BY SHEILA R. McAFEE
Pulling up to the corner of Sixth and Forest streets in Wyandotte is a step back in time. Within the cozy residential neighborhood, classic neon logos from Camel and Kool cigarettes shine in the windows of Frank’s Café, which has been at the corner since 1933, one of numerous corner taverns and cafes that have since closed, save for Frank’s and the Chene Adele Bar on Orange at Sixth.
Opening the door at the top of the front steps and stepping inside, not much has changed over time, from the décor to the perch fish dinners. The walls are knotty pine, the floor is linoleum and some of the tables were once used for euchre games decades ago. The perch dinner is still generous and delicious. The beer is icy cold. While many patrons order Pabst, craft beers are served, too.
Mike Pemberton has owned Frank’s for 20 years, carrying on a tradition from Mary Jelinski, who had owned the bar with her husband, Cass, until his death in 1979. She maintained the business herself for another 23 years before selling it to Pemberton. Mary Jelinski died in 2015.
Deciding to maintain the 1940s charm of his ‘new’ establishment, Pemberton updated the dining room by replacing the black and white television (and its antenna), adding cable and color TVs and extending the bar area. The restaurant seats 60, he said. He cooks the fish, following Jelinski’s instructions, as well as pierogies, burgers and steaks, and an extensive list of appetizers.
Pemberton said that while neighborhood bars are being left behind for newer, “trendier” restaurants and bars, the character and history of Frank’s, his efficient wait staff and affordable menu are reasons why the business has survived economic and political turmoil.
“Around the time I was purchasing the bar, the city administration was getting pressure from residents who wanted the place closed,” Pemberton said. “Thankfully, that changed.”
Wyandotte resident Jeff Charles remembers the neighboring bars — Corrigan’s, the Jamestown Inn, Kramer’s, Pop’s Pub and the 400 Bar, to name just a few. His father-in-law, the late Leon Campau, Jr., used to frequent Frank’s and played euchre with fellow officers from the Wyandotte Police Department.
“If you sit at a table with a pocket shelve, it was probably used during those games,” Charles said, pointing across the dining room from his seat at the end of the bar.
A grandson of the Jelinskis, Pemberton said, is another regular, and had just been in earlier that evening.
This month, with the start of Lent March 1, he anticipates hungry crowds for Friday night fish dinners. As Christians abstain from eating meat on Fridays, it is a treat to seek out good fish dinners during the 40-day period of fasting and abstinence.
Remember, Pemberton uses Jelinski’s recipe, and it was not uncommon for lines to form from the door and out onto the sidewalk as people waited for a seat inside. Diners came from around the Detroit area for lunch and dinner.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Pemberton will add corned beef dinners to the menu beginning March 10 through 17. The dish is too time consuming, he said, to limit the availability to just one day.
Frank’s, 3852 Sixth St., opens at 3 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and Saturdays, and at 11 a.m. Thursdays and Fridays. The bar is closed Sundays. Carry-out orders are available by calling (734) 283-4660.
As mentioned above, bars and taverns dotted the business landscape of the city through the 1900s, and are highlighted on a map that is stored at the Bacon Memorial Library.