When the Caucus Club opened in the 50s, it was the place to go for Detroit’s heavy hitters in the financial, political and entertainment industries. When it eventually closed in 2012, the city lost a piece of its history.
As of 2017, thanks to restaurateur and chef George Sboukis, the Caucus is back and making new memories. When George was approached to open a restaurant, he knew right away that he wanted to resurrect the Caucus Club in the iconic Penobscot Building.
“I was born in East Detroit, and Detroit always tugged at me since that’s where my father got his start in the restaurant business,” says George. “Plus, I like things with historical significance, so when this opportunity came up I kind of fell in love with it.”
At first, he thought that people wouldn’t be interested in knowing the history of the place, but that soon changed.
“I’ve learned that people really do have a desire to know what they’re stepping into,” he says. “I think giving them the background of the place is important.”
One of the most well-known stories about the original club has to do with Barbra Streisand. As a teenager, she launched her singing career there.
“Barbra Streisand is an iconic entertainer and crosses generations,” says George. “It’s kind of a big deal that she started out here and she entertained in the bar.”
He said people are always coming in and telling him stories about the place. One was a man who shined shoes and told him how a local news anchor and reporter used to go in there to have a drink before he broadcast the 5:00 news.
Today, the restaurant has been redesigned and updated, but some items on the menu have stayed the same.
“I tried to stick with the history of the place and kept many of those timeless dishes, while also adding an international influence,” says George. “Osso Bucco is one of our signature dishes. But, we are best known for our steaks, which we dry age in house.”
The front room is somewhat like a supper club, explains George. It has a grand piano and a stage where live bands play. The back bar area contains the original bar, and is a vibrant place to have a drink. The Bullshot, which was first concocted at the original club and became well known throughout the world, is still on the menu.
Diners at the Caucus Club are treated like guests at a dinner party and are the stars of the show, he says.
“I learned that from my dad,” says George. “He came from a very poor background in Greece and at first didn’t know much about the restaurant business. But what he did know was how to treat people.”
Although the place may look a little different now, the overall atmosphere is still the same.
“This is a place where people can gather and talk and hash things out, and again the name ‘caucus’ plays into that,” he says. “We hope that we’re here for a long, long time.”
Pull quote: “I’ve learned that people really do have a desire to know what they’re stepping into. I think given them the background of the place is important.”