Renaissance on Midland Street blends historic charm with modern appeal

In a blend of nostalgia and innovation, the Midland Street District in Bay City is experiencing a vibrant resurgence.

Once the epicenter of local nightlife and community gatherings in the '90s, Midland Street is being revitalized with a wave of restoration projects, new business openings, and the return of beloved local establishments. 

This revitalization effort is breathing new life into the historic district, preserving its old city charm while introducing updated attractions that cater to contemporary tastes.

With a variety of professional offices, salons, retail stores, restaurants, bars, and live entertainment venues, the renewed Midland Street promises to offer something for everyone, rekindling the lively spirit that once made it a must-visit destination. 

Graphic courtesy of the Midland Street Management BoardFree shows will keep Midland Street dancing throughout the summer.The Midland Street Management Board set out to bring the district, encompassing five city blocks, back to the happening place it once was.

Working collaboratively with the Midland Street Merchants Association has prompted forward-thinking and generated positive momentum for progress in the area. 

“The idea of a renaissance of Midland Street took off like a rocket this year,” says Midland Street Management Board Chair Jason Clements. “Once the fuse was lit on the idea there was a sense of ‘let’s take our own ball and run with it.’ The momentum shifted and suddenly everyone was excited about the resurgence of the area.”
Admittedly, the district has had its challenges since its heydays in the ‘90s. The area’s reputation has taken a beating in the past 20 years.

Clement says changing people’s perceptions of the area is the first step toward change. 

“It’s not the ‘same old Midland Street’ anymore,” says Clements. “People are starting to pay attention, seeing the efforts and forward momentum.”
As the district progresses out of the old and into the new, there’s a renewed focus on creating a family-friendly environment with opportunities for shopping, eating, drinking, and enjoying live entertainment.

We talked to several of the new businesses that opened recently about why the Midland Street District is the right location and what they foresee for the future of this area. 


When Roy Pfund returned to his hometown of Bay City, he was looking for the right spot to open a Japanese-style restaurant. He found it in the Midland Street Business District.

Photo courtesy of IzakayaIzakaya opened on May 31, offering a menu of fresh sushi, hand-crafted dumplings, and an assortment of other favorite dishes made from scratch. Pfund opened Izakaya on May 31 in the old Coven restaurant at 510 E. Midland St. Before it was Coven, the building was home to VNO Wine Warehouse and New Age Restaurant. 

“The location is just the right fit,” says Pfund. “It’s small, quaint, and seats 50 people. The old brick on the interior walls fits our character and style.”

Pfund left Bay City at 18 years old after graduating from Pinconning Area High School.

He traveled the country and the world. Now, at 55 years of age, he wanted to return home. Opening a Japanese-style restaurant offering a menu of fresh sushi, hand-crafted dumplings, and an assortment of other favorite dishes made from scratch has been a dream of Pfund’s. 

While some people Pfund talked to about opening Izakaya were skeptical about opening a sushi restaurant in Bay City, customer feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. 

There are not many options for this type of cuisine in the area. Judging by the full house the first few nights of being open for business, Pfund is optimistic about the future. 

Izakaya is open Tuesday-Saturday for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Call for reservations or take out, 989-293-6644

Photo courtesy of O'Hares Bar and GrillO'Hares Bar and Grill, as well as Midland Street Pub, are once again serving drinks and food on Bay City's West Side.O’Hare’s Bar and Grill … and Midland Street Pub 

The re-opening of the oldest bar in Bay City has prompted a sense of nostalgia among community members who frequented O’Hare’s Bar and Grill, 608 E. Midland St., in years past.

Since quietly opening the doors again in May, co-owner Jay Samborn has heard many stories of favorite times spent at the beloved restaurant. 

Owner Jay Samborn says patrons have shared nostalgic stories about O'Hare's Bar and Grill. One man remembers watching TV for the first time inside the eatery. “People couldn’t wait for the place to re-open and the return of their old stomping ground,” says Samborn. “The best story I’ve heard was on opening night. A patron told me this is the first place he ever watched television.”
O’Hare’s was built as a bar exclusively for members of the Fraternal Order of Masons in 1892. The building has gone through various owners over the years.

The historical aspect of the building seems to have piqued the interest of many people in the community. The bar has been filled most nights since opening, Samborn says.

“Our vision from day one has been to take it back to the old O’Hare’s of 25 years ago that everybody still talks about,” says Samborn.

Maintaining the bar’s Irish heritage, O'Hare's menu offers traditional favorites such as fish and chips and Reuben sandwiches. Samborn describes their fare as “bar-style food, but a little nicer.”

The return of popular daily specials from days gone by such as spaghetti and rib nights, when people waited in line for a seat in the restaurant, are strongly being considered. 

Adjacent to O’Hare’s with a shared entry, the Midland Street Pub is also open for business. With its sports theme, big TV screens, and bands playing live music on the weekends, Midland Street Pub has a different vibe as well as room for large groups to gather. 

The Midland Street District had been a thriving entertainment district. With the ups and downs of the economy over the years, the area faced challenges. The district is on the rise again. Samborn says the opportunity to offer outdoor entertainment with the closing of the streets has provided a much-needed boost. 

“There’s a sense of nostalgia watching a concert in the street with the backdrop of the historical buildings,” says Samborn. “It’s exciting to see people coming back once they realize the area is vibrant again.”
Photo courtesy of W.H. Ales BrewpubBay City Sunset is one of the most-popular beers created at W.H. Ales Brew Pub.Liberty Harbor Event Center/W.H. Ales Brew Pub

The building at 804 E. Midland Street sits vacant no more. Built in 1916 as the home of the Sage Lumber Mill, the two-story commercial building has been refurbished and reopened, now offering banquet facility space.

The Liberty Harbor Event Center and W.H. Ales Brew Pub hosted its grand opening this past weekend. Soon to come is the Stables Restaurant and Bar, slated to open July 1. 

Whaley Hospitality Corporation bought the building in 2023, recognizing the historic building as a staple in the community and with a vision to bring it back to life, says Nick Hammis, Director of Operations for Whaley Hospitality Corp. 

“We’re restoring all the great things about the building from the past, and bringing new life to the property,” says Hammis. “We saw the opportunity for revitalizing the property with the great things in the interior of the character of the building. With our 50 years of expertise in hospitality, we wanted to create a place that best utilizes the unique space, offering a variety of options to bring people in.”

Graphic courtesy of W.H. Ales BrewpubThe event center offers gathering options for groups of all sizes. The 15,000-square-foot banquet facility has several rooms with the capacity to seat up to 1,000 people. They have 100 bookings already scheduled this year and into 2025, and have hosted a few events this spring. 

“It’s exciting to watch people walk through the doors and experience the ‘wow factor.’ Seeing a stagnant building brought back to life is intriguing,” says Hammis. 

The newly-opened W.H. Ales Brew Pub features 20 different beers, with plans to increase the offerings as the operations grows. Currently, Bay City Sunset is the favorite brew. The diverse menu has something for everyone, from appetizers to staples such as fish dinners, a brisket basket, and a salmon BLT. 

The turnout on the opening weekend was impressive. Mannis is confident W.H. Ales is off to a good start. The Brew Pub is open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Stables Restaurant and Bar, opening July 1, located on the opposite end of the building, caters to the bar crowd with a more limited food menu and late night hours. Stables will be open Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

It’s encouraging to see everyone working together in the Midland Street District to bring the area back to life, says Hammis.

“Bringing new people here with new things to do is good for everybody,” said Hammis. “Whether it’s across the street or down the street, we are all in it together and the business owners here have all leaned into that idea.”

The Liberty Harbor Event Center puts a big bow on the end of Midland Street, says Hammis. He’s hoping they will serve as a springboard for continued revitalization, giving people even more reasons to return to the Midland Street District.
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Read more articles by Kathy Backus.

Kathy Backus has been telling stories for more than 30 years. As a freelance writer, she has crafted stories for daily newspapers and magazines in Detroit and throughout Michigan. Establishing Backus Public Relations, Inc. in the early ‘90s; she leads a team of experts in creating eye-catching print and digital projects. Most recently, Kathy returned to her alma mater. Teaching in Central Michigan University’s Journalism Department has allowed her to train future journalists and public relations practitioners. Her insatiable curiosity and passion for storytelling led her back to freelance writing. In her free time, Kathy loves cooking, listening to podcasts and audiobooks and hanging out with family and friends … and her two dogs, too.