Aerial photo of MSU (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)
Michigan State University is a sprawling and beautiful campus of leafy trees, ubiquitous green & white team colors, and intriguing experiences, such as visiting the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection.
Located in East Lansing, about 1hr 30mins west of Detroit, the school was founded in 1855 as a prototype land-grant university and renamed MSU in 1964.
MSU currently sits on 5,200-acres dotted with 566 buildings. Over 50,000 students attend here. There are 27 resident halls and over 900 registered student groups on campus. Yes, this place is massive. It’s one of the largest universities by population in the USA.
MSU’s Nuclear Physics graduate program ranks # 1 in the nation. Magic Johnson & Sam Raimi attended MSU simultaneously in the late 1970’s. Fun factoids abound.
I’m here visiting the MSU Library, the building which contains the main portion of the comic collection.
Red Cedar River (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
You park on the north side of Spartan Stadium in Lot # 62 W (99 Red Cedar Road, East Lansing). You ‘pay by plate’ by the hour. Then, use the footbridge to cross the beautiful Red Cedar River and enter the library doors straight ahead.
Once inside, the Special Collections Reading Room is on your left. This is where you’ll read the comics.
As the world’s largest library/academic comic book collection, the MSU Comic Collection is a true world resource.
Sure, Mile High Comics in Denver has a self-estimated eight million comic books in three warehouses and a single individual, Bob Bretall, in Mission Viejo, California has over 105,000 comics.
But the MSU Collection is catalogued, indexed, available to the general public free of charge and managed by comic book expert, Randall W. Scott.
Randall W. Scott, or “Randy” as he prefers to be called, is an MSU Special Collections Librarian, Comic Art Bibliographer, and head curator of the MSU Comic Art Collection. Working here almost 50-years, Randy has one of the greatest jobs on the planet: reading and archiving comic books.
Yes, a state university had the foresight to bankroll Randy’s unique expertise and thus, help fund a world-class collection of pop culture artifacts in the form of comics books. We’re so jelly. Randy, I want your job.
MSU’s Comic Book Curator and Head Honcho: Randy Scott
Randall W. Scott, aka: Randy, head of the MSU Comics Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“I’ve always enjoyed comic books. I like the format of blending words and pictures. I also read a lot of books without pictures. Mainly, I like thinking about how the literary form of comic books works and is evolving. Comic books are different from every other kind of storytelling. And I like the theoretical questions associated with comics and collecting comics.”
“I grew up on a farm in Alpena County in a little town called Hubbard Lake. I like to practice reading in other languages like French, German, Spanish. My foreign language level is fair. But my level of reading comics is pretty good.”
“In the late Sixties, I migrated to Lansing and attended MSU while working at Curious Book Shop, a used & rare bookstore run by Ray Walsh. I was Ray’s first employee and the comics buyer there back when Curious had an upstairs that was all comics. Stan Lee did a signing there once! I met Ray while we were both students at MSU. He was famous for riding his bike around campus in a trench coat.”
The Paper (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)
“As a student here at MSU, I worked as a writer and editor on an underground paper aptly called ‘The Paper’ and toward the end of its lifespan, it became absorbed into SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. There was a national movement for underground papers at that time. Detroit had The Fifth Estate, Ann Arbor had The Sun and so on. In June 1969, we had a convention in Chicago where SDS split and The Weathermen became one of the splits, so I briefly became an original Weatherman before it became the Weather Underground.”
“I have a B.A. from MSU and an M.S. in Library Science from Columbia with a concentration in cataloging and indexing.”
“I started working in the MSU Library back in 1971. I had various jobs, including being a preorder typist, whereby I would send out orders to jobbers to order books. I started cataloging the Comic Art Collection in 1974 when I developed a system for indexing and cataloging them and I’ve been here ever since.”
“In 1975, a high-school student stole our Amazing Spider-Man # 1 comic book. We knew who it was but couldn’t prove it. Today, in good condition, that comic is worth around $100,000.”
“After that happened, I decided to take on the job of looking after the Comic Collection, during my lunch hours, as a volunteer.”
MSU Comic Collection: At 350,000 items, it’s the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection
MSU Comic Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Randy and I head downstairs, one floor below the Reading Room.
The Comic Collection is housed in long rows of electronic Spacesaver mobile storage units. The lights are on 120-second timers, thus, if there’s no movement for 120 seconds, the lights go off.
“We have the main core of the collection here. Then we have about 700 shelves of international comics at an offsite, remote storage warehouse.”
Russell Nye: Creator of the MSU Comic Collection
Russell B. Nye circa 1978 (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)
“The MSU Comic Collection started in 1969-70 when MSU professor Russell Nye donated 6,000 comic books, mostly 60’s-era Marvel superhero comics, to the university.”
“Around 100 of the comics were his, the rest were from some of his senior students who donated their collections to him for his new Pop Culture course.”
“Nye taught in the English department from 1941-79. He was an early proponent of Pop Culture Theory and I had him as a teacher. Nye was a gentleman, always wore a suit, taught 19th century American Literature and had an inquiring mind.”
“At the time, comics were deemed ‘inappropriate material’ by academia. However, Nye was respectable, he had also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945, so they couldn’t deny this pop culture scholar’s donation of comics.”
Comic Buyer’s Guide issue # 1 (1971) image courtesy of: Michigan State University
“Comic books had already been around for over 100 years and it took them that long to get academic recognition. I did Independent Study with Nye and wrote a paper called ‘Comics in Libraries’ where I argued for their inclusion.”
“Prior to this, academic libraries had been reluctant to collect and study comics, which they foffed off as ‘subliterature’. It was revolutionary times. The spirit of the time was to open things up and do what hadn’t been done before.”
“Nye wasn’t thought of as a radical but being a proponent of putting comic books in libraries was definitely a radical idea at the time. It’s hard to fathom now because it’s more commonplace. Now over 50 libraries have permanent comic book collections.”
It’s a Midwest thing: Michigan and Ohio Lead the Charge
Bowling Green University’s Popular Culture dept. (image courtesy of Bowling Green University)
“Ohio’s Bowling Green University started a Pop Culture department around the same time. The Journal of Popular Culture started in 1967 at Bowling Green and was edited by Ray Browne. They now have the Browne Popular Culture Library, which is the world’s largest collection of pulps, dime novels and ephemera.”
“In 1977, Lucy Caswell started the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, which is now the world’s largest repository of original cartoon art.”
“It was a Midwest thing. We started putting comic books in libraries, then NYPL followed suit after a few years and now it’s a global thing.”
“In 1978, the Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection was officially titled as a branch of the Special Collections. This collection includes the Comic Art Collection, 10,000 volumes of sci-fi (mostly monographs), probably 5,000 books, magazines & fanzines, and loads of Popular Fiction (ie: dime novels, pulps, detective, westerns, etc).”
MSU Library’s Carolyn Blunt (c. 1973)
A Taste of the Goodies
Young Allies # 1 (1941) photo by: Ryan M. Place
“The hardest part of being a Comics Librarian is cataloguing. Cataloguing is a daily, ongoing process. On January 1st, 1981, we stopped using the filing index card system.”
“Every year we get deliveries of 12 to 20 boxes of comics sent via UPS. Gerber invented mylar comic sleeves. I order these babies 5,000 at a time. Cataloguing all this stuff takes time.”
“We have 7 copies of the original Obadiah Oldebuck here, the first comic ever created.”
Obadiah Oldebuck, the first comic book ever printed (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“We have the personal microfilm collection of Detroit comics guru Jerry Bails and the #1 CAPA-Alpha (1964).”
“We have all sorts of comics: Young Allies # 1 (1941), Walt Disney Comics and Stories No. 1 (1940), Wonder Woman # 1 (1942), R. Crumb’s Zap # 1 (1967), etc.”
“We have about 600 Underground comics, 10,000 volumes of Manga, 1 million comic strips donated by Dick Webster, and large holdings of Eclipse, Marvel, DC, Fantagraphics.”
“We have the King Features proof sheet collection from NYC (1930’s-1990’s).”
Rodney Ford scrapbooks (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“We have 530 scrapbooks of daily newspaper strips. They came all at once from Rodney Ford in Sacramento, California. Over 100 titles from the 1920’s-1970’s. He made the scrapbooks meticulously by hand.”
“We have 17,000 Golden Era comics (1938-52), the first 1,000 of which came from Jim Haynes, a Connecticut racetrack owner who grew up in Port Huron, Michigan.”
“We have the Lexikon der Comics, the only copy in North America. It’s a German language encyclopedia of comics.”
“The list goes on and on. MSU has a tradition of keeping the best two copies of each item. Our triplicates we give to the MSU Surplus Store to be sold, and proceeds of these sales come directly back to the library to continue supporting the collection.”
Lexikon der Comics: German language encyclopedia of comic books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
MSU’s International Comics @ the Remote Storage Warehouse
MSU International Comics inside Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
After touring the main collection, Randy drives us to an offsite warehouse in Lansing, about 15 minutes away from the main library. The facilities coordinator, Josh Maki, lets us in.
The warehouse is divided into two massive rooms.
One room contains international comic books on 10 and 12-foot-high steel shelving. The other room is a high-density storage bay of 800,000 books and bound journals. Big blue-box air scrubbers clean the air.
This is but one warehouse in a complex of warehouses. The others are: Folio, Special Collections and RSA. The comics warehouse is RS-F and called ‘remote storage’. Spread across the complex, there are around 1.7 million items.
MSU Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“Here we have about 700 shelves of international non-American comics from all over the world. For instance, we have 1,800 comics catalogued from India alone.”
“We have shoe boxes full of two million daily comic strips, plus big boxes of proof sheets, Sunday sections, etc.”
“The most we ever paid was $130,000 for 13,000 European comics in the 1990’s.”
“We get about one international visitor per month, mostly from Europe and Asia.”
“When visiting, please remember that international comics must be requested at least three full days in advance.”
Funding: Where does the money come from?
“I get a little slice of the annual MSU Library book budget. I also have a couple of endowments which provide funding. Our total annual budget is around $40,000.”
“In regard to acquisitions, I have a Collection Development statement that I follow when we want to acquire new material for the collection.”
In addition to the budget Randy receives from MSU, generous supporters also lend a hand by giving funds in support of this collection.
For more information on ways you can support the collection, contact:
MSU Libraries’ Development Office
MSU Special Collections
MSU Special Collections Rare Book Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Established in 1962, the MSU Special Collections department contains 450,000+ printed works, several manuscript and archival collections, a huge stash of ephemera, and more.
MSU has a massive collection of Sixties Radicalism pamphlets and papers. You can find these in the American Radicalism Vertical File (ARVF).
The Special Collections Rare Book Collection is at the end of the comics collection, behind a vault door, inside a temperature-controlled room.
It contains the Charles Schmitter Fencing archives. And the oldest printed book at MSU: Scriptores Rei Rusticae (1472, Venice). They even have a Book of Hours here.
Randy’s Final Thoughts
Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“Well, I’ll need to retire one day, I suppose.”
“My replacement will need to be enthusiastic about comic scholarship, knowledgeable in the field of comics books and care deeply about growing the collection and understanding how important it is.”
“The MSU Comic Collection is always open to donations of comic books. If you or someone you know wants to donate their collection, they can email or call the MSU Libraries’ Development Office.”
“Personally, I think it would be cool if the library put a little more recognition into the comics, such as the graphic novels. We have a ton of graphic novels, including the first-ever, Will Eisner’s ‘A Contract with God’ from 1978.”
Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
“There’s a future in academic comic study. It just depends on administrative attitudes. Currently, MSU offers two minor degrees in Comics.”
“Every February, we host a two-day long MSU Comics Forum here on campus.”
“Visiting scholars with an MSU netID can apply to stay overnight at the Owen Hall Grad Dorm here on campus.”
“Plan a trip. Let us know you’re coming. We look forward to seeing you.”
MSU Comics Forum (courtesy of MSU)
Donate your comic collection to MSU by emailing Randy Scott and the library development office:
Search the MSU Comic Collection here
Randy’s Comic Index
Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection
MSU Comics Forum
Map of MSU Campus
Library of Congress has 150,000 comic books
MSU logo (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)
Ryan’s Final Thoughts
Having toured the collection multiple times, I feel it necessitates its own building.
Due to the size, importance and future growth potential of the collection, MSU should consider centralizing the entire collection under one roof exclusively.
You could also add a museum component to this, complete with display cases, regular events and periodic in-person signings.
Ryan’s Recommendations on Visiting the MSU Comic Collection
While visiting MSU, you might want to make time to check out the following:
1.) Brody Square (241 Brody West) campus food hall
Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Park in the Kellogg Conference Center parking garage (219 S. Harrison Rd.) for $1.50/hr. Walk directly across the street to Brody. Up on the 2nd floor is one of the most ingenious campus food hall concepts ever created.
Brody features 9 to 12 food stations. For $10.00 per person it’s all you can eat, all day long. And yes, this is open to the general public.
They have a wondrous array of food featuring things like:
Burritos, sushi, spicy crab soup, Cajun fish with mashed potatoes and gravy, Hudsonville ice cream (get the Cake Batter with chocolate syrup), 15 breakfast cereals, pepperoni pizza, vegetable spring roll, miso soup, mango slush drink, pasta with spinach and alfredo, breadsticks, and more.
Also impressive is their automated tray system. You walk over to a moving wall of empty metal racks and slide your tray in and it disappears into the back for the cleaners. Every university in the country should replicate this food hall model.
2.) MSU Dairy Store @ Anthony Hall (474 South Shaw Lane) 9am-8pm
MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
MSU Dairy Store grilled cheese (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Park out front at the meters. 8 minutes per quarter or use your credit card.
This is an ice cream parlor open to the general public and run by the MSU Department of Food Science. All the ice cream is made right here at MSU. You can even buy half-gallon tubs!
I recommend trying a double scoop of the Sesquicentennial Swirl and Dantonio’s Double Fudge.
Also try the Grilled cheese on sourdough with a cup of soup.
3.) Curious Book Shop (307 East Grand River Ave)
Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Park directly behind the store. $2.25 for 90 minutes maximum.
Opened in 1969, this is a used & rare bookstore with a large sci-fi section.
The store is owned by Randy’s friend Ray Walsh. Ray has done a tremendous number of good things for the book community over the past several decades.
Ray puts on the annual Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show. You can usually find Ray himself a half mile down the road, running his other bookstore, Archives Book Shop (519 W. Grand River).
Some Other Cool stuff in Lansing:
Potter Park Zoo (1301 South Pennsylvania Ave, Lansing)
Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern (1200 North Larch Street, Lansing)
Lansing Brewing Company (518 East Shiawassee St, Lansing)
Meat BBQ (1224 Turner Rd, Lansing)
Randy Scott (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
MSU Special Collections gift of Jim Haynes (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
MSU Comic Collection cataloguing (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott
Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott
Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)
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)