Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Backstreet - Detroit (Gay Bar)

































Backstreet is located in a shopping mall (strip mall) at the corner of Greenfield and Joy Rd. The address is 15606 Joy Rd. (Still open today)  There is not much signage but it is back in the corner of the L shaped strip mall. I'm not sure exactly what year it opened? Help if you know. I first went to Backstreet around 1985. It was really packed and fun back then. The original owner, and I can't remember his name, died of AIDS. If I'm correct he left money in his estate which helped start Affirmations in Ferndale. The club changed hands a couple of times and was closed for a couple years. I can remember there was this guy who ever Saturday danced on top of one of the speakers and wore wild suits. I can even remember a guy who always brought his own Tambourine and banged on it to the music! Tells you how old I am! DJ Bill Bennett spun there for years. I miss him, he was good. Now DJ Timmy D spins there.(I won't comment on that, Lol) The second owner was Tom G. (I won't try to spell his Italian last name) He was older, short, pudgy and wore lots of gold rings on his fingers like Bruce Detloff from the Gold Coast. Allot of people REALLY hated him. I can only go from my experience, I used to talk to him and he was always nice to me. I think he was really kinda shy. Not the best to be shy when you own a gay bar. The owner is "Doc" Tom. He is straight and a hell of a nice guy. Also check out my other blog: motorgay.net

Update 2012: Murray and Peter are out. Doc is running the bar again.

Anonymous said... Backstreet opened in August 1979. Carl Rippberger and Joel Yoder bought the Escape Bar located in the same space and converted it into Backstreet. Carl told me they invested about $100,000 to buy it and turn it into Backstreet. It was an immediate hit with the Detroit gay community and its success started a long-running feud with Menjo's over business and marketing. At one time Backstreet was open seven nights a week. On slow nights you could go there for a drink or for movie nights on Tuesdays. Eventually Backstreet had two huge nights per week, Wednesdays (two-for-one) and Saturdays. Of the two original owners, Carl Rippberger was the brains behind marketing and promotion with Joel handling the business side. Eventually, Carl bought Joel out and he became sole owner. Carl traveled alot and particularly loved New York. He strived to create some of the disco magic he experienced in New York here in Detroit. Backstreet was constantly promoting theme parties and bringing in top disco artists. Some of the acts that perfomed there during the 1980s included Sylvester, Lime, Patrick Cowley, Paul Parker, Miquel Brown, Pamela Stanley, NYC Saint DJs Robbie Leslie and Roy Thode, Carol Jiani and many, many more. One night Grace Jones showed up at Backstreet after a Royal Oak concert and proceeded through the crowd on the shoulders of her bodyguard before the floor was cleared so that she and Carl could dance alone to "Pull up to the Bumper." During the eighties and into the nineties Backstreet would routinely draw 600 people on Wednesday and 1200 on Saturday. Carl was way ahead of his time with the level of promotion and the detail he put into the major parties. He really was a joy to be around and was generous to a fault. Carl Rippberger passed away due to AIDS in the mid-90s and left the business to his dear friend Tom Giuseppe. Tom ran the bar for at least seven or eight more years before it was ultimately sold, closed for a while and reopened under the current ownership. Backstreet's slogans were "Light Years Ahead of the Rest..." and "Detroit's Party Bar" and during its heyday it more than lived up that reputation.

42 comments:

  1. I worked for Carl back in the early 90's. Carl was a generous and shrewd business man. I worked for him when I was 19 - 21 during college and now run my own business. He had incredible command of his liquor cost, yet wasn't stingy. Each night, he would stay late to personally count the liquor bottles used and cash generated by each bartender. They each had a% liquor cost they had to be under, which allowed for generous pours to good customers, but still had accountability to keep from having all the profits siphoned.

    The bartenders made great money, many having worked their since the early 80's.

    Carl would host the most incredible Thanksgiving feast and give back to all of his customers. He was generous and smart. A real loss to the Detroit Community. He gave much of his estate to the Affirmations youth program that I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have support me when I first came out.

    I remember the tambourine guy and the club kid scene when it started first at Backstreet and then eventually moved to NYC.

    I remember Carl telling me that his goal originally was to save $100K and then launch the club.

    Carl was an early mentor of mine. I am now almost 40, but I will remember 20 like it was yesterday!

    ReplyDelete
  2. My first gay club, at 18 and 3 days old. Great memories. I really love this blog! Amazing research.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Carl Rippenberger was a great guy and had known Tom Giuseppe for years before and at some point he worked for Tom at Tiffany's as a bartender. Carl did indeed love to travel and especially to New York where he'd base himself at the Edison Hotel, right in the middle of the theater district where he'd take in as many as five plays between Friday and Sunday night. Tom would fill-in and oversee things at Backstreet in Carl's absence allowing him to travel and enjoy the fruits-of-his-labor while leaving the place under his trusted friend's watchful care. I've known Tom for going on 40 years and yes, he can be a handful at times though for me and those folks that have known him as long as I have would agree that he's a sweet, kind and overall "wonderful" person (most of the time...). However, everyone, including Tom had good days and bad days dealing with the pressures of running a bar and always being "on-stage" with their customers. Overall, and I think most would agree that he was able to keep the bar going as a quality operation/venue for years after Carl passed away.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Does anyone know whatever happened to Tom Guiseppe (Mama G)? He owned Dougs for a while then Backstreet. There was a legal dispute about ownership of Backstreet. I heard he lost the case and nearly everything else he owned. Haven't seen him in years, but agree that he was actually a very sweet guy if you got to know him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is old stuff but completely unknown...Tom and Carl had few close friends who knew the real story. Tom has been operating a restaurant and gay clubs in southern California for years, under assumed names. He also owns a club in Europe that he and Carl originally invested in the 1980s when they traveled there many times together. They made millions even before Carl died and Tom continued to invest in protective off-shore accounts and other foriegn investments for years before losing Backstreet and Cobalt in Ferndale. His partners in Cobalt were all cocaine addicts and selling drugs in the bar which caused it ultimately to be sold. Tom saved the bar from the MLCC. That also was Tom's doing, it was not closed by the police as rumored. Tom had pulled out much of his investment before any bankruptcy but his partners stole about a million from him in sales and the drug business. Tom was supposed to be the fall-guy but their plan didn't happen that way as he got wind of their thefts and retrieved his blocks of stock (collateral) from the bank unknown to his partners. They only found out after the bar closed. Again, he came out on top and his partners never knew. The Backstreet bankruptcy was a frame-up by the new owners attorney who lied to Courts, threatened witnesses and the police to get their way. But again, Tom got away with the millions in foriegn investments and other partner businesses. There are more stories to fill a book.

      Delete
    2. I don't know who you are but most of what you posted is not true. Tom still lives in Detroit. They never owned any property or bars in Europe. There are no off shore accounts. Tom and Carl never went to Europe together. They were friends for 30 years. Carl and Tom had lots of friends, including me. I played cards with Tom about 6 months ago. Carl left money to Affirmations, him mother and Tom. His co oweners at Cobalt were not drug addicts or dealers.

      Delete
    3. No, No. It is YOU who are incorrect, ANONYMOUS June 27. I worked at Backstreet in the 80s and early 90s. Tom and Carl did go to Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris that I know about. Another time they went to Italy, I got a post card from them. Also England a few times. Tom hasn't lived in Detroit for about 7 years. I know his brother and has told me Tom lives in California. You are not telling the truth about playing cards with him 6 months ago because he doesn't live in Michigan. Why would you make that up? Tom handled Carl's estate when he died and I know about their investments in Europe but I won't say where. I remember their trip to Switzerland because of the pictures they showed me and what they bought. And everyone knows about the drug dealer partners at Cobalt because of the police sting. That was very well known around town because it led to the closing of the bar. Got any other wrong ideas?

      Delete
    4. I also knew Tom and Carl well since the early 80s. They did travel to Europe several times that I know about. They were a pair of businessmen for sure, though never "life-partners" they were certainly on the same page as bar owners and their individual visions matched perfectly for running Backstreet. Carl did tell me about their bar in Switzerland and he loved it there and wanted to go back. Unfortunately he did not live to return and Tom managed their club in Zurich for years. They both loved Switzerland. After Carl died, people became very jealous of Tom and made it difficult for him to trust people and grow Backstreet and Cobalt. He wanted to leave Backstreet bar to a few trusted employees but there was so much in-fighing and other difficulties from them, he decided to sell the bar. Then those partners in Cobalt plotted against Tom and stole and mis-appropriated large sums of money from Tom. Tom's skillful planning to re-open Backstreet, making it greater than before, and also get his investment money out of Cobalt before paying the debt, was an indication of his good business perception of the developing thievery of his partners. Most of the partners ended in bankruptcy even years later due to their mis-managing of other business interests. Tom's wise investing and significant assets, however, has given him the retirement,in California, he deserved. All the efforts of the people who didn't like Tom because he was so successful was to no avail. They were the losers, not Tom.

      Delete
  5. I'm the Tambourine Guy everyone has been talking about! I remember when I couldn't WAIT for Saturday night to get here! Back when there was actually GOOD dance music...I used to take a hit off poppers and really get into syncing my tambourine with the music. People around me really got a kick out of it, too! Man, I sure do miss the old days...I'm 53 now, and sometimes my mind can take me right back to 1985, when I was so young and carefree!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I haven't been in a couple of months but I'm honestly surprised the place is still open. The cover charge is ridiculous, the drink prices are overpriced and under-poured, but most of all the music sucks really bad! Timmy d is the worst Dj in Detroit by far and Backstreet could resurface a major gay club if they got a good dj

    ReplyDelete
  7. What was the name of the second bar attached to Backstreet? They'd open it for overflow on Saturdays, but I was used as smaller side bar on other nights.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I think the smaller bar with the dance floor and risers was called "Pulse". I used to love going to both Backstreet and it's smaller neighbor. Backstreet was the first gay bar I visited and it will always have place in my heart. I met my partner at Tiffany's 20 years ago this coming October........ we live in Atlanta now, anr hardly ever go out for any nightlife. ( old gay boys never die, they just make martini's at home and listen to Billie Holiday ).

    ReplyDelete
  9. On February 9, 2010, Anonymous said... Does anyone know whatever happened to Tom Guiseppe (Mama G)?

    YES. Macy's purchased Tom ("Mama G") sometime back and once a year on Thanksgiving, they fly him off to New York, tie strings to him, fill him with helium and parade him through Herald Square to the delight of children everywhere. Sadly though this year there was trouble, Bart Simpson sneaked up behind Mama G and pulled out his plug. Tom began to rapidly deflate as a result. Needless to say--that was not a pretty site...and it didn't smell too good either.

    ReplyDelete
  10. tom Giuseppe lost back street in bankruptcy sometime between 2003 -2005 look it up on -line bankruptcy records are normally public record

    ReplyDelete
  11. "Backstreet" has been bought and sold 3 more times since the Tom G/Tom M legal dispute. each time the owner buying it from Tom M (Doc) and each time defaulting and ownership returning to Doc. Currently 15602-15606 Joy Road (the multiple addresses of the building) is under managment contract to Peter Hendrickson and Murray Hodgson of ICE/Shadow Bar. the have remodeled and turned it into a Black Straight Club. One Last "Backstreet" event will happen in the straight bar on 10/28/2011 than it will be permanently straight.... It is rumored backstreet may resurface again, possibly in a nicer neighborhood. This stands as a warning. Murray and Peter reconverted Shadow Bar in Hamtramck to a Gay format as the city was about to shut them down due to multiple police incidents (shootings, stabbings, etc.) If you try to attend ANY future event at 15606 Joy Road, be prepared for a rough urban crowd and possible injury.

    ReplyDelete
  12. When Timmyd was there it was always packed. Pretty lame these days.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Just as an FYI the long term Dj from about 1980 to 1999 was lee eckinger not bill Bennett! Lee taught me how to Dj. He was the pool director of Advance Music Promotions. Lee was the man behind the sound and videos! He's the man that made the magic happen.... And made you dance!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, What happened to Lee? I fist attended the BS when it was the Escape in '75 at 20 yrs old. Later went back in '78 just before BS. Loved the sound system/dj's and HOT menz from then thru the 80s (mainly Lee) and the changing light show. I remember the original star shaped red lights cris-crossing the huge mirror ball, then the Saturn looking mirror balls and ever updating lights. Then the great videos played on Wed/Sat with the music and also Wed's Dynasty nights. And Weds WERE great, packed for 2 for 1 (or 3 for 1) along with the "someone's basement party atmosphere".
      Anyone remember Tom, the muscle-bound, Tom Selleck look-a-like who would strut his stuff across the dance floor in the late 70s-mid 80s.
      Everyone got to know everyone else and looked out for them. Yes, those were the days my friend...
      (got my smaller replica of "the Street" in my basement now, a hit with friends along with all the 12" vinyl).
      -Bill

      Delete
  14. I first met Carl when he worked at Stephen's Bar. Carl was always a friendly and made me feel at home. I met my partner at Backstreet and we've been together for 30 years. He was one of the firt bartenders Carl hired. We used to go to NYC a lot and convinced Carl to come along with us. That weekend we met Robbie Leslie (I still keep in contact with him) and saw Youba at the Anvil. Carl had Youba entertaine at Backstreet a few time. Youba used to do a fire dance. Anyone remember that wild night. We also went to Studio 54 and The Saint and Carl wanted to bring that experience back to Detroit. Carl was a good business man and always put money back into the bar so it had the latest sound and lights. Great memories. I'm sure I would recognize most of you who have posted...Mike

    ReplyDelete
  15. See comments under the COBALT section

    ReplyDelete
  16. I stumbled upon your blog while looking for photos of the old Western Market and stayed around to read more and I am so sad to hear (many years later) of Carl's passing. Way back in the mid-80s my then boyfriend and later husband worked for a company that provided security for Backstreet as well as some other bars in Detroit and Carl was always one of his favorite people to work for. He did some super nice things for us back then and we never forgot it. My hubby passed away himself in August of 2010 following open heart surgery and if there is a great beyond I love to think he and Carl have run into each again.

    Take care!

    Angie

    ReplyDelete
  17. Well, well -- Can you believe, Chris? You won't let them tangle here on your site so Moses and Hodgson are doing it in the hall outside the Courtroom. They just can't put a lid on it. Wait til they start spilling the beans to the Judge about who was promotinga the drug trade in the club... and where is all that money... hmm Tom?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. About time Murray Hodgson and Peter Hendrickson were bound over for Trial In Criinal Court in Detroit March 7, 2013. Seems they ripped off Club Ice of some $25,000 + in money and assets. They did the same thing with Tom Moses in 2000 to the original Backstreet and moved it all to Legends. They fooled that jury, let's see if they can do it again.

      Delete
    2. Looks like they got out of a juy trial for now. They made a plea bargain to restitution regarding their thefts at Club Ice. But they still have a heavy payment due to the City of Royal Oak over aatorney fees in the RO Music Theater scandal. Trying o puush the City cost them dearly. Well.. in time to come, let's see if they can keep their noses clean in future bar dealings or whatever they decide toward scaming the gay community. They and their link wih Tom Moses over the Legend Club is still a bad taste and it may get them all yet.

      Delete
  18. I worked there in the 1970 to 1983 as a security I was the one who carry a gun there the onwer then wa a ass hole named Ron

    ReplyDelete
  19. Now I don't know about all the politics and ownership of the Backstreet, but I do remember Carl...he was a super nice guy and he always had a smile on his face. I heard about his passing many years ago and was saddened by the news. I met my man there on August 24,1983...it was a Wednesday and the Backstreets' Anniversary Party. We are still together 29 years later. There used to be a guy there named "Ronnie"..he used to whistle real loud and was always bouncing around the bar. I lost contact with him in the mid 80's since I stopped going to clubs around that time. I heard the Ronnie passed away a while back but have been unable to confirm this. Does anybody remember this guy? Backstreet was my hangout from like 1979 unto 1985 on Saturdays and the occasional Wednesday. Lots of good memories from that place but it is hard to imagine it without Carl and the gang...all of us who are 50+ can remember those good times at Backstreet...we knew how to party...Thanks for the memories.

    ReplyDelete
  20. This thread brings back a TON of memories@!
    I was very active in the community from 80-1990 ish, was actually looking for Bruce Dettloff (Gold Coast) threads...
    who else used to frequent Menjo's when Joe Larosa owned it?
    Don Hazlett from Glass House days ?
    Todd's ?
    :)
    thx!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I first saw Mary Wilson in concert at Todd's Bar on Jan.24, 1982 (still have the ticket)at the tender age of 19...Moved to Detroit in August of 1982, fell in with the "go out every night" click, except Tuesdays to rest, and was at Backstreet EVERY Wednesday & Saturday. Remember Carl, Door Dyke, Clyde Ann, Vera (Jeff) Well to name a few...remember Grace Jones just sitting on the West Wall seating blocks surrounded by body guards. Partied there until at least 1988?? You could find me...and a few others at GiGi's on Monday, B/S on Wed. Stephen's/Tiffany's EVERY Thursday (Hot) Menjos on Friday, B/S for Saturday and Tiffany's & Menjo's on Sunday's.....What a great, memorable time of my life!!
    Morty

    ReplyDelete
  22. Forgot to include John F. Kennedy of Backstreet & Times Square Bartender, as the one I let get away... i really fucked up on that. I met John when he lived in Romulus, with his mom. He worked at Quo Vadis Theatre and we saw Flashdance together :-)
    I hope he sees this and could reply....miss his big smile and gentle manor.....and his Handsome and hot bod.....sorry JFK...
    Morty....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John is a very good friend of mine. Shirley is doing well. I'll tell him to check out this site.

      Delete
    2. I met John Kennedy in May of 1999 at his side bar at Backstreet, I had just came out. We became friends, and he introduced me to all his close friends that he`s had for years. Every Wednesday and Saturday we all had the greatest time on that dance floor, and going to Saugatuck in the summer, man we all still laugh looking back, it was the "summer of love" as we called it. John and I have been together now 14 years and have all of our same friends in our life. Our Mom Shirley moved out of Romulus, and comes and stays with us quite often. As for Tom Giuseppe, his old house in Boston Edison burned to the ground a few days ago and that`s how i stumbled onto this site. I did business with Tom and he was a very nice person, I just never got it when i heard someone say anything negative against him. Tom if you are out there we hope you are well. I wouldn`t be where i`m at today if it weren`t for Backstreet. So THANK YOU BACKSTREET!!!!! I`m so thankful i was able to experience that place before it all ended.......Those were some great days. Right Mike?

      Delete
  23. It was nice to see some pictures of the place and someone else who actually remembers when the bar (much smaller at the time) was the Escape. I was a regular from 79-85, when I moved to Chicago. Although I left the Detroit area, Backstreet will always have a special place in my memories.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Carl Rippberger was my first lover, and I was his. I have nothing but fond memories of the two years we spent together, 1971-1973. These were the years before he opened Backstreet. When we met, he worked in retail sales for an electrical supplier called Graybar. When he left Graybar (it's a long story) he got a job as a bartender at Tiffany's on Woodward. Carl had only a high school education but he was smart and ambitious. He saw how much money Stephen, the owner, was making at Tiffany's and decided he needed to go into the bar business himself because it was not only a gold mine, but a cash operation where only a small portion of the income actually made it onto the books. Carl and I broke up at the end of 1973. Our relationship was killed by our youth and the fact that we competed with each other. We were so young but so much in love. Carl was short and bore a strong resemblance to the British comedian, Ricky Gervais. I think of Carl whenever I see him. Carl was also a Vietnam vet and a member of Vietnam Vets Against the War. One day in 1971, he went to a meeting of VVAW in downtown Detroit that ultimately became the subject of the moving and disturbing documentary feature film, "Winter Soldier" (now available on DVD). It was repressed by the U.S. Government when it was released, but it was revived briefly in San Francisco sometime around 2005 when I was living there and working as a film critic. I remember walking into the Roxy Theater in SF for that screening and seeing Carl's face come on the screen, 35 years after he left our apartment to attend the VVAW meeting. Carl appears in the film very briefly and can be seen holding up a picture of a dead Vietnamese soldier and saying, "Don't let your country do this to you." It was a shocking moment for me since I had forgotten all about that episode in our life together, and there was Carl just as he was when we lived together in 1971. Carl would never speak of what he did in Vietnam, although I tried to get him to talk about it. He did tell me that he was in the 9th Infantry and, as a ground soldier, he saw the worst of it. He said he stayed stoned on marijuana every day he was in service, as did most of his fellow soldiers. Carl and I met up once again in Manhattan around 1982. He was running Backstreet at that time and it was a cash cow. We danced all night on mescaline at The Saint(the best drug experience of my life) and I believe Carl had some hopes of rekindling our affair. That did not happen. I felt he was enjoying his success but it was hard work. He had some permanent hearing loss from the loud music at Backstreet. And he confessed to having had a cocaine problem for a while that he was finally able to turn around. I remember him pointing to his left nostril and telling me, "See. Look up there and you'll see a Mercedes 450SL. That's what I could have bought with what I spent on cocaine." I could tell so many stories of those early days in gay Detroit. I have had an interesting life. Anyone wanting to read about it can look for my autobiographical trilogy of books that begins with "Postcards from Palm Springs"; followed by the sequel "But the Show Went On - San Francisco 1987-1988"; and the final book in the trilogy,"Hollywood or Lust." I am currently starring in the syndicated reality television series, "Golden Gays", which debuts in Canada on the Slice Network on March 22, 2013 at 10 p.m. My pen name is Robert Julian.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Once again Backstreet is now closed (May, 2013) and the connection with Club Ice ended. Backstreet now connecing with Club Liquid..... this is the 4th time joining another nightclub to keep it going. Tom Moses can't see the forest for the trees.... Backstreet is dead but he has scammed The Works, Karma, Club Ice and now Club Liquid. Thinking the name will bring it back... not going to happen as it proves everytime o never make it. Moses has been poison to the gay community and they will never forget it.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Gay life in detroit is dying

    ReplyDelete
  27. Gay life in detroit is dying

    ReplyDelete
  28. Dying??? Can't recognize Death when you see it? Too many evil people connected with the Detroit area gay community who hasten its demise. But all have to take ownership of the problems that caused the community to deteriorate by going to clubs and organizations that wanted to strip the respect of the community, not build it. There were a handful of people that had good intentions. But another handful set on its destruction by their own greed. We all know wo those evil people are and they are getting their due, finally.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I'm afraid we will never see the glory days of Gay Detroit again.....so sad....

    ReplyDelete
  30. I'm afraid we will never see the glory days of Gay Detroit again.....so sad....

    ReplyDelete
  31. I worked at Backstreet from 1990 to 1993 while Carl was still running things. He passed away while I worked there. I started out as a Porter, then became a Waiter and eventually became a Barback at the front Bar. Dan was the most popular Bartender and was a kind of bearish guy, my other favorite Bartender was James who had a beautiful pornstache and a great package. :) They were some happy days back then, but bittersweet too as we lost so many of the crew to HIV. I moved to NC in 93 and never made it back. Now I live in LA and really remember those times fondly as I was in my early 20's dirt poor and it was a great income working just two nights a week. Carl was always generous at Christmas and gave the employees bonuses and once I remember he took the whole crew to Cedar Point and picked up the entire tab for entrance and meals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My bad, he passed in 94, after I left.

      Delete