Photo Courtesy of Detroit Archives
“Ding!” the elevator door opens. I step inside. Whoosh! The marble-paneled elevator cruises fast up to the 40th floor of Ally Detroit Center, tallest office building in the State of Michigan and the 2nd tallest building in Detroit.
I spill out onto the 40th floor, immediately enraptured by the fantastic vantage of Detroit’s cityscape, including spectacular views of the Guardian Building, Detroit’s main US Post Office and the Ambassador Bridge.
Photo by Ryan M. Place
619 feet tall. 43 floors. I’m almost at the very top of the building, here inside the world headquarters of the Dickinson Wright law firm where Dennis Archer is Chairman Emeritus.
Dickinson Wright has 450 lawyers in over 20 offices in the United States, helping people in 40 different areas of law.
I’m here discussing Mr. Archer’s new memoir, ‘Let The Future Begin’.
The title is based on the slogan his mayoral campaign manager, David Axelrod, created for him. Axelrod later became President Obama’s chief strategist, senior advisor and CNN commentator.
Mr. Archer’s memoir is a fascinating, thorough and riveting account of his incredible life and career.
Sitting here now with me, Dennis is soft spoken, careful, measured, brilliant, a natural tactician and we have an absorbing 2.5-hour long conversation, going well beyond the initial 45 minutes we originally intended.
Photo by Ryan M. Place
Dennis is a patient listener and thoughtful conversationist. Listening to people, rather than telling them what they want, has always been his leadership style.
Archer was a popular Mayor because he was perceived by most people, regardless of political affiliation, as someone who truly cares about the city of Detroit and its residents. Speaking with him, you can tell his concern is sincere and genuine and not some contrived act for the cameras.
Widely admired for his strong moral philosophy, Archer has spent his life relentlessly focused on the value of education and encouraging people to learn as much and as often as they can to help improve their lives and communities.
Having attended Wayne State University, Western Michigan University and Detroit College of Law, Dennis Archer went on to become:
A husband, father, teacher, Michigan Supreme Court Justice, partner at Dickinson Wright law firm, two-term Mayor of the City of Detroit, the first African American president of the Michigan Bar Association and of the 400,000-member American Bar Association, president of the National League of Cities and creator of the Dennis W. Archer Foundation, where he’s given out $1.5 million dollars in scholarships to students.
Dennis Archer is a hard-working, dedicated, no-nonsense, man of action and this is his tale.
Photo by Ryan M. Place
Born New Year’s Day 1942 at Rogers Hospital in Detroit, Dennis Archer lived here until 1947, when he moved to Cassopolis, a rural village in Southwest Michigan.
Dennis grew up poor in a house with an outhouse and he bathed in a big metal tub every Saturday night.
Cassopolis Court House
His father’s family was from North Carolina and Logan County, Ohio and he had one arm, a 3rd grade education and was an extremely hard worker. His mother’s family was from Virginia and both were very influential in Dennis’ life.
Cassopolis was small town USA. Cat litter was invented here in 1947 by resident Ed Lowe. Dennis grew up here listening to doo wop, caddying & golfing and working at the local pickle factory. In 1959, he moved back to Detroit after high school graduation and enrolled at Wayne State University.
MLK in Detroit c. 1963 (photo courtesy of Detroit Archives)
He was a drummer in the school marching band when they played for President JFK in Washington, D.C. in 1961. Two years later, Dennis marched with 125,000 people led by Martin Luther King Jr. down Woodward Avenue in Downtown Detroit when he gave his first ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963.
Dennis eventually transferred from Wayne State to Western Michigan University to become a teacher. He graduated and returned to Detroit where he met fellow teacher and future wife Trudy DunCombe, an EMU grad, in 1965.
After that, he enrolled in the Detroit College of Law, got married and became involved in the fields of law and politics in Detroit.
Kresge’s Department Store (photo courtesy of Detroit Archives)
“What do I like most about Detroit? Everything. I was born here. I remember my first five years on earth here. My dad sent my mother, who was pregnant with me, from Cassopolis to Detroit to be born in a hospital. Cassopolis had no hospital and our house didn’t have a telephone.”
“The first place I lived in Detroit was my Aunt Hattie’s on McDougall Street, a few blocks down from Joe Louis’ mother’s house, they lived at 2100 McDougall. Then we moved to my Grandma’s on Rivard and Lafayette in the Black Bottom neighborhood. We’d walk downtown to Kresge’s Department Store frequently. Detroit has always been a fascinating and wonderful place to me.”
Writing His Memoir
Photo by Ryan M. Place
“I did not keep diary or journal but my wife kept news articles. I wrote the book after having been encouraged by a number of people who finally convinced me that it might be very helpful and enlightening to my sons and grandsons and the general public to have a record of my experiences.”
“My grandsons were 11 and 8 years old when I started writing the book in August 2015. Took me a while to figure out how best to write a book without a lot of emphasis on “I”. If you pass by a fencepost and happen to see a turtle sitting on top, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”
Eliabeth Ann Atkins (photo courtesy of Atkins Greenspan)
“By working with a co-author, Elizabeth Ann Atkins, she could interview the people who were a part of Detroit and my life and they could share their true feelings with her. The book was finally published in December 2017.”
People of Color
Dennis Archer playing golf (photo courtesy of Doug Ashley)
“People of color used to not be able to join the Detroit Golf Club until Coleman Young helped change that. Cardinal Szoka nominated Mayor Young and he became a Social Member in 1986, which paved the way for other people of color to join like Walt Watkins, Walt Douglas, S. Martin Taylor and myself, etc.”
The Detroit Riots
Detroit Riots 1967 (photo courtesy of Detroit Archives)
“The Rebellion of 1967 increased my motivation to be a lawyer. In Spring 1966, I started at Detroit College of Law. I taught school during the day and attended law school at night and graduated January 1970.”
“In 1967, I was a student law clerk at the firm of Damon J. Keith. I got married on June 17, 1967. My father-in-law and I liked to play golf, so I picked him up the morning of July 23rd . We were coming home, and we could see smoke in the air, hear sirens. A lot of sirens, more than usual. Distant yet deafening. I dropped him off and drove home to our apartment. That’s when Trudy told me how things had started.”
“Gov. Romney and Mayor Cavanagh asked for troops to come in. We lost 47 lives and over 7,000 people were arrested and were housed on Belle Isle.”
“Detroit Recorder’s Court judges put a call out for all lawyers to come out and help the people held in custody by explaining to them the legal process and what they were charged with. I watched Judge Keith’s firm participate in providing people legal assistance and I saw how important lawyers were in the process of protecting people’s rights and the whole experience really increased my motivation to be a lawyer.”
Being Mayor of Detroit
Mayor Dennis Archer (photo courtesy of Detroit)
On January 1st, 1994, Dennis Archer became the 67th Mayor of Detroit, which at the time was America’s 8th largest city. He served two terms and ended his service on December 31st, 2001.
Dennis inherited a monumental task of revitalizing the city. He experienced:
photo by Ryan M. Place
General Motors purchasing the Renaissance Center which changed the city in a very positive way.
The Nancy Kerrigan knee bashing at Joe Louis Arena.
The creation of 3 casino’s in Detroit: MGM, Motor City and Greektown.
Allowing Detroit Electronic Music Festival (aka: DEMF, Techfest) to start in Hart Plaza. This festival continues today and is known as Movement.
The creation and flourishing of Campus Martius.
Encouraging Peter Karmanos to move his Compuware Corporation from Farmington Hills to downtown Detroit.
Photo by Ryan M. Place
“Well, my motivation to run for Mayor was built up over several years and came from a broad spectrum of people who encouraged me to seriously consider running for Mayor.”
“For the longest time, I thought ‘Me run for Mayor? I’m just happy to be on the Supreme Court!’”
“I saw the businesses leaving the city, crime rate going up, city having fiscal problems, buses not running on time. People were taking 2-3 buses just to get to their jobs, which were outside the city. We’re the largest metropolitan area in the USA that did not have a rapid transit system.”
Loveland’s Detroit Map (image courtesy of Detroit Archives)
“Detroit in the 1990 U.S. Census was said to have 1,027,000 people and led the nation with the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line, 32.2%.”
“It was ironic that in the Motor City, 35% of our residents could not afford to own a car.”
“At its peak, 1953-54, Detroit had almost two million residents.”
“When you fast-forward to the early 1990’s and subtract over 800,000 people who were no longer living here, the same housing stock was not needed and, thus, we had many vacant homes and empty blocks.”
Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives
“Some blocks only had 1-2 houses on them and there was a lot of illegal dumping of trash and waste. Our residents didn’t have jobs. Businesses had left the city. We were having challenges with public schools. There’s was not a lot of optimism or hope here. But there was a deep yearning for change.”
“I was fortunate to be able to attract over 6,000 campaign volunteers who believed in our thoughts for a greater Detroit. I had asked the people directly what were their real problems and what did they want for their city, their children and what would make them excited? Together, we devised a plan of action.”
Inheriting a Deficit
Photo courtesy of Detroit Bail Bonds
“We had a big surprise after the election and I found out from the head of my financial transition team, Jay Alix, that the city of Detroit was anticipating an $88.5 million-dollar deficit.”
“We went to New York and met with the powerful ratings agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. They knew every detail about the city of Detroit, it was incredible. We were at junk bond status. The city had to actually buy insurance in order to sell our bonds.”
“We brought us back up to investment-grade status.”
Kevin Orr (Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives)
“When my successor Kwame Kilpatrick stepped down, Mayor Bing inherited a $315 million-dollar deficit. Governor Snyder tried working with the city of Detroit to avoid appointing an emergency manager, however, when the Consent Agreement failed, he had to appoint Kevyn Orr.”
“Kevyn ended up doing a masterful job and helped guide Detroit through the largest municipal bankruptcy in USA history. $18 billion dollars in debt was successfully restructured and a revitalization plan was implemented.”
“Back in the 1960’s, Mayor Cavanagh had predicted unless he had help, Detroit faced bankruptcy. One of the main reasons was population decline. Revenues in the form of income tax & real estate tax were not coming in to help fund the running of the city.”
Being a Big City Mayor is Tough
Photo by Ryan M. Place
“We had some very outstanding plans for the city but when you find out you’re facing a deficit and there’s no money to implement those plans, that money goes to balancing the budget.”
“We had a modest surplus, a rainy-day fund and every single year I was in office, the budget was balanced and at one point the two pension funds were overfunded. The hardest part was not being able to live up to the citizens high expectations for the city of Detroit.”
Photo by Ryan M. Place
“By earning an Empowerment Zone designation, President Clinton’s urban renewal program gave us a hand up. Governor Engler’s Renaissance Zones helped us bring in new business. I convinced Vice President Al Gore to have an EZ (Empowerment Zone) meeting in Detroit. We had the most successful EZ out of all the EZ’s in the USA. The number of investments were staggering.”
“While I was in office, we were able to attract $20.2 billion dollars in new investments to the city.”
“Brenda Schneider documented the investments and number of projects that came in every year. Her findings are in the Appendix of my book.”
Dennis Helps Attract Investments to Detroit
Greektown Casino (Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives)
“In 1994, we had a ballot initiative for a riverboat casino at Atwater and putting an Indian-owned casino in Greektown.”
“The casino ballot passed for Greektown and Gov. Engler appointed a commission to study casino gaming. We convinced them we could have up to 4-5 casinos in the city of Detroit. We had several proposals.”
Trump Casino in Detroit rendering (Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives)
“Even Donald Trump wanted to build a Detroit-themed Trump Casino here. Another casino mogul, Don Barden, later tried getting pop singer Michael Jackson to be a casino partner with him here. Barden eventually went to Ohio to support a statewide ballot. The issue lost there and we won a statewide privilege of having up to 3 privately owned casinos in Detroit.”
“MGM and Motor City opened in 1999, then Greektown in 2000. Without revenue from those casinos, the city of Detroit would’ve been bankrupt a long time ago.”
Ilitch’s, Gov. Engler, Mayor Archer (Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives)
“Comerica Park, the new Tigers stadium, was on its way. Mike Ilitch had bought the Detroit Tigers from Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan. Like Mayor Coleman Young, we wanted to help Ilitch keep the Tigers here in the city. I investigated the feasibility of upgrading the stadium. The upgrade could not be done to accomplish their goals and the fans’ needs. We were able to get funding from the state and city to help build a new stadium.”
“Then the Lions came to Detroit from Pontiac. Bill Ford Jr. of Ford Motor Company couldn’t work out a new deal with the city of Pontiac, so we worked with him to bring the Detroit Lions football stadium downtown. We were blessed to have the Ilitch and Ford Families to work together.”
Devil’s Night Detroit (Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives)
“Devil’s Night in Detroit was the name for the night before Halloween. It was notorious because of the arson. In 1983, there were 650 fires on Devil’s Night.
“In 1984, there were over 800 fires. After I became Mayor, I said this has to stop, especially since we had a problem in 1994.”
We created Angel’s Night after the idea was presented to us by John George. It took a few years, but it has been deemed a complete success. ”
Detroit Fire Department t-shirt (Photo courtesy of Detroit Fire Dept.)
Urban Renewal of the Sprawling Motor City
Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives
“New housing was being built in the city. Bob Larson (Vice Chairman of Taubman Co.) led a group that developed a zone concept to deal with vacant land in Detroit.”
“They divided the city into 10 zones. We invited representatives from each zone to Cobo Hall and we engaged them to elect people from each zone to talk to citizens in their zone to find out what they wanted done to help improve their lives.”
“Like I said in the book, when I was Mayor, the pace was frenetic, crisis management was constant, but the crime rate declined every single year I was in office.”
“We also helped beautify the parks. At the time, many were overgrown, dangerous, had no basketball nets. Bill Davidson, owner of the Detroit Pistons and his colleagues installed basketball courts and baseball diamonds. Then we helped to generate 30 more parks being cleaned and fully upgraded. Later they set up a $1 million-dollar endowment to help keep up the parks. The deal was that the City of Detroit Parks and Rec Department would keep it mowed and maintained.”
“Community organizers were painting houses, fixing porches, etc. Habitat led to a major effort within the city. ”
Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives
“Edsel Ford II said yes to being our Champion to celebrate the 300th Anniversary of Detroit on July 24th, 2001. He raised millions of dollars for Detroit. He also started the RiverWalk from Cobo to Ford Auditorium. We had tall ships, a 100-person choir singing. Part of the funds Edsel raised helped to build Campus Martius.”
“Roger Penske got the Grand Prix to come back to Detroit, spent a lot of his own money to do so.”
“I remember I was looking at Belle Isle with the Parks & Rec Department, thinking what would it take to redo Belle Isle? Our bond rating had gone up and we could borrow up to $80 million to redevelop Belle Isle. I said, we could charge per car and that money would go toward the maintenance of the park and we could pay off the bond in 14 years.”
Had we done that, it would’ve already been paid off by now. But, as a result of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the state of Michigan has Belle Isle for 30 years and are upgrading the island.”
Advice from President Clinton
“A few weeks after I got elected in 1994, I spent the night at the White House in the Lincoln Bedroom. President Clinton lost his voice after the State of Union address that evening, but we still talked while watching the Arkansas basketball game.”
“At the time, I was doing 3-4 speeches per day, trying to promote the city of Detroit. I asked him ‘how do you do this all the time?’ He said, ‘never make an important decision when you’re tired.’”
Deciding Not to Run for Mayor Again
Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives
“I decided not to run again because I was physically tired. I was working 16-18 hour days 7 days per week. Religious entities have church on Sunday, so I attended multiple functions every single Sunday. I enjoyed being mayor but also felt a new person with new and different ideas could take us to the next level and would be more helpful.”
“A few years later, I became President of the American Bar Association and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Detroit’s Regional Chamber.”
What Makes a Great Mayor
Photo by Ryan M. Place
“Caring more about the people they’re serving than about themselves makes a great mayor.”
“Someone who is not afraid to stand up and fight for what’s right for the citizens of the city, help those less fortunate, improve opportunities for everyone, improve the police and fire department, listen to people and help solve their problems, etc, there’s a lot of components. Treat everyone fairly and with respect.”
The Law firm of Dickinson Wright
“Chairman Emeritus is a title of appreciation for my accomplishments on behalf of the Dickinson Wright firm while I was chairman.”
“When I left the Michigan Supreme Court in December 1990 and joined Dickinson Wright as equity partner in January 1991, I was trying cases, having meetings, and searching for solutions to the problems of the city of Detroit.”
“I was delighted that I could also help open doors for minority businesses and it allowed them to show that people of color can be successful.”
Some of Dennis’ Favorite Detroit Spots
Central Kitchen + Bar (photo courtesy of CKB)
Central Kitchen + Bar (“my son’s and his investors’ restaurant”)
London Chop House
The Caucus Club
Joe Muer’s Seafood
The Rattlesnake Club
Bakers Keyboard Lounge
Jimmy D’s Celebrity House (used to be on Livernois, it’s gone now)
Lafayette-Orleans Bar (also gone now)
Favorite Authors & Books
“I like John Grisham books. ‘Bobby Kennedy’ by Chris Matthews. Authors Charles Ogletree, Jesse Jackson, Robert Harris, and other Civil Rights leaders. ‘Dr. Martin Luther King’ by Taylor Branch.”
“Usually, I have to do a lot of required reading as a lawyer, so my reading-for-pleasure time is very limited.”
Eastern Market: A Detroit Gem
Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives
“Eastern Market is an outstanding resource for the city. Go by and visit Father Norman Thomas at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. One of the things on my agenda was to try and have Eastern Market open seven days per week, not just Saturday.”
“I asked Fr. Thomas to chair the initiative and he became head of the Eastern Market Task Force to help make Eastern Market a more attractive destination. My family and I still go down to Eastern Market frequently. We buy real Christmas trees there and buy BBQ at Bert’s and we’ll be at Detroit Bookfest.”
The Legacy of Dennis Archer
Photo by Ryan M. Place
“What do I want to be remembered for the most? I’ll leave that to historians.”
“Just remember, when you put people first, good things will happen. And yes, the small things in life do make a difference.”
Let the Future Begin
Dennis Archer profile
Atkins & Greenspan
American Bar Association
Photo courtesy of Detroit Archives
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)