10 of Port Huron's best bars

The classic neighborhood bar is an elusive beast. For many, no bar is complete without a regular game of pool or horseshoes in the back yard. Some demand homestyle food and a cheap can of beer. Others insist that their hangout be steeped in tradition and history.

But a great neighborhood bar doesn’t need to have all these things; often what’s most important for regulars is a friendly face behind the bar.

We’ve rounded up some of Port Huron’s most beloved neighborhood bars, from the quirky to the divey, and everywhere in between.

Conner Street Pub
Conner Street proves that antiquity isn’t a requirement for a bar to have a loyal following. The pub opened in October 2015 in the former Neal’s Bar a block off the St. Clair River with a focus on well--made food, including Italian classics, sandwiches, salads and sliders. They quickly earned the respect of skeptics by sticking to what they love most: food made well. Conner Street co-owner Dino Tata keeps the focus on the food side of the business, and this isn’t the spot to hit late at night (they close fairly early most nights, only staying open until midnight on weekends), but the friendly atmosphere keeps many people coming back.

Office Lounge
One sign that the bar you’ve stumbled on is old school? It’s cash only. Another clue that it’s a neighborhood favorite is hearing laughter trickling out from the back yard as friendly rivals toss horseshoes and clink glasses on the expansive back deck. During warm summer days, patrons gather for impromptu games or league events in the sunny yard. Inside, the river district bar is warm and cozy, with amber lights showing off the glow of the gorgeous wooden paneled ceilings.

Brass Rail
The Brass Rail is a beloved institution for many patrons because of one person: Helen David, the bar’s owner from 1937 until her death in 2006. After her death, though, her grandson carried the family torch with pride. The former candy shop downtown welcomes longtime residents and newcomers equally, especially at Christmas time, when the bar is festooned with lights and an enormous tree. Many families schedule reunions at the Brass Rail around this time in order to take advantage of the Tom & Jerry, a warm concoction of brandy, rum and egg yolk served only between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Casey’s is another fairly new addition to the Port Huron bar and restaurant scene, but Casey and Carrie Harris’s subs and pizzas made from fresh, never-frozen ingredients wooed new customers right away, as did their dedication to community involvement. The couple host frequent fundraisers and donate proceeds to charity often. And while their food is the key draw, the bar also holds tap takeovers and has an innovative cocktail program.

Lynch’s Irish Pub
Every town should have an Irish pub; Irish hospitality has a deserved reputation. Lynch’s fills that niche for Port Huron, with friendly bartenders and solid food on offer. The downtown pub is also a great place to check out local music on weekends or comedy shows on Wednesday nights. With a pint of Guinness in hand it’s pretty tough to feel stressed.

Here’s another cash-only bar, with character oozing out of every nook and cranny. Don’t expect anything too fancy in this classic dive, since the formula of cheap, extremely cold beer and zero frills have worked for Skidgie’s for decades (and there’s no reason to change a good thing). They’re famous for their fishbowl, a massive 32 ounces of draft beer in a frozen chalice-like glass. One word of warning though: no swearing. And they mean it. We witnessed a young man summarily told to pay up and leave for dropping an F-bomb.

The Roche family has had a long time to perfect the classic neighborhood bar. Current owner John Roche’s grandfather bought the place in 1904, and it’s stayed in the family ever since. The building is even older, dating back to at least 1849, and has plenty of history. Once called the Gaffney Sample Room, owner James Gaffney was shot and killed in the bar, which led to the Roche family’s purchase. And the dive bar’s storied history continues. After two patrons were kicked out for trying to fight in September 2015, they came back after hours and attacked the front windows with sledgehammers. They were immediately caught and charged, and a Go Fund Me campaign soon had the beloved bar looking better than ever.

Hillager’s is another bar that sees no need for trendy cocktail menus or gimmicky events. This is the bar your parents and grandparents knew well back in the 1980s. Little has changed since, happily enough. The lottery machines are still lined up along the wood paneled walls covered with vintage--no, let’s just call them old--Coors and Pabst signs. While you’re waiting your turn to play pool at one of the three pool tables you can grab a Keno sheet and try your luck.

Tally Ho
It may be stretching the terms a bit to call this low-slung Lakeport hideout a Port Huron bar, since it’s a bit north. But we couldn’t resist including it. No other bar in town feels so much like a Yooper bar: it’s made of wood, it has low ceilings and faux fish decorations and a wood-burning brick fireplace. Many nights, local motorcycle enthusiasts line the front drive with classic bikes and Harleys. Especially if you’re heading out of town and need a quick stop--or to get the up north experience started early--this place is worth a trip.

Palm’s Krystal Bar and Grill
The Palm’s Krystal Bar and Grill is retro done right, mostly because no one bothered to change the classic neon and vinyl-boothed favorite. Walking into the Palms Krystal makes you feel like you’ve entered a time warp from 1950s Las Vegas. Although they do have a full bar, we’re really writing about this spot for one reason: Chicken in the Rough. The menu reads as it would if Bubba Gump had served chicken instead of shrimp: chicken and waffles, chicken basket, chicken wings, chicken and biscuits, chicken gizzards, chicken livers...you get the picture. The bar has been serving up classic chicken and other dishes since 1936 and can’t be missed.
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