Win a FREE Personalized Autographed Copy of ‘Prisoner of War: The Story of White Boy Rick and the War on Drugs’!

Win a FREE Personalized Autographed Copy of ‘Prisoner of War: The Story of White Boy Rick and the War on Drugs’!

White Boy Rick

 

*3 winners will be selected at random. Enter now for your chance to win!*

https://detroitbookfest.com/prizes-give-aways/

The raffle will run from Monday, June 18 to Sunday, June 24.

 

We are raffling off 3 personalized autographed copies of Vince Wade’s new book ‘Prisoner of War: The Story of White Boy Rick and the War on Drugs‘!

 

Vince Wade

 

Vince Wade is an investigative reporter in Los Angeles.

“My first national crime story was in July 1975, when I broke the news that former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa had disappeared,” says Vince.

However, back in the 1980’s, Vince worked the crime beat in Detroit.

Vince started covering the White Boy Rick story but was reassigned elsewhere and Chris Hansen took over for him.

White Boy Rick has been incarcerated since he was 17 years old in 1988. He spent the bulk of that time in Michigan prisons and was recently transferred to a prison in Florida. He is scheduled to be released from prison on April 20th, 2021.

 

*3 winners will be selected at random. Enter now for your chance to win!*

https://detroitbookfest.com/prizes-give-aways/

The raffle will run from Monday, June 18 to Sunday, June 24.

 

White Boy Rick (Richard Wershe Jr.)

 

 

In 2014, Vince decided to write a book about the case, especially looking at Rick in the context of the War on Drugs.

Vince says:

“The astonishing but true story of White Boy Rick Wershe is a vivid example of why the War on Drugs has been a trillion-dollar policy failure for nearly half a century.”

The book falls into 3 Categories:

True Crime, Politics & Government, Social Policy

 

There has been a tremendous amount of interest in White Boy Rick lately. Seth Ferranti co-wrote and produced an incredible documentary about him entitled ‘White Boy‘.

 

White Boy Documentary Trailer 

 

 

Later this year, in September 2018, Sony Pictures is releasing a Hollywood movie about White Boy Rick, entitled ‘White Boy Rick‘.

 

White Boy Rick (Hollywood movie trailer) 

 

The below information is an extract from Vince Wade’s personal website and is written by Vince:

http://vincewade.net/ 

Prisoner of War: The Story of White Boy Rick and the War on Drugs began with one of those out-of-the-blue phone calls.

It was a late afternoon in 2014 when spring was giving way to summer. I live in balmy, sunny Southern California where the seasons are often difficult to discern.

I had not spoken to Gregg in a long time. After the usual, ‘Hey. How ya been?’ exchange, Schwarz stated the reason for his call.Before I could place the voice, my caller identified himself. Gregg Schwarz, retired FBI agent who had worked narcotics in Detroit when I was a crime beat reporter there.

“Do you remember White Boy Rick Wershe? He asked. “Well, yeah, vaguely,” I replied. He was a drug figure from the late 1980s. “Why?”

Schwarz wanted to know if I had a DVD copy of a series of TV investigative reports I did in 1989 called “Who Killed Damion Lucas?”

Schwarz explained Wershe was still in prison after being sentenced in 1988 at the age of 18. Schwarz said White Boy Rick Wershe had been a helpful and important confidential informant for the FBI and he, Schwarz, was on a mission to get him out of prison. I did not know about Wershe’s role as an FBI snitch. Most people didn’t.

In the Detroit media, he was routinely—and falsely—described over the years as a drug kingpin or dope lord. The journalistic smear went on for years, as explained in the book.

A TV Report on a Killing White Boy Rick Knew About

My series showed how the FBI tried to point the Detroit Police investigation in the right direction based on secret wiretap information they had gathered, but the cops were determined to avoid questioning or charging the Curry gang because Johnny Curry, the leader, was married to the niece of Detroit’s powerful mayor, Coleman Young.

It was a series that exposed police corruption in the handling of the murder of a 13-year old Detroit boy. Damion Lucas had been killed inadvertently by members of the Johnny Curry drug gang. They shot up the boy’s uncle’s house in an attempt to frighten the uncle in to paying money he owed in a drug dispute. The uncle wasn’t home at the time of the shooting, but his nephews were there, alone as bullets from automatic weapons tore through the front of the house. Damion died on the

Unknown to me at the time of the series, White Boy Rick had provided vital intelligence to the FBI about the gang’s involvement in the killing.

That initial phone call piqued my reporter’s curiosity. Schwarz and I spoke again. And again.

Before long, I was hooked. I had to know more about this sad, bizarre story I had worked on for months in 1988. And I had to know more about White Boy Rick.

I reached out to Rick Wershe in prison. In response to a letter, he said he would be willing to help me by telling me the details of his story.

Soon we were corresponding regularly and talking by phone and I was reaching out to key people who knew things about the War on Drugs in Detroit in the 1980s and White Boy Rick’s part in it.

Blogging to Help Rick Win His Freedom

By the spring of 2015 I was writing regular columns for Informant America, a blog I developed about the travails of White Boy Rick Wershe. About that same time, I realized this crazy story ought to be told in a book.

Prisoner of War: The Story of White Boy Rick and the War on Drugs is the result of several years of extensive research. I did interviews with Rick Wershe and others. I traveled to Detroit several times and spent days researching and copying court records, trial transcripts and police investigative files. I filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests with federal and state law enforcement for documents related to Richard J. Wershe, Jr.

The history of the War on Drugs is recounted and decades of failed policy initiatives, such as First Lady Nancy Reagan’s ludicrous Just Say No campaign, are noted. I also realized his story was part of the bigger story of the colossal policy failure we call the War on Drugs; a trillion-dollar struggle that’s lasted nearly half a century.

I decided Rick Wershe Jr. would be the central figure in a book about a war this country hasn’t won and has no hope of winning.

 

*3 winners will be selected at random. Enter now for your chance to win!*

https://detroitbookfest.com/prizes-give-aways/

The raffle will run from Monday, June 18 to Sunday, June 24.

Exclusive Interview: LARRY MONGO the Legendary Owner of Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy in Detroit Celebrates Café D’Mongo’s 10-Year Anniversary!

Exclusive Interview: LARRY MONGO the Legendary Owner of Café D’Mongo’s Speakeasy in Detroit Celebrates Café D’Mongo’s 10-Year Anniversary!

Larry Mongo, owner of Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy

 

Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy 10-year Anniversary Party

Thursday, June 29, 2017

5:30pm-11pm

 

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.”

Faygo Detroit!

“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.”

Live Music

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.”

The Interior

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

Larry Mongo

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

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

Henry Marzette

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

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

D’Mongo’s Speakeasy

1439 Griswold Street

Detroit, MI 48226

Eugene in the kitchen @ Cafe D’Mongo’s

Hours

Thursday 5:30pm-11pm

Friday 5pm-1:30am

Saturday 5pm-1:30am

Larry Mongo honored with a mural inside the Fisher Building

Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/Cafe-dMongos-Speakeasy-261696076791/

 

Quentin Tarantino at D’Mongo’s in Detroit

http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/detroit/index.ssf/2014/05/quentin_tarantino_visits_anoth.html

 

Esquire TV names D’Mongo’s one of the best bars in America

http://tv.esquire.com/videos/71862-best-bars-in-america-detroit-cafe-dmongos-speakeasy

 

Andrew Zimmern features D’Mongo’s on Bizarre Foods

http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/bizarre-foods/travel-guides/detroit-travel-guide

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)

Exclusive Interview: JOHN KING, owner of John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, internationally voted one of the World’s Best Bookstores!

Exclusive Interview: JOHN KING, owner of John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, internationally voted one of the World’s Best Bookstores!

 

You have to hand it to John King. He’s a self-made businessman who built a fifty-year powerhouse of books.

He’s outlasted Borders Books, watched the rise of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and survived razor-thin years of the Great Recession. Even with hordes of hipster millennials myopically glued to their smartphones and Kindles, his bookstore thrives and prospers still.

John K. King Used & Rare Books is a Detroit institution. Many people have amassed entire personal home libraries over the years just by shopping here. You can lose an entire day among literally 1,000,000+ books spread over 4 floors and 900 categories housed inside an old glove factory.

John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Repeatedly voted one of the top bookstores in the world by numerous publications including Business Insider, CNN, and others, John King Books is a must-visit spot on the Global Bookstore Trail, that grand design connect-the-dots map of outstanding bookstores running in a serpentine pattern across the globe.

Many bibliophiles from around the world have made a pilgrimage here to Michigan’s largest bookstore, to shelves overflowing et infra with spectacular inventory ranging from: standard classics, paperbacks, hardcovers, selective esoterica, illuminated medieval manuscripts written on vellum, woodcuts on china paper, armorial bookplates, books bound in crushed Moroccan leather, old rarities sporting beautifully marbled foredges and endpapers, etc. The dust jacket was invented in 1832 and many early examples are here as well.

Let’s Go Inside

John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit (photo by Ryan M. Place)

You enter the parking lot on a blind curve and pull up to a bluish-grayish building with a giant faded glove painted on it, and park at a hard slant in the oddly angled driveway, which overlooks a busy expressway.

You enter the building and ascend into book heaven. That lovely characteristic “old book smell” of lignin acids breaking down in the pages of old books wafts up your nose like a curled finger of smoke in an old cartoon.

Wandering John King’s is a sort of calming, meditative experience and patrolling the old wood floors with you are a dedicated army of a dozen employees in red aprons.

John King walking through John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit (photo by Ryan M. Place)

I walk inside and John King greets me. “One thing you should include in your article is we’re the only radio dispatched bookstore in the country. All employees have walkie-talkies here. That, plus I’m blessed to have a great staff of people using those radios.”

Tom Heitjan (aka: Tom Jr.) the rare book room manager, Toni Caron the office manager, and Darlene Weaver have all worked for me since the 1980’s. Deb Lee, the store manager, has been with us since the early 1990’s. Let’s head to the basement, I got something to show you. Hey George,” John nods at a customer. He knows many customers by name. And there are thousands of regular weekly customers here.

John takes me downstairs and we find Tom Jr. and Steve sifting through hundreds of boxes of books. John is wearing a green Italian army jacket and starts dusting off books with a paint brush.

Thomas W. Heitjan (aka: Tom Jr) the Rare Book Room Manager (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We just bought the entire collection of a book hoarder in Detroit. He died, so his heirs sold us his books, everything in his house and then at the end, they asked us if we wanted to buy his actual house along with it, so we did.”

“Everything is always busy. Very seldom can I sit down and have some free time. We did an estate in San Francisco a while back where the woman left a giant multi-million dollar mansion in the Sea Cliff neighborhood. I was called in for the books. When I got there, I found the books abandoned, neglected, covered in rat shit. So I’m up there flinging the rat shit off books, trying to find the buried treasure. Only ended up finding a box and a half of mediocre stuff. Here’s a woman worth tens of millions of dollars and she lived like a homeless person. She also drove an old Buick Century that was full of actual garbage. It was crazy.”

Tom Jr. chimes in, “We also just acquired a rare and highly coveted leaf of the Gutenberg Bible.”

John says, “Oh yeah, we gotta show that to him. Let’s go!”

John King: The Early Years

John King (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“I was born in Detroit and grew up on the Southwest side near St. Andrews Parish on McGraw. I still visit the neighborhood pretty frequently. I have a dog. A white maltese named ‘Sophie’ and I usually take her down to Clark Park or the old Train Station on my bicycle with me since she fits right in the basket. Toni has a dog, too. A shih tzu pug named ‘Charlie Dickens’ and the two dogs get along great together.”

“I’m very glad to see El Club the music venue opened near Clark Park. When I was a kid, that building used to be an old Lithuanian Club. You had to have an actual key to get inside there, since it was a private social club. You’d go in there and it was a private bar with a bunch of Lithuanians drinking. Always some fun immigrants therein.”

“I attended Fordson High School in Dearborn. It’s a really cool castle-looking building. My guidance counselor there was Elsie Freitag. Not only is she the reason I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent but she covered for me when I frequently skipped school to go sell books.”

John King (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“I used to take the bus into Downtown Detroit all the time. Since I was only a kid, I could only go into bookstores in the Sixties. Detroit had about two dozen old bookstores back then. And I thought wow I can make money doing something I love: selling books!”

“I was an opportunist. I didn’t have a corner like a drug dealer. You know, I’ll shoot you if you start selling books on my block (laughs) it wasn’t like that. I was more peripatetic selling books out of the trunk of my 54 Packard. Later, I sold them out of a 59 Cadillac hearse.”

“Back in the old days, it was romanticized having a used bookstore. But the reality is you have to be tenacious. Running a successful bookstore goes by some but not all principles of business. I had no formal business education. Had to learn everything the hard way, had to learn by doing. I made all the classic rookie mistakes and even invented some new ones.”

old store sign from John King store when it was at 214 Bagley Street (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Back in the 50’s and 60’s in Detroit, the golden age of Detroit used booksellers, the people who ran the bookstores were almost always very eccentric personalities. You know, Damon Runyon type characters. I found them interesting and entertaining and I learned the book trade by watching and through osmosis. There wasn’t a ‘How to Be a Used Bookseller’ book, you just had to get out there and start doing it.”

“Then I went to New York for a little bit to attend college, came back, attended Wayne State University on and off for seven years, selling books the entire time. Now I have no time for anything. I’m busy every day of the year hustling books. I should’ve stayed in school and become somebody and been retired by now.”

History of John K. King Used & Rare Books

Tom Jr. (photo by Ryan M. Place)

John’s current main building, 901 W. Lafayette Blvd., is actually his third location over the years. Tom Jr. fills in the gaps for us:

“This building was built in 1906 by an architect named Stratton. He later married Mary Chase Stratton, the Pewabic Tiles lady. Since he built this place before they met, there are no Pewabic tiles here. Up until 1929 this building was a hat factory. Then it became the Advance Glove Company.”

“When the expressway came, instead of knocking the building down, they physically moved the entire building here. In 1947 this building was put on Alabama gum wood rollers and rolled here from 250 feet down the block. Then in 1981, the glove company went bankrupt and left the building vacant until John purchased it in 1983. We officially opened here January 1st, 1984.”

John K. King’s bookstore when it was at 214 Bagley Street, Detroit

John chimes in:

“Yeah I had two other locations before this one. My very first actual store was in 1971 in Dearborn. It was located on West Warren Avenue at Miller Road across the street from the old Camelot Theater. We were there very temporarily, less than a year.”

“I was there against my will actually, meaning due to the building we were in. A sordid cast of people lived upstairs from us. Drug dealers, thieves, prostitutes, etc, a lot of really nice people. The cops were always coming in. And the very first person to come into my bookstore stole an expensive book. That’s how my bookstore career started. He stole a book on Civil War Regimental History. Him and his whole family were thieves. One of the guys, his cousin, used to get hired to work at museums just so he could steal stuff out of museums over time.”

“By the end of 1971, we had moved to the Michigan Theater building at 214 Bagley Avenue in Downtown Detroit and we were there until moving to this location in 1983.The Bagley location reminded me of the old 4th Avenue bookstores in New York City.”

John K. King’s bookstore when it was at 214 Bagley Street, Detroit

“I also still own The Big Book Store on Cass, which we’re closing soon. Opened in the 1930’s, it’s Detroit’s oldest bookstore. It’s been at its Cass location and run by Bill Foulks since 1988. Over the years, we’ve mainly used it as a warehouse for duplicate books. Some German developers approached me recently about buying the building. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I sold the building. It’s nothing personal, just business.”

“We also own John King Books North in Ferndale. That store opened July 1st, 1988. Tom Jr. used to manage it one day a week for 15 years. Now, Jason Schusterbauer is the current manager. There’s maybe 60,000 books there.”

“We have so many books, we could open ten book stores if we wanted, there’s just no time.”

John King’s Rare Book Building

John’s Rare Book Annex (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Behind the main bookstore, there is a slightly smaller, prairie-style building with some added stained glass windows, which used to be an architect’s office. This building is John’s Rare Book Annex and is not open to the casual window-shopping public.

Thomas W. Heitjan, aka: Tom Jr., has been the Rare Book Room Manager here for years. Tom Jr. grew up on Detroit’s Eastside. He lived one block down from Richard ‘White Boy Rick’ Wershe on Hampshire Street. Tom Jr. has worked for John since 1985. Tom explains:

“We have about 30,000 books here. Toni Caron is our office manager and the Rare Book Annex is closed to the general public due to zoning and security issues. We would love to open it to the public, we just don’t have the ability to make it a tourist attraction.”

John’s Rare Book Annex (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“Once a year, we let the Detroit Historical Society do a public tour here. Otherwise, it’s for private collectors who are vetted and noted and display serious intent. For example, somebody flew in from New York City recently and bought $100,000 worth of books here for their own private library.”

“When we buy collections of books, we sometimes end up with collections of other things like circus posters, statues, etc. That’s how we acquired this interesting Medieval Scriptorium statue from Chicago.”

Medieval Scriptorium statue from Chicago (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We do a lot of estate work, at least 2-3 per week. We travel all over the country to source books. John likes the Bay Area, so we’re out there several times per year for book collections. There was one estate in Daly City where no one but us attended. We ended up finding a treasure trove of old movie books signed by movie stars. Some books had 20+ signatures throughout the book.”

Some choice books at John King’s:

leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (c. 1455 AD) photo by: Ryan M. Place

So, about that Gutenberg. John recently acquired a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (1455 AD). This is an incredibly rare piece. Tom Jr. explains:

“The Gutenberg leaf we have features the Gospel of St. Luke where Jesus is instructing his disciples on how to cast out daemons. Beelzebub is mentioned twice. It’s incredible to actually have a page from the world’s first printed book.”

old books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Here is a short of list of some other goodies:

  • First edition Federalist Papers (1788)
  • First edition Book of Mormon (1830)
  • First Great Gatsby
  • Salvador Dali original drawings
  • First edition Treasure Island (1883)
  • First U.S. edition Through the Looking Glass (1871)
  • First edition On the Road hardcover
  • Books with fore-edge paintings. These images are hidden until you fan the book.
  • An entire section of books inscribed on their flyleafs by U.S. Presidents
  • Several books signed by Henry Ford
  • Kate Greenaway original painting
  • Pablo Escobar Gaviria en caricaraturas 1983-91

Pablo Escobar Gaviria en caricaraturas 1983-91 (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

The Pablo Escobar book, yes this was drug dealer Pablo Escobar’s personal book. It features fun caricatures his friends put together from drug cartoons, his facsimile signature and then his actual signature and fingerprint. Very rare item. A copy not as good as ours, their version only has the facsimile signature, is currently for sale on Ebay in Miami for $100,000.”

Pablo Escobar Gaviria en caricaraturas 1983-91 (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

John’s Rarest Book: the one that got away

The Curtis North American Indian Set

“The one I remember most vividly is The Curtis North American Indian set. We sold that in October 2012 for $1.44 million dollars at Swann Galleries in Manhattan.”

“The set consisted of 20 folios, 722 large photographs on Japanese tissue and 20 text volumes with 1500 smaller photos. The photos were so evocative, you almost wanted to cry looking at them, realizing how beautiful they are and how these people were just wiped out. The photos were printed over a ten year period. It was particularly rare because it was a totally complete set and also, many of the photos were signed by Curtis himself. I miss it.”

“When we can, we try to shake each book to see if any stray ephemera falls out. Sometime in the late 1980’s, our employee Tom Schlientz was shaking out a book one day and some Mark Twain photos fell out. These ended up being personal unpublished photos that were taken by Twain’s friend. The photos featured Twain riding in a wagon with a little girl and a horse. They were taken sometime around the turn of the century in Hartford, Connecticut. We sold the photos.”

Famous Customers at John King Books in Detroit

John King store receipt inscribed by John K. King

John King Books is world famous. The list of well-known people who have been customers here is far too long and varied to include here. People like David Bowie, Hunter S. Thompson, Frank Zappa, Timothy Leary, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Jay Leno, Martin Sheen, Alice Cooper, Governors, Senators, the Levin brothers, Roger Smith head of GM, Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal), Sonny Elliott, Carmen Harlan, Edie Adams, Neil Giraldo, the famous British female impersonator Dame Edna, etc, hundreds of others.

Tom Jr. displaying beautiful fore-edge painting (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Here are some anecdotes from John King:

Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones, was just here with his bodyguard who stayed twenty feet from him at all times. Charlie collects jazz stuff and we sold him some great jazz books.”

Teller the Magician sends us a Christmas card every year saying we’re his favorite bookstore in the world.”

“Former Michigan Governor John Engler got along surprisingly well with my dog. My dog was a Democrat and still didn’t bite him. Engler turns into a mannequin on television but in-person he’s shockingly fun and lively.”

“Actor and Detroit native Curtis Armstrong comes here. He once went on an estate call with me. Curtis was in Moonlighting, Risky Business, the Revenge of the Nerd series, etc.”

Richard Gere actually shot a movie here inside our store back in 2011 called ‘The Double’.”

The Book Club of Detroit

Great books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“A great guy named Tom Schlientz worked for me for about a million years. He took over Charlie Boesen’s bookstore and then worked for me. He was also one of the founding members of The Book Club of Detroit back in 1957. Tom started working for me in the late 1970’s and worked for me right up until his death in 2006. Through Tom, I became a lifetime member of the Book Club of Detroit.”

The Haunting of John King’s Book Store

John King’s Bookstore is haunted (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Many people think that John King’s Book Store is haunted. Over the years, there have been numerous reports from customers of supernatural & unexplainable phenomena including: footsteps and whisperings in empty hallways, lights turning on and off, feeling like they’re being watched, inanimate objects suddenly moving, doors and cabinets opening and closing, items disappearing and reappearing, feeling something lightly brush past them, unexplainable cold spots, etc .

Years ago, we bought an estate of a murder-suicide victim. When we moved her books and other objects to the 4th floor, strange things started happening. Lights would go on and off randomly, we would hear bizarre noises, books would fall off the shelves by themselves. We weren’t scared, it was just irritating.”

John King’s Bookstore is haunted (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Tom Jr. chimes in:

“The paranormal people came in a few years ago and claimed to have located one authentic ghost. They told us that back when this was a factory, a man killed himself on the 3rd floor. He fell in love with a female co-worker. She rebuffed him, so he killed himself up there. And his ghost haunts the 3rd floor.”

John King on The Future of The Book

John K. King print catalog

Many people think that the book itself is doomed by technology, that people are only selling off personal collections and not buying books these days and that online sales have eclipsed regular store sales. According to John King, none of that is true.

The future of the book is secure. Books have lasted over 500 years and they’ll last another 500. If books were going to become obsolete, why is Amazon.com opening brick-and-mortar stores with physical books in them?”

“Right now, the Baby Boomers are croaking. Some of their subject collecting is fading. Those books that they collected so vigorously are no longer important to the next generation.”

John K. King print catalog

“It’s fluid, everything changes. Except for a few of the enduring classics, people’s tastes are fickle when it comes to books. You grow up with something and it’s in demand several decades later and then it’s gone.”

“Only a mere 10-15% of our sales are online. AbeBooks.com is our favorite online selling platform. We’re still basically a brick and mortar store and that’s where we’re most successful.”

“We discontinued our famous print catalogs about 10 years ago. However, we still have digital catalogs online. Again, we would love to do the print catalogs and could still afford to do them, except we just don’t have the time, staff or manpower to do it.”

John’s Final Thoughts

Tom Jr. and John King on the roof of John King Books with the old Train Station in the background (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“We oftentimes deal with a lot of people who have unrealistic expectations of what their books are worth on the buyer’s market. Usually, it’s some nutty person who tells them ‘Oh, your book is rare, it’s expensive’ and then we have to be the bearer of bad news and give them a reality check. My policy is to be straightforward, to the point and up front about everything right from the get-go. I don’t mess around.”

“Also, a lot of people who should come here don’t come here because they’re still scared of Detroit. Downtown Detroit is safe now, it’s not like the old days. I remember back when we were at the Michigan Theater building and we were paid by a New York City bookseller to deliver a book to a Grosse Pointe customer. His customer could’ve just come down to our store and saved the New York price markup. We have customers who travel here from Japan, France, Italy, and other countries, so locals have no excuse.”

John K. King Used & Rare Books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Most people’s bookstore experiences are limited to going to Barnes & Noble. They only have maybe 10,000 books per store and it’s a confusing store. They encourage employees to be robots who have to look up on the computer every time to see where a book is located in their own store. We don’t need computers here. Each member of our staff is a knowledgeable expert with years of experience. Plus, there are no donuts or coffee here, just books. We have store maps, we’re better organized and have better prices, so come down and visit us, we’d love to see you!”

As you can tell, an entire book unto itself could be written about the history and importance of John King Books. A store that has factored into so many people’s lives over the years, it serves as a major literary conduit, a hub for all those interested in the pursuit of books.

John King thrived and prospered through one of the most economically tumultuous periods since the Great Depression, the Great Recession of 2008-2016 and he did it in the fair city of Detroit, no less! We’ve all been through some serious flak together here over the years.

John King on the roof of John King Books with downtown Detroit in background (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

In 2013, the city of Detroit experienced Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Over the decades, since the 1967 Detroit Riots, 50 years ago this year, we’ve experienced massive population loss and devastation. But Detroit is on the rise. Big time. And John King is still here, riding the crest of a new wave of growth and prosperity.

Part of the reason that I personally love going to John King’s is you never know what sort of great books you’re going to find. There’s always something different and the thrill of the hunt is exciting.

It was an honor being able to sit down with John King and Tom Jr. We are grateful for the existence of John King Books and deeply indebted for having such a tremendous resource in Detroit and thankful for all they’ve done for the community over the past several decades.

If you have never visited John’s store, or if you haven’t been there in awhile, do yourself a favor and get your butt down there to buy some great books!

John K. King Used & Rare Books business card

 

John K. King Used & Rare Books homepage

www.rarebooklink.com

Contact

kingbooks@aol.com

John King’s online store at Abe Books

https://www.abebooks.com/john-k-king-used-rare-books/171666/sf

John King Books (12718 W. Warren, Dearborn) circa January 1972