Like the famed explorers Lewis and Clark, Randy Kluck and his son, Kevin, have been venturing east to west. Instead of treking across a country though, they've explored the nooks and crannies across the Upper Peninsula.
Their quest? To sample as many bars and taverns as they can and record their findings in a travelogue of sorts. Yooper Bars
, which is slated to be in a bookstore, bar, or convenience store near you after Thanksgiving, is a fun-filled reference to about 125 watering holes in the U.P.
And what did these modern day pioneers find as they trekked their way across this great wilderness we call the U.P? Well, more than just chicken wings and hamburgers with strange names. They found stores of lore, questionable facts, and some interesting characters.
For instance, during one layover at the Silver Creek Bar, near Paradise, the Klucks discovered the "birthplace of the hula hoop," at least according to local legend. As the story goes, discarded rings from bootleg whiskey barrels, hidden during Prohibition, were used like the hulas sold in stores today. So far, no one has disputed the claim. The legend is included in the listing for the Silver Creek Bar in Yooper Bars, along with pictures of the bar, staff and patrons.
Randy, isn’t native to the U.P., but has visited it frequently over the years with his family. He is adamant that there is no place quite like the U.P., and no bars quite like the many he has frequented.
"I’d love to see people from New York or Chicago--the rest of the Midwest--see the U.P. and these great bars. It’s a well-kept secret," says Kluck.
Randy is a retired marketing consultant. Kevin is a recent graduate of Lake Superior State University
. The idea to venture across the U.P. and sample the taverns came from Kevin. Having graduated with no immediate job prospects, he decided why not just travel for a few months, bar hop, and write about their adventures.
"I’ve always been a fan of the U.P.," says the elder author. Conversations with bar patrons come easily for Randy. The book is chalk-filled with stories he has collected, like the one about the guy who left the biggest ever recorded tip in a U.P. bar. That honor goes to Mike "Mugsy" McGill, who left $2,106 for the bar maids in Maloney’s Alley, a family-owned Irish Pub in Sault Ste. Marie.
Randy thinks the book will be a big seller for both the locals and folks who venture to the U.P. He tells bar patrons that this is their chance to get their pictures and story in a "bestseller."
People like Andy Stachnik, owner of Andy’s Bar in Seney, is one such celebrity in the making. Prior to owning Andy’s, Stachnik was a truck driver, moving logs across M-28 and the infamous Seney Stretch. His trips were uneventful until one day when his big rig stalled in from of the bar in Seney, a town that experienced a short period of prosperity during the white pine era.
It just so happened the bar in Seney had a "for sale" sign out front. From that day on his rig stalled every time it came to the bar. Stachnik took it as an omen and bought the place. He’s owned it since 1978.
Other bars, like Barr’s Bar in Negaunee, are legends by virtue of their location and the people who have come through their swinging doors. Barr’s is located on Iron Street in Negaunee, a street that was famous, or perhaps infamous, for having several bars (13 total) during its mining heyday. People like Michigan State Representative Dominic "Pug" Jacobetti, known as the "Godfather of the U.P," did some of his campaigning out of Barr’s.
All kidding aside, the book is a good reference for folks looking for food and fun in the U.P. Each bar listing comes with hours of operation and entertainment options, including live music, pool tables, video games and karaoke.
Also included in each tavern listing is a menu of food items. What might surprise visitors to the U.P. is the quality of the food that is served in some of the bars, according to Randy. He says whitefish dinners and other regional fare is better than some of the fancy places he frequented while working in New York City and Chicago.
Ultimately, says Randy, who chose to be interviewed in Maloney’s Alley in the "Soo," you go to a bar to relax and have fun.
"If you can’t relax in this place, you can’t relax anywhere,"says Kluck of Maloneys, which, incidentally, is where two of his daughters currently work while attending LSSU.
Perhaps their website says it best: "A plethora of chuckles, chortles, guffaws, and laughs are waiting with the turn of each page as Yooper Bars capture the culture and essence that truly is a Yooper way of life."
Neil Moran is a freelance copywriter and author of three books on gardening. You can visit his website
Photos by Shawn Malone.