This is not your average beer and a shot joint. On a weekend, The Firebird Tavern is packed, and they keep it steady during the week as well. The downstairs is a classic wooden bar atmosphere. A place to enjoy homemade food and tip back one of over 40 Michigan beers on tap, and in a bottle. Upstairs, is a different scenario. On the weekends once you step up a flight of stairs you are in the heart of a raucous dance party. One of the best places to hit before or after an event in the city.
419 Monroe, right in the heart of Greektown has been around a long time. Since 1880, the building has been fixture in what is considered Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. Over the years, the 135 year old property has seen many occupants. A one time factory, and for the past few decades a bar. It was last Marilyn’s on Monroe, if you have been around long enough to remember it. But right now, The Firebird Tavern is keeping 419 alive and well, with carefully prepared food, and enough craft beer and cocktails to keep any aficionado thirsty for more.
The owner and operators, Anthony Piraino and Owen Burke are no strangers to the downtown bar game. Before opening Firebird, they ran Pulse Lounge, which sat just outside of Greektown. For 8 years, Pulse was a go to destination for a good time in downtown, until the building was purchased, and later torn down. Their affinity for Detroit pushed them into their latest venture. They completely rebuilt the inside of the building with all custom woodwork, and with the upscale tavern fare, they have filled a gap in the Greektown food scene.
Both Burke and Piraino were both born here, are highly active in the neighborhood, and are ardent supporters of everything Detroit. If you have ever headed down to Campus Martius for NYE, to watch the “D” drop, that is thanks to Piraino. What started as a few thousand people, the event now brings over 20,000 people to downtown for the celebration, making it the largest NYE draw in Michigan.
Having spent a few nights pouring money into the jukebox at the Firebird, a few things are very clear. They value service, they take extra strides to ensure the meals are made largely from scratch, and they hire top notch employees to keep everything humming. All of the bartenders are extremely comfortable challenging the public with a personal craft cocktail, recommending a beer to suit anyone’s tastes, or steering a customer towards an ideal plate of food.
“I have had jobs all around Detroit. Been bar tending a long time. These are the best two guys I ever worked for. They understand that you need talent that can handle high volume, and people that are knowledgeable about beers and cocktails. A lot of people here have followed them from Pulse,” Nicole Muster mentioned, while she took care of us the other day.
As I mentioned the food is not your normal bar food. You’re not going to find jalapeños poppers, and mozzarella sticks on the appetizer list. There Poutine rivals anything in the city, the Sausage & Ricotta spread is as interesting as it is delicious, and they even have a peanut butter and jelly dish. Made with jelly made in-house, and Rocky’s peanut butter. It goes surprisingly well with a cold beer.
The menu also evolves. They have recently introduced a fresh caught Pan Seared Whitefish. It sits on a spread of white bean puree, and is matched with bed of mixed greens. Its a far cry from anything you will find at another tavern, and for the more traditional diner, they have brought on a Philly Steak and Beer Cheese sandwich. I tried the new items, but sided with the double Diner Burger, and wasn’t bummed out.
While knocking back my burger, I had the opportunity to chat with Kate Hill, who handles the PR for Burke and Piraino. She is the sort of enthusiastic and affable person that fits easily into the PR world. She moved to Detroit a few years ago from Chicago, but considers this her home.
“We moved to Detroit because my husband’s family is from here. There is so much opportunity here right now. Back in Chicago I’d be just another cog in the machine. One of thousands, doing what I do. I am so lucky to work with these guys. Its awesome, to be part of it all. I love that this place is in Detroit’s oldest neighborhood,” Hill said.
She is more proof that the pair of owners are taking their business, and their future very seriously. It is always refreshing to see people come to Detroit, fall in love with it, and adopt it as their own. For many people, if they heard their company was moving them to Detroit, they would be horrified, but right now, Detroit is the place to be.
St. Patty’s Day is right around the bend, and Detroit’s penultimate day of shenanigans, Opening Day is looming not far off in the distance. On Parade day, March 15th, they are pushing the doors open at noon, they will have a corned beef sandwich made with Eastern Market’s own Grobbel’s corned beef. Can’t get more Detroit than that. They will be serving the usual spread of Irish Drinks, and are putting their own version of the Moscow Mule together. The Bushmule, will be made with Bushmills Irish Whiskey and all sales from them are being donated to Project Scissor Gait Foundation, an organization that helps kids with a particularly nasty joint disorder called AMC.
They are opening up at 11 a.m. on actual St. Patty’s Day, Tuesday the 17th, with the same drinks and food. Opening day they plan on getting started early, there will be a heated tent, a food truck, and the shots and beers will flow. Firebird Tavern is a great stop on any Detroit bar crawl.
With all the restaurants popping up all over Motown, the Firebird is built to last. The building has been there since the 19th century, and there is an obvious permanence about the place. The hard work, and styling that went into the interior only shows that 419 Monroe had found its best occupant yet.