Owner and Manager of Grand Trunk Pub Buy the Legendary Checker Bar in Detroit

July 29, 2014, 3:42 PM by  Allan Lengel

For many decades, the Checker Bar & Grill at 124 Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit was legendary for its burgers, and was a cool place to grab a drink.

But when I went there last, about 1 1/2 years ago, I ordered a turkey burger and it was nothing short of awful. I took one bite and that was it. I waved the white napkin. A friend had a veggie pita that was very greasy and not very good.

Even the regular burgers were no longer getting many kudos. In the past few years, on Yelp!, some customers were very critical. One wrote: "The meat could hardly be tasted, and the cheese was sparse and tasteless."

Now, the good news.

The place, which first opened in 1955, has been sold. The new owners: David Gregory, the manager of the popular Grand Trunk Pub on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit, and the owner of Grand Trunk, Timothy Tharp.

They purchased the joint about eight weeks ago from the original family, shut it down and have started renovations that have included restoring the original tin ceiling. They've opened the bar for a few hours here and there in what they call a "soft launch,"  but it officially won't be ready to open for another week or two. The kitchen should be operating by around Labor Day. 

Gregory says they'll keep the name Checker Bar, but plan to spice up the menu with selections besides a fresh ground beef burger. 

"We want to have an exotic burger menu" that may include turkey, buffalo, emu and salmon, he said. He added that they'll also have a selection of brats that will include a vegan one, chicken and Italian.

In about six months, they'll install a pizza oven, and they plan on having an extensive ice cream cocktail menu.

He said they may try to operate without a fryer, and offer up such sides as potato wedges, coleslaw, three bean salad, potato and tortilla chips.

Gregory said he and his business partner are excited about the new venture.

"Opportunity came, and for better or worse, we jumped on it," he said.

"We're Detroit enthusiasts. This is where we live and play. We don't want to see everything downtown turn corporate."

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