WRITER | JULIE FORD
Before Michigan became a state, stagecoach routes were established in 1826 to connect Detroit to Pontiac, Ann Arbor, and Toledo. Service expanded to Niles around 1830 and to Chicago by 1833. Michigan’s earliest restaurants can be traced to these slow-paced days of travel.
Today, a few of these taverns still exist, serving food and drink in the same spirit they did a century ago. Trains, cars, and improved roads opened travel to more people and new restaurants quickly followed. There are many Michigan restaurants well-rooted in the past and worth the drive; here’s a sampling to get started on a historic restaurant tour around the state.
1831 – New Hudson Inn, New Hudson
The Old Tavern offered stagecoach travelers a bed and a meal while we were still known as the Territory of Michigan. The extensively renovated New Hudson Inn continues to operate as a restaurant and bar. Upstairs, a secret room displays items from slaves passing through as part of the Underground Railroad.
Serving classic pub fare daily and breakfast on weekends / NewHudsonInn1831.com
1835 – Old Tavern Inn, Sumnerville (between Niles and Dowagiac)
At the corner of Indian Lake Road and Pokagon Highway sits a cozy tavern that also once served weary stagecoach passengers with a bed and a meal. A few original parts to the building remain, and patrons rave about the hot ham sandwiches and goulash.
Classic pub fare daily (closed Mondays) / Facebook.com/oldtaverninn/
1848 – White Horse Inn, Metamora
This historic structure was built in 1848 as a general store. It was renamed the Hoard House in 1850 and operated as an inn, first for stagecoach and then rail passengers. The Inn served the community until 2012 and reopened in 2014 after extensive renovations.
Old-time comfort foods with an upscale twist served daily / TheWhiteHorseInn.com
1856 – Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth
Originally the Exchange Hotel, meals have been served here since 1856. Zehnder’s opened its doors on Mother’s Day 1929, and generations of the family have kept the restaurant thriving. It’s widely known for traditional family-style chicken dinners.
Bavarian and classic American fare served daily / Zehnders.com
1875 – City Park Grill, Petoskey
What began as McCarty Hall, a billiard parlor for men (only) to play, smoke, and drink, has changed hands and been renovated through the years. Take Ernest Hemingway’s seat at the original bar, order a Hemingway Martini, and relax in the fully restored Victorian-era ambiance.
Scratch kitchen fare from appetizers to filet mignon served daily / CityParkGrill.com
1882 – Sleder’s Family Tavern, Traverse City
A place to relax and have a homecooked meal and a beer after work is what Vencel Sleder had in mind when he built the tavern. The 21-foot mahogany bar still holds elbows the way it did 137 years ago. Owners have changed but the ambiance has remained.
Classic pub fare served daily / Sleders.com
1883 – The Vierling, Marquette
A few hundred feet from the Lake Superior shoreline, the Vierling has maintained a restaurant and bar for much of its existence. The building’s bones are original, and its interior has been restored to Old World elegance, including original stained glass and oil paintings. The Vierling is also one of the first brewpubs in Michigan.
American fare from artisan pizzas to filet mignon (closed Sundays) / TheVierling.com
1888 – Bavarian Inn Restaurant, Frankenmuth
Originally the Union House Hotel, the renamed Fischer’s Hotel promoted all-you-can-eat family-style chicken dinners. In 1950, the Zehnder family purchased the business, expanded, and gave it a Bavarian theme. Lucky guests may catch a glimpse of 97-year-old Dorothy Zehnder, who has worked here for nearly 70 years.
Bavarian and classic American fare served daily / BavarianInn.com
1891 – Holly Hotel, Holly
This stately Queen Anne structure built to accommodate rail passengers has persevered through two devastating fires (1913 and 1978) and several owners. Today, the hotel offers a dining and afternoon tea experience in Victorian elegance. Signature dishes, specials, and an eight-course dégustation of French-inspired cuisine with an American twist are available.
Sunday brunch; lunch and dinner served daily / HollyHotel.com
1909 – Ivanhoe Café at the Polish Yacht Club, Detroit
While there are no yachts, and the drive isn’t for the skittish, generations of loyal followers arrive regularly for cooked-to-order casual Polish and American fare. The Ivanhoe Café is a family-owned working-class bar in Poletown, named for the area’s Polish immigrants, and is famous for its pan-fried perch dinners.
Reservations required: Tues/Wed/Thurs 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., kitchen closes at 2 p.m.; Fri 11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Closed Sat.-Mon. / IvanhoeCafe.com
1911 – Terrace Inn and 1911 Restaurant, Petoskey
A Victorian two-story boarding house once occupied the location before the 38-room Terrace Inn Hotel was built in 1911. On-site, the 1911 Restaurant features locally sourced ingredients, VIP tables for lodging guests, and a prix fixe three-course dinner.
Hours vary, and reservations are recommended. TheTerraceInn.com/dining