They told him that it couldn't be done. They said he was crazy for building a nice bar in turn-of-the-century downtown Ferndale. And to the naysayers' credit, when Dean Bach opened Dino's Lounge in August 2002, Ferndale didn't anywhere nearly resemble the trendy hub that it's become today. Bach says that downtown was more known for empty storefronts than it was condos, more for busted "massage parlors" than hip nightspots.
But with Dino's, Bach took an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach. A patron of the nearby Post Bar, he was starting to age out of the "plastic cups and sweaty bodies bumping into each other" phase of his nightlife. As he transitioned out of his early 30s, Bach wanted to build a bar where you could feel like a grown-up but still young, too; a place that was upscale but not uptight.
It's fifteen years later and Bach has been proven right on his gamble on the old Rialto Cafe building on Woodward Avenue. His enthusiasm for the community early on, like appearing on local TV spots and acting as a booster for the city as much as for his restaurant, helped establish Ferndale's downtown as a destination. So it's no wonder he's since become chairperson of the Ferndale Downtown Development Association.
Today, development in Ferndale is going both up and out, with taller buildings being built and downtown's fashionable footprint beginning to stretch east of Woodward and down Nine Mile Road toward I-75.
"There's nothing wrong with putting a nice place somewhere that doesn't have many nice places. I thought, It'll catch up to me. And the next thing you know, people were passing me by and now there's a lot nicer places all around me," says Bach. "That's why we've done all these renovations. Because now I have to go back and catch up to the people that have passed me up while I sat here for fifteen years enjoying the fruits of the original labor."
Bach recently shut down his restaurant for a two-week-long renovation blitz—a risky move for any business owner. Most of the work was performed by Bach, his wife, family, friends, and employees, determined to re-open as soon as possible.
Garage doors open up to the city sidewalk. The mustard yellow walls have been painted over in shades of grey and white, with most of the posters and knick knacks removed for a cleaner, modern look. Reclaimed wood covers many of the walls and pillars. Bach hired a former employee with her own furniture business to build tables and chairs out of reclaimed wood from a 300 year old Grosse Ile building. The giant mirror has been refurbished, and Edison bulbs punctuate the room.
Rebuilt bathrooms, new kitchen equipment, and more gives Dino's a fresh feel, one Bach contends is necessary after fifteen years in business—which is 50 years in restaurant years, he says. Bach even got rid of three of the five TVs and, he says proudly, not a single person has complained.
The menu, too, has been updated. It's smaller with more focus, centering on foods that don't require a fork but lend themselves to creative and easily modifiable recipes, including sandwiches, loaded fries and poutine, mini-shish kabobs, and chicken wings. One thing that has remained, of course, is the famous Dino's brunch.
In 2014, Bach partnered on another bar in town, M-Brew. It's a Michigan-themed bar in an old VFW hall converted to feel like a northern Michigan lake house, complete with a fireplace and wrap-around porch. Bach personally drives around northern Michigan, happily searching out hard-to-find small batch beers to bring back to Ferndale.
Bach's enjoyed that last pursuit so much that he's ready to announce yet another restaurant: the Belle Iron Grill in the northern Michigan town of Gaylord, tentatively scheduled to open in July 2018. Bach is bringing the Dino's "Funday" Brunch concept to Gaylord, a trend they've yet to catch on to, he says. If M-Brew is his chance to bring northern Michigan to Ferndale, than the Belle Iron Grill will be his chance to bring Ferndale to northern Michigan.
"This has become a kind of utopia of friendliness," says Bach. "Ferndale is a very special city. It's become this bright and shiny piece of Woodward where everybody says hello to you when you're walking down the street."
"This is a special town."
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