Down near the Ambassador Bridge fly the flags of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It is perhaps the only Mexicantown on the U.S.-Canadian border. In the shadow of these flags stands a brick building that looks lonely, and perhaps a bit suspect. Inside lives Donovan's Pub.
Enter through the side door, not the front, and you might be greeted by a friendly, large dog, who might really want to play fetch with you.
The bar itself is, superficially, pretty average, until you look a bit closer: It's perhaps the only Irish bar in Detroit with photos of Mexican revolutionaries up on the wall with the liquor bottles.
Further illustrating the unique juxtaposition of Michigan, Mexican, and Canadian cultures, the jukebox on a regular night could vacillate between the Motown soul of Marvin Gaye and the bachata of Aventura. Molson Canadian beer seemed popular on our evening there, with side shots of whiskey.
Ask for a glass of wine, and the bartender will respond with a name you've never heard of, adding, "It's kinda like Carlo Rossi." Ask for a Coke, and you're certain to get a cola product from the soda gun that's sweet and not watered down.
The selection of liquor is standard fare—nothing fancy, so if you're seeking craft cocktails with artisanal cherries, this is definitely not the bar for you.
There's a flatscreen TV in the corner, above the popcorn machine (serving palomitas gratis). There's a pool table too, and no matter how much we wanted to get all Color of Money, it just wasn't happening.
The crowd is a mix of people from the neighborhood—long-standing neighbors with roots that run deep in Southwest Detroit. Updates on the goings-on of the neighborhood come through without warning, some good, some sad. The later it gets, the younger the crowd leans.
We also note that while other bars and clubs have patrons who come in smelling of clean cologne and perfumes, here as the night wears on more and more come in perfumed with the smell of freshly burned bud.
The 555 Gallery and many well-known Mexicantown restaurants are within stumbling distance, though we admit that on a chilly night, we'd prefer to drive. Parking is ample.
Donovan's is a local bar that is much loved, and in many ways, sacred. Filled with people who treasure it, it's much like the rest of Detroit, and by nature gives a dose of truth with every interaction. No pretension lives here. This isn't the place to see and be seen; rather, it's a place to simply be. — mt