Menjo's isn't the oldest gay bar in Detroit but it's close. It's been open for nearly 43 years and while it's still beloved by the gay and gay-friendly community, but it's not just a gay bar anymore.
"We're true to our gay roots, but we're welcoming to everyone," says co-owner Mike Shannon. "When everyone gets together, that's when we learn about each other. It's a learning experience."
Shannon and three other co-owners run what they call "The New Menjo's Complex." Consisting of three buildings, the space offers a bar, a theater, and even a mini mall of local retailers. The theater, called Olympus Hall, only recently reopened, but has already hosted a successful production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with more shows on the horizon, including a version of the Broadway show Follies and some drag shows. Shannon says a third building in the complex is being renovated and they hope to open it soon, giving patrons access to multiple forms of entertainment during one night out.
When we called Shannon last week, Menjo's was also getting a little sprucing up. New carpeting was being installed, furniture was getting rearranged, walls were being fixed, and the whole place was getting cleaned up just in time for the biggest bar night of the year. It's obvious Shannon and his constituents take pride in the bar and want their guests to do the same.
While the bar has been in operation since the '70s, Shannon has only been involved for the past two years. Since then, he says things have been looking up for Menjo's and the surrounding community that was once considered Detroit's first gayborhood.
"It's been interesting," says Shannon. "Palmer Park went downhill, but now it's really coming back." He says the city recently installed LED lights on the street in front of the bar, and the neighborhood is quickly becoming safer.
With the future looking up, Shannon and his cohorts are careful to remember the past. In fact, they keep something of a gay bar memorabilia museum wherein they store artifacts from places like Diamond Jim's Saloon, Gigi's, and R&R Saloon.
"We still collect a few pieces a month," says Shannon. "Actually, I was just investigating buying more glass cases because I have a pile of pieces in my office. Gigi's just donated about 30 T-shirts from their place over the years."
The folks behind Menjo's also make it a point to give back by operating a charity called Beautiful, which helps raise funds to buy food and clothing for those in need. Shannon says every Tuesday they give out nonperishable food items and clothes to anyone who needs them. At their annual 12 Kinks of Christmas party, which happens on Saturday, Dec. 5, they'll be collecting items to donate to Toys for Tots, and food items will be donated to the women's shelter in Wayne County as well.
With an all-inclusive nature and a desire to uplift the community, it's no wonder Menjo's has such a dedicated following. Of course, it helps that it's the old stomping grounds of a certain material girl.
"Everyone knows it as the place where Madonna danced when she was 16," says Shannon. "Everyone wants to go to Menjo's."