
Mary Anne moved out in 2004. She is now living on the island of Grosse Ile.
Lenny Goes to School
Western Michigan Broncos
Lenny excelled academically and was a very well-educated man. In 1998, he received his BA from Norwich University.
Then in June 2002, he got his MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. A few of his plays were produced by the Drama department. His final project was entitled ‘Wet,’ which is street slang for a joint of marijuana dipped in PCP.
Wayne State University
Also in December 2002, he received his MA in English and Rhetoric from Wayne State University. He was also on staff at Washtenaw Community College and Owens Community College (Toledo) teaching English and Film History. He later secured a tenure position in the English department at the University of Toledo.
Lenny’s Connections with Chuck Palahniuk, Stan Lee & Charles Bukowski
Mary Anne tells us about some of Lenny’s interesting literary and comic connections.
“Lenny was a huge fan of author Chuck Palahniuk (pronounced paula-nick) and he wrote to him once. Chuck surprisingly wrote back and they maintained an infrequent correspondence over the years. In Lenny’s copy of FIGHT CLUB, Chuck wrote “To Lenny-May you never be perfect and complete…” and in SNUFF, Chuck wrote “To Lenny-May your every money shot bring a standing ovation.”
“Lenny submitted artwork to a contest that Stan Lee was a judge for. Stan Lee picked Lenny’s submission as the winner and Lenny got his caricature done by Stan Lee in the Spider-Man Sunday comic strip along with the original signed Stan Lee comic art.”
Stan Lee draws Lenny in a Spider Man Sunday Comic! (October 10th, 1999)
“Lenny and Charles Bukowski were writing buddies in the 1980’s-90’s on and off.”
“After Lenny passed away, I became the recipient of dozens of boxes of his letters and writings.”
Lenny the Writer
Mary Anne tells us about Lenny’s writing habits and contributions.
“There was a network, a brotherhood support system of writers and comic book people that Lenny belonged to, a sort of feedback loop that helped each other out in critiquing each other’s work.”
“Lenny wrote and drew constantly, daily. He generated copious amounts of notes, most of which are written on scraps of paper and napkins. We have boxes full of his notes and sketches.”
Perg illustration for ‘Perg’ comic book series by Lenny Fritz
“Lenny did most of his writing while sitting in a recliner, keyboard in his lap, in his first-floor bedroom on Springwells. While driving, he used a voice recorder to capture his thoughts while they were hot and fresh and would later transcribe them into his computer. I still have his original tapes.”
“While working on his Masters of Education, Collegiate Sports Administration at Wayne State University, Lenny did an internship at the University of Michigan Sports department and out of that grew his long-standing relationship with U of M. Lenny published Krater Quarterly, a nationally distributed literary magazine, from Block M Press. He wrote for the U of M Dekers Blue Line, the booster club for UM hockey. “Deke” means to fake out a hockey goalie. Lenny also did illustrations for U of M which were sold as officially licensed material and merchandise.”
poster designed and illustrated by Lenny Fritz for the University of Michigan
In Nine Kinds of Pain (2011) by Leonard Fritz
In Nine Kinds of Pain (October 2011) Lenny Fritz
‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’ is a book written by Lenny Fritz. I’m an avid reader with a 2,000+ volume personal library and I’ve never encountered any other book like this one in terms of distinctive styling, unclassifiable-ness and comic book mingling.
Here’s the synopsis from New Pulp Press:
“Baby. She knows how to play the streets of Southwest Detroit. But when her boyfriend entangles her in his life of criminal treachery, she’s forced to go underground to stay alive. Her pursuer? The mysterious Tall Black Man, a cold-blooded dope dealer who believes she’s ripped off his stash. Baby flees to presumed safety in the arms of Father Anthony Costa, a drunken, delusional priest, and Dallas Sharper, a Detroit cop gone off the deep end; she hopes to buy more time to figure a way out. Throw into the mix the Canadian Mafia, some killer cops, and an unyielding city, and you have just another week in the Murder Capitol of the World. IN NINE KINDS OF PAIN is a fast-paced, beat-of-the-street story of torment and redemption, of failure and salvation, that proffers crime fiction at its best.”
The book centers around a group of morally conflicted characters and takes place entirely in Lenny’s old neighborhood of Southwest Detroit. The narrative is interspliced with comic book panels illustrated by Lenny, giving it a graphic novel-eqsue feel. The writing is so good and the situations so bleak and characters so grim that it’s hard to put the book down. After finishing it, you immediately want to re-read it.
This book is not for children. This book is not for people with faint hearts and rosy visions of idyllic settings. This book is for people who want to read about gritty characters and thinly veiled true-life stories written in Lenny’s own distinctive style. The story is not linear and its told in short, violent vignettes interspersed with ‘Here is Wisdom’ narration guides for non-Detroit natives.
Comic book panel by Lenny Fritz
Some of the characters include: Baby the prostitute, Father Costa the delusional alcoholic Catholic priest, Dallas the mentally unstable Detroit cop, Tall Black Man the dope pusher, Jimmy Bible the redneck cop, Frankenstein Anson Davis, etc. All characters are locked into an existential bloodsport of survival of the fittest.
The characters in the book essentially equate being a resident of Southwest Detroit to being an inmate at a prison. Each character is trapped in their own personal prison and all characters are trapped inside the prison of Southwest Detroit, where it is impossible for them to escape from. Escape is impossible because after living there, they cannot function in the outside world.
Living in the nebulous purgatory of Detroit’s Southwest side has made them crazed and ghostly, it has created a unique form of acute insanity, a permanent deranging of the soul, which cannot be gotten rid of. By existing in the realm of Southwest, they have each been robbed of their humanity and turned into quasi-monsters. Remember, this is just a book. Lenny was a die-hard Detroiter at heart.
I imagine that the title ‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’ refers to the multi-dimensional realms of suffering you can live in simultaneously. There were 9 Circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno and there’s 9 Kinds of Pain in Lenny’s Southwest Detroit.
excerpt from Lenny Fritz
Mary Anne offers her recollections of Lenny’s book.
“Around 2000, Lenny started the initial idea for ‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’. It wasn’t titled until after he finished the manuscript.
“90% of the material in the book involves real people and true stories from the neighborhood with some minor embellishments.”
“The book was published in October 2011 by New Pulp Press, a publishing house which was based in Colorado at the time. After its release, Lenny did a few book signings in Ann Arbor & Detroit, however, shortly after its release, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in May 2012.”
“Lenny and I lived in Monroe at the time of his illness. Lenny was a professor of English literature at the University of Toledo. He had just completed spring semester classes mid-May and was diagnosed with esophageal cancer at the end of May.”
“While he was in ICU at the University of Toledo Medical Center and unable to speak, we would steady a pen in his hand and he would write in a binder to communicate with us, never once needing to look at the page as he jotted. His body was collapsing but his brain was still true and clear.”
“Lenny tragically passed away on September 13th, 2012. It was an overwhelmingly fast death and still difficult to deal with at times. We just want to keep his memory alive. He was 45 years old when he died.”
Throughout his work, Lenny offered many haunting premonitions. His 2000 thesis for Wayne State alluded to September 11th over a year before it happened. And in his book, he spookily alludes to his own death a few times.
Lenny won a Fireball Award from Spinetingler Magazine for having one of the 25 greatest opening lines in crime fiction. The opening line is, “This is Detroit, so welcome to the jungle.”
Throughout the book, Lenny pays illustrative homages to Daniel Clowes, Margraret Kilgallen, Jorge Longaron and Alden McWilliams. In a separate project, Lenny illustrated the cover for Jake Hinkson’s book ‘Hell on Church Street’.
Overall, ‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’ is a fascinating read and would make a great movie. The film would have to be raw, gritty and shot on location to do it justice.
Although it has never been discussed by anyone, I am labeling Lenny’s unique work as the beginning of ‘Detroitica’. Detroitica will henceforth be defined as a literary sub-genre of crime noirs which contain elements of the gritty, erotic, surreal, underworld, criminal and insanity specifically taking place in and around Detroit. The genre was inadvertently created by Lenny Fritz.
Lenny’s Unpublished Book: ‘You Can Kill Anyone’
illustration by Lenny Fritz
Mary Anne tells us about some upcoming projects.
“Lenny was originally going to do a trilogy and he wrote a second companion book called ‘You Can Kill Anyone’. The book is about Jimmy Bible, a character mentioned in the first book.”
“Lenny described Jimmy Bible as “one of those ‘redneck cops’ who can’t seem to draw a line between reality and the video game Grand Theft Auto.” The book is about Jimmy Bible spiraling down but becomes a love story involving Jimmy Bible, Plain Jane Dunleavy, Spanker and other characters.”
“A company called 280 Steps based in Oslo, Norway was going to publish the book in November 2015 but they never did. It was scheduled for release but kept getting delayed as ‘to be published’ and now the company no longer exists. Fortunately, I own the intellectual property rights to all of Lenny’s work and we will be actively pursuing the publication of this book in the near future.”
“Lenny also has several short stories that we are going to compile into a book and publish.”
Fond Memories of Lenny & the Fritz’s
Lenny’s mom Mary Anne sold my dad his first car in the 1970’s and Patty has my Aunt Mae’s rosary.
My Aunt Mae & Aunt Dae, two hilarious Italian sisters (real names Amelia & Adele Miglierino), also lived down the street at 2576 Springwells. They had glass bowls of stale candy corn around the house, a dog named Rocky and they used to argue frequently and call each other “Pep” and “dog in the manger”. They used to give my cousin Tim and I coffee and crackers starting when we were 4-5 years old. Coffee, cream, about 20 spoonfuls of sugar poured in from the restaurant-style sugar jar and we would dip saltine crackers in the foul concoction. My Aunt Dae wore a hairnet, terrycloth shorts, slipper socks and would wander the alleys of Southwest Detroit picking dandelions and collecting discarded toys and assorted trinkets. It’s a miracle she was never mauled by a pitbull or bopped on the head. Lenny and his family knew them well.
Patty recalls some fond memories.
“Your Grandma used to babysit us. I remember she would make pancakes in various shapes for us. Then years later, I babysat Renee when your Aunt & Uncle lived over on Wendell. Lenny would do these elaborate chalk drawings with her on the sidewalks.”
“Every summer, our whole family would go to Camp Dearborn in Milford for 3 weeks. It’s a tent village of large wood frame tents with canopies. The tents have beds and bunk beds, they’re very spacious and we would rent 8-10 of them for 100+ people. We have a big family, I have 35 first cousins. While we were at camp, your Aunt Sue “watched” our house for us (aka: she threw parties).”
“At camp, Lenny would organize football teams, The Fritz Blitz v.s. The Fritz Connection. He made t-shirts for the games at Sheridan Sport Shop on Vernor Hwy near our house. Archery, swimming, rowboats, etc, the summer dream. We had so much fun.”
Christ Recrucified Two Thousand One AD
Christ Recrucified Two Thousand One AD (2000) By: Lenny Fritz
Lenny’s master thesis ‘Christ Recrucified Two Thousand One AD’ is 244 pages long and was written in 2000. This engrossing 42-chapter novel is a fictional account of the last week of the life of Jesus Christ.
In the book, Lenny describes it as “I strayed from the known events of Jesus, and created a world in which the supernatural plays a key role in the characters life. God & Satan also play significant roles in the manuscript, battling for control over Jesus and his decision to be executed.”
It is considered a “lost rarity” by fans of his work. If you want to read it, it’s housed at the Wayne State University storage thesis collection at Adamany Undergrad Library in Detroit. To go read it, fill out this storage request form: https://library.wayne.edu/forms/storage_request.php
Christ Recrucified Two Thousand One AD (2000) By: Lenny Fritz
R.I.P. Lenny Fritz
Mary Anne, Patty and Eric will be at the Detroit Festival of books selling copies of ‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’ for $10.00 each.
The final resting place of Lenny is at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown. He is cremated. His ashes are inside a bronze Krater-style urn with black enamel etching. The urn sits inside a polished marble niche.
Friends, family, the city of Detroit and readers everywhere lost Leonard Daniel Fritz too soon. But his legacy lives on.
Leonard Daniel Fritz
June 27th, 1967-September 13th, 2012
Krater Magazine by Lenny Fritz
Krater by Lenny
Lenny illustrated the book cover for Jake Hinson’s ‘Hell on Church Street’
Lenny’s etching on the front page of the Dekers
Rendering by Lenny Fritz
Rendering by Lenny Fritz
illustration by Lenny Fritz
In Nine Kinds of Pain by Lenny Fritz
Larry Mongo, owner of Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy 10-year Anniversary Party
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy is the Rick’s Café of Detroit. Humphrey Bogart ran Rick’s Café in Casablanca and his equally dapper counterpart Larry Mongo runs Café D’Mongo’s in Detroit.
The only difference is that Larry is a real-life character. And a real character, indeed! He’s one of a kind. Larry Mongo is a living piece of Detroit history and we are honored and thankful to have The Mongo family here helping to electrify the fabric of Detroit.
Detroit author & journalist Charlie LeDuff & Larry Mongo (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Widely regarded as one of the top bars in the United States, Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy officially opened in June 2007 and over the past ten years, has morphed into one of Downtown Detroit’s premier iconic bars. Almost every major visiting celebrity who comes into town drops by D’Mongo’s and the place absorbs a veritable ton of local and international visitors every weekend who overflow the bar.
A timeless quality distinguishes all great things and Café D’Mongo’s offers the world a certain Detroitness which cannot be duplicated, something timeless and classic. Perhaps it’s the interior, the live music, the phenomenal drinks, the outstanding service, the great people you meet there, the fact that Larry is a hands-on owner who leads from the frontlines and is always at the bar with a friendly smile.
History of Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Squeezed between a concrete parking structure and a circa 1937 shul, the building currently housing Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy used to be owned by the Greek Seros family. It was the Seros Chili Restaurant from 1918-1980’s.
Seros Chili Company (1439 Griswold, Detroit) c. 1920
“Seros Lunch originally opened here in 1918 then it was the Seros Chili Company in 1920. The owner was James Seros and his spot was nationally famous for their chili con carne. It was a Seros place until the 1980’s.”
Cafe D’Mongo’s used to be occupied by Seros Lunch
“In 1985, I purchased the restaurant and on June 4th, 1987, opened ‘Cafe Joseph’. In the early 90’s, Cafe Joseph was transformed by my son Jerome Mongo, into an after-hours club called the ‘Wax Fruit Rhythm Café’.”
“At the time, seldom known rappers like Eminem, Kid Rock, Esham and others used to perform here. In December 1993, Jerome opened the famous rap music spot ‘The Hip Hop Shop’ on 7 Mile Road with Maurice Malone and eventually closed Wax Fruit.”
Larry’s son Jerome Mongo
“The current incarnation of Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy was opened in June 2007 by me and my lovely wife Dianne. Some local nearby residents of Capitol Park, Sarah Kubik and Margaret Cassetto talked me into re-opening. They lived in some lofts nearby and finally convinced me. I’m glad they did.”
Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy’s Internationally Famous Drinks
Larry Mongo & Quentin Tarantino hanging out at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy is famous for inventing two hugely popular drinks:
the 1439 (Captain Morgan’s rum and Faygo’s Rock N’ Rye) and The Detroit Brown (Crown Royal, splash of bitters and Vernors Ginger Ale).
“Quentin Tarantino has publicly stated that Café D’Mongo’s 1439 Griswold drink is his favorite drink of all-time. We introduced Quentin to Faygo Rock N’ Rye and sent him home with a case of it.”
“And just recently, Afar Magazine voted Café D’Mongo’s Detroit Brown the #1 cocktail in the world.”
“In 2014, Esquire TV featured us on ‘Best Bars in America’ and we’ve had a number of television shows in here.”
Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy’s Internationally Famous Food
Andrew Zimmern and Larry Mongo at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
“Our food is real popular too. We’ve got unique food but it’s a limited rotating menu. Andrew Zimmern featured us on his show ‘Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern’ on the Travel Channel. He had our peking duck on there. Sometimes I’ll even get in the kitchen and make Sloppy Larry’s and other stuff.”
“We used to have Esteban Castro making his famous guacamole at Esto’s Garage, a pop-up kitchen here. Now we have Eugene on the grill and Sanford “Rembrandt” Nelson making some delicious and unique grilled cheese creations. Eugene is the chef and Rembrandt creates the menu.”
Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy is a Hot Spot of Celebrity Sightings
Larry Mongo and Ryan Gosling hanging out at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy is a popular hangout spot for celebrities such as:
Quentin Tarantino, Ryan Gosling, Michael Bay, Sir Richard Branson, Sam Raimi, Charlie LeDuff, Anthony Kiedis, Bruce Campbell, Sixto Rodriguez, Marcus Samuelsson, Seth Ferranti (author of 20+ books, co-producer, co-writer of the White Boy Rick documentary) and hundreds of others.
Café D’Mongo’s Slate of Annual Parties
Dianne & Larry Mongo, husband and wife team of Cafe D’Mongo’s
Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy hosts some famous annual events:
“Our best know annual parties are: Brazilian Carnival, the Jewish Purim, Detroit Tigers Opening Day Party the first Friday in April, Dia de los Muertos, Halloween and New Year’s Eve.”
Carl the Human Jukebox, leader of Carlo & Company, the Cafe D’Mongo’s house band
“We have live classic rock and soul music from Carl & Company, the Cafe D’Mongo’s house band. The group is fronted by Carl the Human Jukebox. When he plays stuff like James Brown-I Got The Feeling, the whole place starts jumping, everyone laughing and grooving, in-the-seat dancing, banging on glasses with spoons. It’s a fun time.”
Cafe D’Mongo’s artifacts
“The interior of Cafe D’Mongo’s is famous for being a one-of-a-kind Detroit history museum. The walls are adorned with rare vintage photographs and ephemera and odd trinkets. Michael Jackson’s jumpsuit hangs from the ceiling. The Detroit artifacts and memorabilia are rare, historical museum-worthy pieces. We are installing The Place Case curio cabinets full of rarities donated by Ryan Place soon above the bar, so stay tuned for more good stuff.”
The Mongo Family History
old Detroit map
“My family used to be slaves a long time ago. In 1906, the Mongo family moved from Kershaw, South Carolina to Detroit. The four Mongo men came here after one of them murdered someone. Sonny Boy was able to escape after Grandma dressed him as a little white girl in black mourning clothes. She told Sonny Boy to tell everyone he was a girl and that he was going up north to claim a dead body for burial.”
Kershaw, South Carolina
“Sonny Boy was my Grandpa’s brother. My Grandpa was Benjamin Mongo and they had to come to Detroit after they had to use capital punishment to fight an injustice that was used against them in the South. We also bought all the land we were slaves on.”
Dianne’s ancestor Mary Ann Shadd
“Now, my wife Dianne, she’s Canadian. She comes from the first settlement for black runaway slaves called North Buxton. Her great grandparents have a statue on the other side of the tunnel, George and Alice Shreve.”
“Dianne is also a descendant of Mary Ann Shadd. Her family were free blacks in 1850 and went to Canada. Dianne can trace her bloodline back to the 1700’s. During the Revolutionary times, one of the soldiers came from England. He was 14 years old and wounded. Dianne’s family took him in, took care of him, nursed him back to health. He ended up staying and marrying one of the girls.”
Dianne’s ancestor George Shreve
“Dianne’s aunt is Artis Lane, a famous sculptor from North Buxton. Artis did a bronze portrait of Rosa Parks, sculptures of many U.S. Presidents and more. I’m very proud of my wife and her heritage.”
How Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy Started
Larry’s happy birthday cake
“Café D’Mongo’s started as a chain of hair salons called D’Mongo’s Hairstyling. We used to cut Coleman Young’s hair, too. His barber chair is here at the bar on display.”
“When I got married in 1968, my wife Dianne wanted me to take her last name. We were both rebel kids, our families were close for generations. I kept my name but we decided to make our own family name. So we decided we needed a new shared name. We took the ‘D’ from Dianne and my last name ‘Mongo’ and created ‘D’Mongo’s. It was a private joke for years until I named the bar after it.”
“Dianne is British Methodist, she prays for me every day! Here’s another fun fact: Dianne made me get baptized before she married me. I took my friends, eight of us went and got baptized. After I told her we went and got baptized for her, she said ‘Lord, if they die now, at least there’s a chance!’”
“Then in 1975, Dianne become a master barber and in 1977 the very first D’Mongo’s Hair Salon opened (19985 Livernois, Detroit). I was a journeyman tool & die maker at the time but helped run the business of the hair salon.”
Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy Was Originally Called Café Joseph
Dianne and Larry c. 1987
“Back in the day, there was this gay guy named Joseph and he belonged to a political group. He was the secretary, the gopher, and so forth until a new regime took over and they kicked him out just for being gay. But what they didn’t know is that he grew up with me in the old neighborhood. He was a neighborhood kid and we grew up together, I owed him a loyalty. He came to me, told me what happened and I sat down with him and said that I didn’t have a name for my new club that I was about to open. And I told him that I was gonna name the club Café Joseph in honor of him but I told him ‘you gotta go gangster.’”
“He was the host at the door, he’d look at me and get all fragile when the same people who kicked him out of their club showed up at my bar. They kicked him out, so I kicked them out of mine. I had the connections they needed, so they kept trying to come back. So about 1-2 years pass, the club is getting a bigger reputation and Joseph asks me if we can start letting them in. I say ‘tell all your friends they can’t get in unless they Mother with them’. So these guys actually brought their Mom’s down with them and we let them in. Then life changed for Joseph.”
“As straight guys, we never disrespected gay guys, we just let them do they thang. But when the straight square guys saw Joseph being hugged and shaking hands by street guys, his prestige rose to the top and he was grateful and a changed man.”
The Mongo’s & The Purple Gang Connection
The Purple Gang (Detroit) c. 1930
“The real money was in bootleg whiskey. My family used to run liquor with Abe Bernstein and The Purple Gang and the Bronfman family of Montreal. My grandpa and the underworld side of Dianne’s family worked with Abe in the bootleg business.”
“My family made a fortune. The code word in all the Mongo clubs was ‘Black and Tan’. Prohibition ironically created radical integration. It was hardcore right-wing Christians against all the people who drank alcohol. So, all the different types of people who loved liquor banded together and became friends.”
Larry Mongo & DeVon Cunningham
“85-year old DeVon Cunningham is a local Detroit artist and a very good friend of mine and he comes in here frequently. He was also personal friends with Abe Bernstein, boss of the Purple Gang. He has some of his art at the Smithsonian and he did many of the art pieces you see hanging in Café D’Mongo’s.”
Larry is Proud to Be Jewish
“I was a Jew before I knew I was a Jew. The Jewish culture had me. I really knew I was a Jew when I moved to Detroit! My value system, my beliefs, everything about me is Jewish. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Oak Park and when I moved to Detroit, some of the old gangsters used to laugh but they kept me around to learn and told the young guys to stick with me.”
“It’s not an accident that I’m next to the Isaac Agree Synagogue. We’re glad to be here and if I see anybody else try to spray paint the synagogue like when I caught those kids on the roof, there’s going to be hell to pay.”
The Dan Gilbertification of Downtown Detroit
Detroit is great!
“I’ve seen the Dan Gilbert effect. It is a positive business-generating effect and it’s also good for the spirit of the people of Detroit. Quietly among the black people, I call Dan Gilbert “Moses”. He’s leading us out of the darkness in terms of encouraging us to invest in Detroit. Chuck Forbes saved Detroit’s Theater district and Dan Gilbert is saving Downtown. People are in better moods, they’re moving into downtown, Midtown, Corktown, etc.”
“The millennial pollinators, the creative class, showed the world that people can live in Detroit. It started with gay women moving into illegal lofts. They paved the way, then gay men who partied, then straight men and women followed suit. Now it’s a good mix of everybody down here. Creative pollinators made it possible for people to feel safe again in Detroit.”
Larry’s Greatest Happiness: Boosting Other People’s Standings in Life
Christine Passerini (Cafe D’Mongo’s Manager) and Chris Krsteski (Cafe D’Mongo’s bartender)
“My greatest happiness is helping boost other people up to a greater potential in life. I’m a big believer in innate human potential.”
“Courtney Henriette who now owns the Katoi restaurant, created the Detroit Brown drink here at Cafe D’Mongo’s around 2008. She didn’t know how to make drinks at the time and she made it for a customer on a whim. The man said ‘this isn’t what I ordered but I like it. I’d like another.’ Suddenly, that very night, other people started ordering it and we had a runaway hit on our hands.”
“Esteban Castro has his own food truck now. Esteban came in as a customer and we let him run his pop-up kitchen Esto’s Garage in the back here. I let him do it for free until he got enough money together to get his own truck.”
Carl & Company, the Cafe D’Mongo’s house band
“Carl the Human Jukebox was down on his luck. He was homeless and singing Beatles songs outside of Grand Trunk Pub. I offered him a job. Then a dentist gave him a free set of false teeth. And now he lives in his own place, man!”
“Chris Krsteski the bartender got hired thru Chucky Patch, a local entertainer with a guitar. We love Chris, he always works hard.”
Sheila Edwards, the retired Cafe D’Mongo’s gatekeeper
“Sheila Edwards, the white-haired guardian at the gate of entry, retired recently. She was great and we now have her doppelganger at the door.”
Christine Passerini the manager of Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
Larry Mongo and Christine Passerini
“I met Christine in 1990. She just moved to Detroit from Sharon, Pennsylvania. She came to sell me some candles in this very club. I got a big order. Then, two days later I got shot in my stomach, long story.”
“Two months later, I’m out of the hospital and looking thru my notes and one says Christine delivery. So I called her and apologized. She offered to pay for the candles after I told her I got shot. I told her I would pay for them and asked her to meet me in my office at the Himmelhoch building. First thing she asked me was ‘how does it feel to be shot?’ I said ‘you don’t want to be shot’ and we quickly became good friends.”
“I had a chain of eight hair salons at the time and she became a contractor for us. There’s a lot of money in black hair care and manicures so Christine became a licensed manicurist. We had an opening at the Millender Center, she took over there and runs it to this day. She started at Café D’Mongo’s because we were short of help one day. Christine came to the rescue and has been helping out ever since. She’s amazing, she does everything, a true Jill of all trades. We are very fortunate to have her.”
4 Fun Tales from Larry
Larry is a fascinating storyteller and the essence of Larry and Café D’Mongo’s are best illustrated in a series of four anecdotes and tales from The Life of Larry. He has many, many more amazing stories. This is just a small sampling.
Tale # 1: Larry Once Had an Opportunity to Bankroll Eminem
Eminem when he opened up for Wu-Tang Clan (c. 1997)
“Back in the day, my son Jerome and his son Claudio were friends with Proof and Eminem. Proof was cool, always called me Mr. Mongo. Eminem used to rap at Wax Fruit sometimes and one day Jerome brought Marshall to me. He said ‘Dad, this guy’s gonna be the next Elvis’. I took one look up and down at that little white boy and didn’t think that his rapping career was ever going to be a moneymaker. Man was I wrong!”
Eminem during his Lincoln High School years in Warren, Michigan (c. 1987)
“We had the original rapper anyway, back in 1964. His name was Butterball, he was a DJ on Inkster 1440 AM radio. Butterball was the first rapper I ever heard. Wade Briggs was Butterball Jr, it was a guy before him even.”
Tale # 2: Michael Jackson’s Jumpsuit is Hanging in D’Mongo’s
“Michael Jackson was the kindest, warmest human spirit I ever met, an angel. He wasn’t a child molester but he was a fool for trying to be a good guy to devilish people. I knew him thru the Berry Gordy family when I was living at Indian Village Manor and we became friends when we were trying to do a casino with Don Barton. He gave me his jumpsuit as a gift.”
Tale # 3: Larry took Henry Marzette to DuMouchelle’s
The film ‘American Gangster’ is based on the life of Detroit cop & drug kingpin, Henry Marzette.
“I took Henry Marzette to DuMouchelle’s auction house in downtown Detroit once and it changed the black underworld when it came down to furniture. When they realized that furniture and lamps had names like Tiffany and Hunzinger and that it was worth millions, they listened.”
“About six months later, all of them were subscribing to Architecture Digest and buying high-end stuff. They started using the word Henredon. They learned what a Patek Phillipe watch was. Their eyes opened and their world changed. Oriental and Persian rugs started going in their houses. They learned that investments come in different forms, not just money. White culture is white art. Their art is their culture.”
Tale # 4: Larry’s friend George Murphy once had an Opportunity to Bankroll prince
“Around about 1976 or 1977, Quentin Perry who ran Taurus Productions, brought Prince to the Palms Theatre in downtown Detroit, the place is now called the Fillmore. We had a private session with Prince because they wanted us to invest money in him and bankroll his breakthrough.”
“Now at the time, you gotta understand that Prince was a nobody, none of us had ever heard of him or seen him or knew anyone who knew anything about him. Prince comes out on-stage in pantyhose, high heels, bouncing around. We laughed like idiots and walked out like idiots too. We all told Quentin he was crazy and thought Quentin might have been down low gay himself for suggesting this guy. We thought Prince would never make money. We thought wrong and regret it to this day.”
A Tribute to Benjamin “Benji” Mongo (1948-1982)
“Benji was my big brother who I love very much. We were completely loyal brothers to each other. He was a big influence on me growing up. He was an Original, the Miles Davis of the underworld, a rare person. He was like no one else.”
The Future of Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
Michelle Waters, Larry Mongo, Ryan M. Place
There’s a Jean-Paul Sartre quote scrawled on the tiny bathroom wall here, “Existence precedes essence”. Only at Café D’Mongo’s would you find such an existential proposition in the bathroom. And as you can surmise, Larry is a wild fascinating character with a big heart and a lot of true friends. Go to Café D’Mongo’s and if you’re lucky, he might regale you with tales of his life.
The future of Café D’Mongo’s includes:
- Installation of a series of display cases colloquially referred to as ‘The Place Case’ that will feature many rare Detroit artifacts donated by curator Ryan Place.
- Rooftop patio dining sometime in 2018.
- Possibly applying for a State of Michigan historical marker for the building.
- Possibly installing an old school neon sign on the front exterior of Café D’Mongo’s.
Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
“What I love about this club is that from the very beginning, we opened up with a fun crowd of oddballs, people who are not a part of normal society, you know, creative misfits, the entertainment types.”
“People should know that Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy is the Toronto of the USA in terms of diversity. The love for diversity here is tremendous. We welcome all kinds of people through our doors every week. We tell people, if you have prejudices, leave them at the door because you will be mixing and having fun with all types of people here.”
“We’re a bunch of misfits that fit together,” says Christine Passerini, “And we were the first bar Downtown to stock Faygo Rock n’ Rye and the first ones to have mismatched glasses.”
“My wife Dianne and I love Detroit. We are lifetime members of the Detroit Yacht Club and members of the Detroit Athletic Club. We love everyone down here and hope you can come check out Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy. Thank You to everyone!”
Larry Mongo on the cover of Grand Circus Magazine
1439 Griswold Street
Detroit, MI 48226
Eugene in the kitchen @ Cafe D’Mongo’s
Larry Mongo honored with a mural inside the Fisher Building
Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy facebook page
Quentin Tarantino at D’Mongo’s in Detroit
Esquire TV names D’Mongo’s one of the best bars in America
Andrew Zimmern features D’Mongo’s on Bizarre Foods
Seros Lunch Detroit
Larry and Dianne (c. 1991)
Seth Ferranti (author of 20+ books and co-writer/co-producer of the White Boy Rick documentary) and Larry Mongo at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy
Boston George Jung (center) and Larry Mongo (right)