Vintage car show caps comeback story for historic Detroit bar

Willis Show Bar

Much like its hometown of Detroit, the mid-’70s were unkind to Willis Show Bar. The business turned seedy and the building fell into disrepair, eventually closing its door permanently in 1978. Vintage dilettante Sean Patrick and his partners rented the building in 2016 and began restoring it to its days a high-class show bar.

Exterior of bar
interior of Willis Show Bar

Patrick had two reference photos to use during his restoration of the 70-year-old show bar—a grainy black and white still of the exterior, and a darkly lit interior shot from the building’s tenure as a strip joint. “We spent one and a half years building it out from just four concrete walls and a raw floor,” says Patrick. Still, they weren’t dissuaded from the project and the team focused on reviving historical landmarks in the Motor City, pushed on.

Cars out front
Cameron Neveu

Nearly 40 years after the building was condemned, Willis Show Bar reopened its doors to patrons looking to grab a piece of retro night life. The restoration harkens back to when local and traveling talent played music and danced ’til the rooster crowed. The inside is immaculate, from the restored Art Moderne ceiling to the dime-sized wooden stage just behind the bar. On certain evenings throughout the first year line ran out of the building down 3rd Avenue in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. Dockets swelled and libations flowed.

Continental in front of the Willis Show Bar
Cameron Neveu

Now, in its second year, Willis is expanding. One of their new forays is a vintage car show. Last week they gave the event a test run, and judging by the turn out, it’s safe to say this comeback story is complete.