Only in Detroit could a music club be open twice a week and stay in business, but that’s the beauty of Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy, an enduring and idiosyncratic hub of culture downtown. The club’s owner — Larry Mongo — insists on being open only Friday and Saturday nights, which adds to the peculiar charm of D’Mongo’s, and embodies the spirit of the most interesting Detroiters, those who refuse to do things the “normal” way. Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy is a former jazz club, which Mongo was forced to close in 1993 on account of rising violence in the area. But he reopened the spot in 2007, and despite his insistence on not advertising or promoting in any way, Detroiters can’t get enough of the place.
I visited the club last Friday and was treated to a performance of jazz piano and soulful acoustic music. While I listened to the music, I couldn’t help but gaze around me at the club’s décor, which is a hodgepodge of vintage and elegant furniture and wall-hangings, side by side with installations of faux-gold records and ancient jazz posters — it evokes the glamour of three-piece suits and evening gowns, combined with the ingrained DIY culture of Detroit, which is used to making due with what’s on hand. What’s on hand is a diverse and enthusiastic crowd, soaking up the atmosphere of offbeat styling and lo-fi entertainment. There’s also a full bar, of course, and a charmingly limited menu of soul food (both the chicken and ribs are delicious). Live performances by local musicians at an idiosyncratic club with delicious soul food? Let’s call it the Detroit trifecta.
All photos by Sarah Sharp.
Cafe d’Mongo’s Speakeasy: 1439 Griswold St, cafedmongos.com