Duso’s Bar, a Midland Street staple, gets a new owner, new look, and new focus

There was a time when patrons of the Midland Street icon Duso’s Bar would find a decent selection of beers and could always bet on a $1 pint of PBR. There were also 642 bras hanging behind and above the 100-year-old bar.

Some things haven’t changed with new ownership – PBR is still on the menu ­– but the brassieres are long gone. Instead, the new owner added gothic decor, karaoke,, and specialty drinks.

While the inside of Duso’s Bar is re-modeled, the new owner kept the classic neon sign and glass block exterior. Kriss LaRock, the nephew of former owner Beth Dore, bought the 604 E. Midland St. bar just about two years ago after returning from a job on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. He brought some tricks that worked in New Orleans to ramp up the atmosphere.

The grandson of Bay City businessman Art Dore, LaRock says he worked for his Aunt Beth at Duso’s Bar before taking a trip to New Orleans.

“I went on vacation, and I was walking by this bar, and this guy was just opening.” The new owner said he was looking for bartenders, and when LaRock said he was a bartender, “he says why don’t you bartend tonight?”

LaRock took the job and stayed for the next eight years.

When he came back to Bay City, he decided to buy the bar. His aunt had decorated around a pirate theme. There was no music or entertainment, but she had a regular clientele. LaRock went to work to transform the bar using what he’d learned on Bourbon Street.

Though he had a lot of ideas, he didn’t have a lot of money, so LaRock got creative.

He kept the old bar, and most of the fixtures, but got rid of the gray walls and bras. He found old pallet wood and cut it into lengths to make panels for the walls. He hung pallets from the ceiling to make the space look smaller. His daughter – an art student at Ohio State University – made a long painting to fill the wall over the stage area.  

“We didn’t have any money, and I just wanted color and light in here, but it’s worked out,” he says.

He didn’t change the neon sign hanging over the front door or the exterior glass block. He’s not sure how old the sign and glass block are, but they give the building a distinctive look among the Midland Street faces.

The Duso’s Bar logo was re-vamped. “That sign was there, and people know it, you know,” he says.

LaRock changed the logo to what he calls a “devil logo D” with a pitchfork through it. At one time, he thought he would decorate in the theme “the seven deadly sins,” but said it had too much of a negative vibe. Instead, he cultivated a gothic look. “I kept the gothic and the gargoyles and switched up some things.”

On the opposite side of the bar there are three images LaRock picked up in New Orleans. “They were the only things I spent money on,” he said. The King, Queen, and Jack of Hearts are original to New Orleans.

What LaRock didn’t want to have is another bar where people come to just drink beer.

“People don’t want to go to a bar to drink beer,” he says, “especially when they can go buy beer at Walmart and drink at home.” Instead, LaRock says he sells entertainment and fun. Yes, there are still $1 pints of PBR on draft, but that’s not the reason he’s got one of the busiest bars on Midland Street.

He says people get excited over glow-in-the-dark ice cubes and dry ice in their drinks, “simple stuff like that – it’s a show.” He says live entertainment and karaoke are a big draw for people.

When he bought the bar, he thought it would take just a few weeks to get everything cleaned up and ready to open, but “there were a million little things,” that he hadn’t counted on.

“I thought I was going to get rich and have a lot of girls, but it turned out to be an insane amount of work,” he says.

Now, though, he has a team of employees he trusts and LaRock is settling in. “It’s going to be great,” he says.

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