On Jos Campau north of Caniff, there's a bar — one of many watering holes in blue-collar Hamtramck. Since 1976 it has been called 7 Brothers Bar, but it was a bar before its current owner George Cvetanobski bought it. There's a dart board, a pool table, a jukebox. Beers start at $2, shots at $3.50, and Cvetanobski only accepts cash. It hosts a karaoke night once a week. A couple of old TVs are perpetually tuned to sports channels. From all appearances, it's a bar.
But you don't have to peer too deep behind this exterior to notice something is different about 7 Brothers. Look around and you'll see posters for theater shows — and head shots of the many people who performed them — covering every one of the bar's walls. That's because 7 Brothers, also known as "The Brothers," is the de facto hangout for local actors. After nearly every show at the nearby Planet Ant Theater
, people file into The Brothers to celebrate the conclusion of another performance.
Actress and Planet Ant home team member Lauren Bickers remembers the first time she went to 7 Brothers after a show at Second City Detroit when she got an opportunity to rub elbows with actors. "It was intimidating—and exciting—to interact with all the big shots I had just seen on stage," says Bickers.
But the relationship between the theater community and 7 Brothers almost didn't develop. Around the year 2000, Cvetanobski was ready to sell the bar. Then, one day, Keegan-Michael Key, famed Second City Detroit alum and co-creator of the popular show Key and Peele, wandered into the bar with a couple of other actors. As Cvetanobski tells it, they shot pool, got to know each other, and, of course, drank. Key really liked the bar and convinced George not to sell it, saying he'd bring in theater people, especially since the Ant was about to open.
Key was true to his word, hence the hundreds of headshots, posters, and other knickknacks. Cvetanobski keeps a playbill for the first ever show staged at the Ant, "The Praying Mantis," directed by Key.
"I definitely would have sold the bar if not for the theater people," says Cvetanobski. "Now it's just about passing the time and enjoying it. When they come after a show, I'm so happy."
Cvetanobski is originally from Macedonia, but he came to Hamtramck by way of Sydney, Australia — where he worked in a shoe factory and played on a soccer club for 10 years — at the urging of four of his six brothers who had relocated there. If you're counting, that totals seven
Cvetanobski brothers. But today, George is the only one left in Hamtramck.
Fortunately he acquired another family: the actors and artists who frequent 7 Brothers, many of whom describe it as a second home.
"It's my favorite bar in the entire nation," says Jaime Moyer, a Second City Detroit alum now living in Los Angeles. "I've never known another bar where I feel so at home."
"You feel at home right when you walk in," says Bickers. "Most of the time when you're in there, you know everyone, so it's like having your own private party."
There's more to the connection than the inertia of the community returning time and again. If it wasn't a compelling place, patrons would have migrated somewhere else long ago.
"It's a perfect dive," says actor and Ant home team member Sean McGettigan. "It's small, old, run in an old school way by an old country guy. And George — he's a real character."
Artists are drawn to the unconventional, and 7 Brothers reflects the character of its quirky owner.
"His favorite phrase is 'Don't fuck around,'" says Bickers. "What does that mean, exactly? I don't know."
Cvetanobski has a silver, well-groomed beard and a full head of hair. Over drinks he tells a lifetime of stories in his thick Macedonian accent, like about the one
time he won against Key in darts. "He used to beat me all the time," says Cvetanobski, laughing at the memory. "I thought I should practice, so I did when no one was in the bar. I was shooting, shooting, shooting. Then one day, it was my day, and everyone was watching. Bullseye, bullseye, bullseye. Keegan says, 'What's going on, George?' I said, 'I'm lucky.' He said, 'This is not lucky.'"
7 Brothers's jukebox is also legendary, and equally idiosyncratic. Moyer describes it as "one of the best jukeboxes of all time." There's CDs of classic rock and gangster rap alongside actor mixtapes and Macedonian "hits."
"We've all got our own CDs in there," says McGettigan.
When George is in a "feisty" mood, according to Moyer, he'll play a Macedonian song translated as "Macedonian bull." No matter what people are doing, when this song plays, they'll start dancing around the pool table. "Especially the girls," says Cvetanobski. Sometimes he will join them by dancing on the bartop.
While Cvetanobki considered selling the bar at one point, he's not anymore, especially if the new ownership wasn't interested in maintaining the relationship with the theater community. He values it too much.
"I'll keep this place for the artists," says Cvetanobski. "I've been so happy to have them come in and be a part of their lives."
A version of this story originally ran on Detroit Laughs Louder, a blog about Detroit's standup and improve comedy scene.
Aaron Mondry is a Detroit-based freelance writer and improviser. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMondry.
All photos by the author.