The closest pub to my doorstep, I'll wander into Mike's Inn for a tall pint of brew almost as cheap as water and a conversation. The Eagle's Club stands closer, and yet, that's a private club I have yet to ask for membership. The Tipsy Toad is closer and yet, I'm only in love with the upstairs deck.
Mike's Inn is a joint never fails for conversation. A joint where old men drink in peace is a place that will never fail for conversation. Young men sit shoulder to shoulder with old men and compare notes. We often skip with the formalities of introduction. Why spoil a good conversation with introductions? We're content to see one another around the barstools of Mike's.
Last night, a young man about to graduate from Western Michigan told me about his boat harbored this summer in South Haven. He made 150 dollars a night this summer between June and September renting his boat out on AirB&B. Now, he wants to build a trailer for his boat and haul it out to a mountain lake in Colorado where he'll live upon it, paying to rent a buoy from the marina, his only tether to civilization. "Why haul your boat to Colorado? Leave it anchored in South Heaven and buy another one for Colorado and skip building that expensive trailer?"
"I'll think about it". He stood me another pint when he left, gathering up his entourage, two young women who hadn't chimed into our conversation, engaged in their own talk about their clinicals at the local hospital. I talk to Dawn, a bartender. I talk to Brandie Zietlow, a bartender I met in 2008 when I moved to West Michigan, back when she was serving cold ones at Corsi's. But on my side of the bar, I'm here to talk to men, especially the men left who are still my seniors.
A fellow named Smokey celebrated his birthday a week ago, fourteen years my senior. He had a selective service number that got him that one-way ticket to 'Nam. He wears the hat of the 'Nam veteran and he gets the respect a veteran deserves at Mike's. Let's say he was a little toasty when he shook my hand and made chit chat with me near midnight on his birthday. Well, I heard him out. He was drinking Hamm's in the can and I stood him a Hamm's. I slapped him on his back, the leather jacket taking the blow and wished him a thousand years. Happy to have an elder tell me about his grandchildren, living the good life in the Skee.
I talk to Bobby. I was afraid a few days ago that I had learned Bobby's last name. Bobby doesn't need a last name for me to like him. He's Bobby who works behind the bar at Mike's Inn. Bobby has the longest hair, and it's coiled. He makes women feel comfortable at Mike's. On a rare occasion when the lady on the neighboring bar stool opened up a chat with me, she said, "Bobby makes me feel safe. I know if something went down, Bobby would fly over the bar to save me". Bobby vaulting over the bar of Mike's. No problem imagining that. I should ask his good friend and fellow bartender, Dan Parker, to draw just that. Heck, Bobby makes me feel safe. I'm Mister one and done. But three years ago, he cut me off. Refusing service shows you really care.
Mike's Inn is as narrow as a New Orlean's shotgun shack. The joint is no more than fifteen feet wide. If the owners wanted, Mike's could be expanded by knocking out a wall to the restaurant space that is perpetually empty. That would probably kill the ambiance at Mike's Inn. Too much space would kill it. People wanting more space are welcome to take a drink out onto the deck, which is busy even on the coldest of cold nights. There's an ironic sign on the fence that faces Western Boulevard. "Enjoy a Cold Beer Outdoors Here". Well, that's an all-season sign at Mike's Inn.
Postcard image shows the Muskegon Hotel, torn down in 2008 for seemingly no reason at all. More than eight years later, nothing has been built upon the empty lot. The Muskegon Hotel stood near Mike's Inn.