Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Backstage - Footlights, Restaurant and Bar - Detroit, Michigan (Gay Bar)

Backstage/Footlights (Now closed, burned down) was located on Woodward Ave just north of McNichols (Six Mile Rd) at 17630 Woodward Ave. The restaurant was called Backstage and the bar was called Footlights. It was opened by Peter Mel in 1978 (Backstage) and Footlights opened in 1981. Peter Mel has a new restaurant in Ferndale called Pete's Place. Backstage had allot of Broadwayy posters, that was the theme. Footlights was all black and white art deco style with a piano. They always had flowers on the tables with spotlights shining on the flowers. I first went here back in the 80's and have many fond memories of both. Everyone would go to get breakfast at Backstage after the bars closed. I can remember that they had a juke box in Backstage that had a 21 minute version of Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer's song "Enough is enough" which we would always play sometimes twice in the same visit! (This song is 21 minutes long!) and drive the waiters crazy. I can remember they had this blind lady name Jan who played piano and sang in Footlights. The more drunk she got, the funnier she was. We would always ask her to sing "Mister Sandman" which she did in such a funny way. Then one night I was at Backstage having dinner with some friends and I noticed this "yellow glow" on a house across the street. I asked our waiter "Is this place on fire?" He said no, it was just the security van which used to drive around with a yellow flashing light on the roof. 10 minutes later he came and said "Everyone out! this place is on fire!" We ran outside and the place promptly burned to the ground in like 20 minutes! I miss that place, everyone does. Tell us your stories of the place. I need photos of this place!! email them to me!

Also check out my other blog: motorgay.net

Backstage was called The Paradiso Cafe before it was Backstage. I found this ad for The Paradiso Cafe.

















 
Interior of The Pardiso Cafe 

Greg day bartender at Footlights

53 comments:

  1. And DAM! Its now a laundromat! WTF! LOL I'd even take my mother to this spot! Backstage: A great resturaunt (different from all others in Detroit). It had great decor, and the employee's were professional, and had loads of Flava! ... Then, we'd move next door (under the same roof) to Footlights to listen to some great music from a pianist, and where we'd all join in on song (before Karoke was born). We'd have a specialty cocktail in a HUGH goblit glass with a tall stim, and enjoy ourselves (loudly) all night long! ... then (in later yrs) there was another area where they had plays and shows! New York was on Woodward!!!!!!!! Signed, Mother of 3

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    1. Sandra, the waitress called the the goblit glass a "Big Girl"! I'm Greg! Use to be the day bartender!

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  2. Man oh man.. the restaurant made me feel like I was at a Restaurant on Broadway in New York. I so loved this place. Went there after hours for the food and went there before going to the bars to enjoy cocktails and the piano playing. I went during the late 80's early 90's.. So loved this place..

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  3. This was such a fun resturant. When I was in my 20's my boyfriend of the time would go there all the time. The had a menu that had a wide range of items so it attracted a diverse crowd from police in uniform on break, college students, and guys in sport coats. I have many fond memories of the place.

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  4. A real tragedy that this place is no longer with us. Rivaled anything ever seen in New York or Chicago. It just showed that Detroit could have some class, too. Unfortunately it fell to the greed syndrome. Sad how it always comes down to the 'almighty dollar'. I really wish the gay life in this city would make a comeback. Fuck the internet. How boring is that???

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    1. I may not be gay but I fully agree with you! Backstage was the best place in Detroit and people of ALL persuasions could mingle and have a great time. It was so different before the internet and cell phone terrorist using them for crime now wrecked it all for people.
      Wouldn't it be great if people who remember the before time would set up a no internet/cell phone place for REAL people to meet?

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  5. My favourite thing to order from the menu was the Shirley Eder.

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    1. Man, I remember the Shirley Eder... wheat bread, giant slabs of cream cheese, tomatoes, and bean sprouts. I've been trying to duplicate it for years.

      The Shirley Eder, the Neptune Crab Salad, their super crispy potato skins... that place had such a great menu.

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  6. MY favorite thing was Miss Ruby's short ribs on Thursday. Sharon was one of the cooks and she would start the short ribs for Miss Ruby. Carla was the main cook on the line during the day. Dog was one of the night cooks. Ms. Jean was the manager and Miss Annie, her sister, was the bookkeeper. Ms. Browne was the daytime cashier. She had gotten so bad she could hardly walk, but her smile during the lunch rush was very special. One of the managers, G-Jer, left and moved away. Another manager, Dwayne, was killed, and one of my favorite waiters was found dead in a dumpster. Many of the staff were there for years and the place was more about family than anything else. I will always miss those days. I was at home when Sharon came to tell me that the restaurant had burned. I was as shocked as she was. The people there were her friends and family. Losing them rocked her world and she was never the same!

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    1. I loved Sharron. I did alot of work on her home on the side of being the day bartender, (Greg)! She was so sweet!

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  7. I was an assistant manager at Footlights from 1981-1989, then part-time bartender through 1990 at which time I moved to California. I’m devastated to learn the old news of what happened to Backstage and Footlights after I left! The years I spent working there, for Peter, were some of the happiest years of my life. I always looked forward to going to work because it was almost like going to a party ... and being paid for it!

    Now I’m an old man, retired to Maine and dying of prostate cancer. When I reflect on happier times, I often think about those joyful nights I spent behind the Footlights bar with Billy Foss, Edward, Doug, Tony (Miss Tina Mae), and many others whose faces I remember but whose names won’t come to me any more. I remember my “regulars” too – and the celebrities I served. A highlight, for me, was the “Roaring ’20s Night” gala that Billy Foss and I organized and produced. Backstage waiter, Kelton Kepner (sp?), sang “le Jazz Hot” that night and brought the house down! Well, maybe that’s an unfortunate phrase to use considering the eventual demise of the place.

    Photography was strictly prohibited because of privacy concerns, especially in those days. But I have a scanned photo from a magazine article that shows the interior of Footlights. How can I send it to you? Also, since it was a special occasion, we posted a notice on “Roaring ’20s Night” that photos would be allowed for one night only – and I have several pictures that I took that evening. The problem with sending them is that they’re stereo (3-D) slides and I can’t scan slides. If I can find a way to digitize those images, I’ll send them too. Just let me know where to e-mail them.

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    1. Dennis I'm sorry to hear about your health I guess none of us are getting any younger hey..lol
      I'm wondering if you remember a bar tender there she was very special, she worked there in the mid 80's. I lost touch with her after the place burned down. Her name was Cathy, I won't post her last name for obvious reasons but it started with a V. She really meant a lot to me and I always wondered where she wound up.

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    2. Dennis, I'm Gary the red headed bartender from '85-90. I was 19 when I started and eventually moved to Atlanta. I'm sorry to hear about cancer. I have many great memories from that time. Thank you for your post and may the universe bless you...

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    3. Hi Dennis...my Dad Alex...the Blind piano player played there for years...do you remember him?

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  8. OMG do I remember Backstage that was the place to been seen back in those days. I heard some very good disco at Backstage and snorted some very good coke there back in 1979 ;). It was like something right straight from NYC that had landed in Detroit.

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  9. Backstage was the first place that I went to to tell someone I was gay.
    When Backstreet and TimeSquare were burned, I knew it was time to leave. Seems like another planet coming back here. Everything is gone. The days I came out, it was actually fun to be gay. On a friday I could hear the other gay boy say "time to take our troubles to the dance floor". I understand the posters from theater productions in Detroit (all signed by caste members - many of whom died of AIDS) also went up in the fire. I also understand it was for the insurance money that it was burned by long dong Tom.
    Another place I don't see listed is Salute's. Also, the Club (huge sex club preAIDS) on Woodward and the Blvd.

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  10. I meant to say Backstage not Backstreet were burned.
    Wasn't there also some drag show bars - I think one of them was called the Butterfly? The one restaurant, the name I thought was brilliant for a hot dog stand in a gay area, Buns and Baskets. I've lived in SanFran now for 15 years and they have lost all that was fun about Gay life too.

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  11. So, now I'll tell my real age. The original Backstage was on East 7 Mile Road. It had a hand full of tables with chairs squished in because it was small. I had my first adult date there. Malcolm D. took me there for the Brocolli, Mushroom and Cheese Omelette (served with half a canned peach! What a blast. I still make that omelette. smh - good times that was!

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  12. The memories of The Backstage goes a lot further back. I lived over the origional one on 7 mile & Woodward. I was also the origional longtime D.J. at owner Peter Meli's other venue, The Gas Station Lounge. I remember the day that a typo happened in the 1st set of menus printed for the restaurant (the i was missing) and Peter Mel's Backstage was born. I could see Peter sitting there with dollar signs flying through his mind, the logic in leaving the typo so that people would presume (now and forever) that it was Jewish owned. For a deli - that carries a lot more weight than Italian owned. The Man had imagination and intelligence to spare. Bravo.

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  13. hi guys and gals its lovey remember me

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    1. I remember you! Hi, I'm Greg! Remember me! Day bartender at Footlights! (;-)

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    2. I also remember eating at the original Backstage at 7 Mile and Woodward. Although I liked the bigger and more upscale Backstage on Woodward, the original was small and quaint and will always have memories for me. Does anybody know what caused the fire at Backstage? Was it intentionally set?

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  14. Thanks so much for the memories. I was a young kid at the time obsessed with all things "cool." I was maybe 16 or 17 the first time I found my way to the Backstage. Sooo many fond memories of that place!

    My friends and I would go there for dinner or just to get appetizers and order drinks. They never asked for ID, so we just played it cool and kept it as our little secret.

    There was a particular NYE when I took my gf to see NIN at the Latin Quarter(!), and we ended up here afterwards, drunk as hell. Best times ever...

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  15. When exactly did the location on Woodward burn down? I remember going there a few times during the 1990's. Later I also remember going to the newer location they opened in Royal Oak which later closed down.

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  16. I used to go to both the old Backstage, but fewer times to the next one. It was the place to be after all the bars closed. No longer living in Detroit, it is amazing me how the place has changed so much.

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  17. Does anyone out there remember what was on the "Shirley Eder" sandwich? It was my absolute favorite at Backstage and I am dying to have it again. All I can remember is tomatoes and cream cheese. Please help!! My email is furrymandal@gmail.com Thanks!

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  18. it was just tomatoes and cream cheese.

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  19. I loved Backstage...everyone went, gay, straight...I never ever had a bad meal..even what I didn't eat I could appreciate...the decor, the theme, the music all A1...I wish someone had a menu

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  20. Hello! Greg the day bartender here! I keep trying to post with no luck. If this post shows, then I will continue.

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  21. Well alright! I have fiqured this out. The last 2 years before the fire were two of the best years of my life. I met so many wonderful, real people while bartending there! If any of my customers are reading this post, I miss you all! I have so many fond memories working here. I was the day bartender the last two years. I rebuilt the day business by bring back the music that fit the decor and atmosphere! Big band, 30's, 40's, etc. More and more people started sitting in Footlights for lunch. There was no day business at all, well very little! It started getting so busy, I needed help in the bar, which I worked by myself! Well it never got that far due to the tragic fire! I sure do miss Footlights and all of my customers! This picture was taken on my birthday! I blocked out the face of my Dear friend/customer for his privacy!

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  22. Lets see if I can use my name this time. The other time I tried with my name, it didn't post. The last post was from me, Greg! It doesn't seem to want to post so I will use the "anonymous" because it's easier!

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  23. I am the bartender, Greg, you see in the latest picture posted!

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  24. If anyone reading this remembers me, feel free to email me at gregostrand@gmail.com

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    1. Hey everyone. My partner and I have many fond memories of Backstage, Footlights, and Salute'. Matt and I met in October 1990 at Tiffany's. My first visit to Footlights was so memorable, I'll never forget how beautiful this bar was. When I worked at "Sweet Lorraine's" in Southfield, the lunch staff and I would drive to Footlights for happy hour. We'd drink through the early evening, go home, take a nap, shower, and then meet wherever was popular that night. About a year before Backstage burned down, I walked into Footlights and discovered new chairs at the bar and tables. I was horrified to learn the art deco chairs in the bar area had been replaced. I asked to speak to a manager. I inquired if any chairs had been saved. He said yes, just a couple. I said if he'd like to sell them I was interested. Long story short......... I own 4 original Footlights chairs and paid $20.00 for them. I'm sitting on one while I type this as it is my computer chair. It brings back lots of memories, all good. Footlights was a unique, original place and my partner and I miss it

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    2. I miss Footlights so much! That is awesome you have a few of those chairs! I had such an awesome Happy Hour crowd! I miss all my customers! Thanks all! Greg Ostrander, your day bartender!

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    3. Greg, how is it that I don't know you? I started at Backstage/Footlights in 1983 in valet parking and eventually took over managing Footlights after Billy left, I stayed until 1991... I knew Sandra, Cutty Tom, Sharon, Jean, Duane, all of them.
      Best, Edward

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  25. AVG Web Threat warned me about you Jeff Ligan/LinkedIn. HA, HA! You don't remember me at all. Everyone beware of, "LinkedIn"!

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  26. No scamming me! LinkedIn!

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  27. So many memories of Footlights/Backstage/Salute! This is where I basically came out and hung out for 3-4 years '85-'90. Can't tell you how many times I must have walked between Salute and Footlights looking for, whatever! My favorites on the menus--California Grill (Backstage), Ice Cream Brandy Alexander (Footlights) and Hay & Straw (Salute). I remember every inch of these places. Dave M.

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    1. How about the Backstage Burger Deluxe? That was my favorite. I also loved the hay and straw pasta dish and also broccoli rigatoni with pine nuts. Backstage always had the best soups, even peanut butter soup was amazing. Those were the best of times for me. I used to live across Woodward Avenue in Palmer Park which had fabulous old apartments... I could walk to work it was magical.

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  28. I was a waitress at Backstage in the very early 90s for a couple of years; I was known as Pollyanna, and hung out with Wanda, and Taffy, and Todd...I have never had more fun at any job before or since. I remember seeing the news reports about "Landmark Detroit restaurant goes up in flames" and I raced up to 6 & Woodward and stood in the middle of Woodward with former & current employees & watched it burn.

    I'm reachable at BenkarskiFamily@gmail.com if anyone from that time is still around. (Too many gone too soon)

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    1. Hi Hon! I remember you. Greg the day bartender here. gregostrand@gmail.com

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  29. Does anyone remember the security guys name? He used to be outside Backstage/Footlight/salutes

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  30. The big black guy, Sam, was security for years. He'd like to sing. Felt pretty safe with him around. What was the name of the cute/white guy who did a lot of fixerup stuff? Man, i had a crush on him. Scrawny little guy, Randy, worked with Carla in the back. David the cook would light his farts with matches. Dog would cook and get really nice and sweaty.Jer and Sandra were the day managers. Eddie the dishwasher was a wonderful pain in the ass and one of the first to die from AIDS. Me (Michael),Matt, Trixie (Larry) and Wanda,Debbie, Yvonne (lots of tatoos) were the day queens. oh my god, what did Bruce Springstein sing about? them glory days!

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  31. I worked for Peter from 1983 to 1991, started in Valet parking at Backstage/Footlights/Manhattan Room, security Sam Parham was one of my best friends. Worked at Salute' when that opened just down the street and eventually managed Footlights for some years. We used to put on drag shows in the Manhattan Room for AIDS charities. I remember Jean Dine, Peter's partner and room mate in that big mansion in Palmer Woods. Jan Van Gordan would belt out classics while playing the piano drinking her J&B and soda. I could tell you so many stories and have many pictures too. edwardcheek007@aol.com - very happy to have found your site, I was in LA when the fire happened, so very sad. Salute' is still there under a different name.

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  32. The cute white guy who did all the fixing up was Rodney. I had a huge crush on him too. He died several years ago in a motorcycle accident. I found this out from Sharon Brown, who I met up with again a few years back, she was a patient and I was a nurse on the floor where she was admitted; there was this stretcher coming down the hall, and the patient on it pointed at me and said, "i KNOW YOU" lol. Sharon died in 2009 or 2010, she was very ill the last time I saw her. We spent a lot of time talking about Backstage days and all the cute boys. I'm this responsible ICU RN and mom of 2 living in the PNW now, but what I would give to be able to go back in time just for a bit and live it all again. --Pollyanna

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    1. I loved Sharon! I did a lot work around her house for her. She was so very special to me. Greg Ostrander here. The day bartender. R.I.P. Sharon and Rodney!

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  33. Hello Pollyanna!!!! Greg here! Day bartender.

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  34. I miss you, Sandra!!!! Greg here!

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  35. It's been wonderful to read this post and everyone's comments. I used to go to Backstage on a regular basis in the late 80's. I remember the blue cheese dressing as being the best I ever had! Every time I went I felt like I was in New York City. I've lived in NYC for over 20 years now and I haven't found a place here that comes close to how it felt being at the Backstage. It was a special place and one of the few I miss from my youth.

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  36. Alex Kallao played here...he was the best piano player they ever had! Miss this place...took a few dates there as well.

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  37. What about Original Backstage Deli when it was on 7 Mile and Woodward

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  38. I just had to see if there were any new comments for 2014. Things have changed so much, hopefully for the better. My partner Matt and I were married December 1st in Asheville, NC. We've been together over 24 years and never imagined when we were dating going to Footlights, Backstage, and Salute that we'd ever have the chance to marry. We think about all the handsome, funny, talented guys we knew who lost their lives in the 80's and 90's and we're sure they would be amazed at whats happened in the last few years. Brings a tear to my eye. We hope all who remember these magical places are well and happy. Love to everyone............ John & Matt.

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