Nothing about the Cass Café is normal.
Your servers here are artists, poets and punkish social dissidents. Sometimes things move a little slower. Be cool. Your bartenders are amateur comedians, professional social workers, and work-a-day musicians. Sometimes their positions on issues are stronger than you might expect. It’s cool. Debate is healthy and doesn’t affect your tipping. Customers are Wayne State University and College for Creative Studies students — and their professors — as well as regular denizens of The Corridor.
It serves as the de facto cafeteria for Detroit public radio station 101.9 WDET. The music might sway from Alice Coltrane to the Dirtbombs, and having your phone out to Shazam a new-to-you track is totally understandable. But so is having your headphones in, sitting in a corner, reading Saul Alinksy while stuffing a curry-tinged black bean burger into your face. A breeze of radicalism wafts through.
The turkey burger also has a hint of curry. So, too, the quesadilla. Funky, unexpected, global. That all tracks at the Cass. One salad features slices of rosemary crusted chicken that kept Ryan Gosling coming back for more while he was filming in the city. No big deal at the Cass. Just another working artist looking for a fresh bite between gigs.
Prices are artist-budget-friendly.
The beer is cold. The emerald bottle of Jameson never runs dry.
A flood of light pours through the windows in the front of the place, and a shadowy portrait of folk musician and Cass Corridor icon Sixto Rodriguez on the back door. How’s that for balance?
Every September, the Cass Corridor neighborhood (Midtown to Cass Corridor is akin to preferring to call it DTE Energy Music Theater over Pine Knob) celebrates its funky past and uncertain, evermore sanitized future with a weekend party called The Dally in the Alley. For a little hint at what the hullabaloo is all about, one only need pop into the Cass for an afternoon and have the audacious gall of speaking to that stranger sitting next to you at the bar. Chances are, though, they’ve already engaged you first. You’ll have a couple laughs, you’ll get a flyer to an upcoming art show, a link to a new bandcamp page, or a viewpoint on some hot button topic you hadn’t yet considered. For real, who needs Metro Times when there’s an open seat at the bar at the Cass Café?
Sounds pretty cool, eh? Want to go?!?
Cass Café is closing for good.
I am not here to blame Covid. Or the labor market. Or the owner. Or the supply chain.
I am here to mourn.
Things change. I get it. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But it’s never easy.
At 40 years old, I’ve been frequenting the Cass Café for more than half my life.
And as much as the city of Detroit has changed over the last 15 years, phrases like "at least we'll always have the Cass Cafe" felt like the cozy, curry-tinged bite that made me feel warm and welcome in the flux of rampant change occurring in the neighborhood.
Cass Café was a community staple if there ever was one. Diverse, progressive, spilling with creativity. A place for musicians, artists, scholars and misfits to bend an elbow, commiserate, collaborate and break bread.
I’ll miss the place not just for the restaurant that it was, but for the era of Detroit and character of the Cass Corridor that it personified.
With equal parts curiosity and grief, I can’t help but wonder, what is left of the Cass Corridor without the Cass Café?
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