Have you ever met a Marvelous? If not, you've probably never been to the Apex Bar on Oakland Avenue. The Apex is one of the only two remaining North End bars — the other being the Sugar Hill Lounge — that once regularly played host to greats like John Lee Hooker. Oakland was once the northern extension (hence, North End) of the Hastings Street entertainment district, and it was bumping in its heyday. Although live rhythm and blues no longer emanate from the Apex, its owner, Marvelous Persell, keeps it legendary.
Ms. Persell sits at her bar most every night, whether or not she's tending it. She greets her customers by name—most live in the neighborhood, or at least used to. That's what led her husband, the late Charles, to purchase the bar in 1989. "He was brought up in the area, and I kind of migrated to the area," she laughs.
When Charles passed away in 1995, Persell took over the bar completely,
something she never had intended. "When I came in, I was mourning, it
was kind of hard," Persell says. Now, she sometimes finds her
"marriage" to the business confining, but says that "basically, it
hasn't been a bad experience."
For a reluctant bar owner — self-described as "not really a bar person"
— she has taken to the business quite nicely. She enjoys meeting people
through her establishment — "believe it or not, you learn something
from each one of them."
The Apex is commonly known as "the cleanest bar in Detroit," and when
asked about that moniker, she calls her cleanliness "an old lady's
touch." She then quickly points out that her bar is also known as a
place to "get a good drink."
Over the years, she has learned to take time for herself and her
family. She decided to keep the bar closed on Sundays and, last year,
shut it down for an entire week and headed to Myrtle Beach. With a wink
to her customers, she teases, "Everyone had a vacation at the same
As a Detroit business owner, Persell sees some growth and improvement
in the city, but also some disappointments. She cites the changes in
bulk pickup and increases in license and inspection fees as particular
burdens to a small business. She has recently began working with
Councilwoman Martha Reeves to do some cleanups in the area, but
expresses some dismay that the city has increased the number of blight
inspectors, wondering why there are not "90 more people cleaning up,
instead of 90 more ticketing."
Ms. Persell's sweet smile cuts the sharpness of her opinions. Her name
may be Marvelous, but she isn't flamboyant or over the top. She's
warm and pretty with just the right amount of shout.
The Apex is at 7649 Oakland Avenue, north of W. Grand Boulevard. It
opens at 4 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and at noon Wednesdays through
Photos of Apex Lounge and Marvelous Persell Copyright Dave Krieger