Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Campau Realty Company Building - Photos

The Campau Realty Company Building with the 18-story Kales (formerly Kresge) building adjacent to it.

Cliff Bell's front entrance

John Clifford Bell was born in Cincinnati on February 3, 1886. With only a fourth grade education, he moved to Detroit in his early teens. At 16 years old, his father, a socialist labor agitator and Irish saloon keeper, put Cliff to work as a porter at his pub on John R and so began Cliff Bell’s legacy of providing entertainment to the city of Detroit.

When Prohibition began in 1919 many of Detroit’s watering holes closed leaving young Cliff Bell out of work and bitter about what he saw as “an unwarranted infringement on the personal privileges of red blooded Americans. “It wasn’t long before Bell was back in action, opening one “speakeasy” after another during the 14 years of Prohibition.

John Clifford Bell opened his signature club Cliff Bell’s on Park Avenue in 1935. It was a luxurious place done in mahogany and brass.

It featured state of the art refrigeration and air conditioning, technology so new the Free Press published photos of the units. The club also featured Cliff’s trademark bar side tables, an idea carried over from the Erskine Bridge Club. He ran the club from 1935 until his retirement in 1958 and enjoyed another 20 years of repose with his wife Maude before he died on December 12, 1977. He was 91.

Through the 30′s 40′s and 50′s Cliff Bell’s and the Town Pump Tavern anchored two ends of what was Detroit’s busiest night crawl with clubs, pubs and Burlesques dotting Park Avenue. During the 70′s and 80′s the Club operated under a series of other names. Many remember The Winery, La Cave, or JB’s on the Park. In 1985 the famous club closed and remained empty until late 2005, when renovation began.

Since its re-opening in 2006, Cliff Bell’s has presented a busy stage in Michigan. Between 2008 and the onset of the 2020 pandemic Cliff Bell’s presented about 9 distinct live performances weekly. The performers include locally based jazz musicians and regional, national and international touring acts.

The Cliff getting ready for business. April 2023