Paint Creek Tavern’s Past, Present and Future

The Paint Creek Tavern Has Been Known by Many Names and Has Ties to Interurban and Railroad Days of Downtown Rochester

Front of a wood-sided builing on Main Street, one story, four windows and a door in the middle. All painted white with blue trim.

Paint Creek Tavern 2020 – Photo by Deborah J. Larsen

Paint Creek Tavern—known fondly by locals as the “Paint Creek Yacht Club” or “PCYC”— has been a fixture on the banks of its namesake waterway for decades. But despite its tongue-in-cheek nickname, the business got its start not because of its proximity to water, but because of its location near the interurban and railroad lines. 

During the heyday of the Detroit United Railway (D.U.R.) interurban line, Rochester was the location of a car repair barn and powerhouse for the transportation company. These facilities were located on the east side of North Main Street at Paint Creek, directly opposite the spot where the Paint Creek Tavern stands today. Sometime between 1908 and 1916, Will Bigger chose this location across the street from the D.U.R. car barn to operate a popcorn and refreshment stand. Interurban cars were running through Rochester hourly at the time, the car barn and the powerhouse were beehives of activity, and the Michigan Central Railroad depot was only a block away to the east. Plenty of customers were brought right to Bigger’s doorstep. 

Brown & Dungerow Holiday Ad, 1933

Brown & Dungerow Holiday Ad, published in December 1933 in the Rochester Era

When Walter W. Brown came to Rochester in 1920, he joined Will Bigger in the concession business. Brown & Bigger sold tobacco products, popcorn, soft drinks, and confectionery items until the mid-1920s, when Bigger bowed out of the business and James E. Dungerow took his place. The D.U.R. ceased operations in Rochester in 1931, and without interurban passengers coming to their door, Brown & Dungerow transitioned from a concession stand to a lunch counter, adding barbecue sandwiches to their bill of fare. 

The 1933 repeal of Prohibition opened a new opportunity for Brown & Dungerow. The partners were among the first to file an application with the village council for a license to sell beer, which the council granted about a month after the repeal went into effect. While available sources don’t say precisely when the current tavern building was constructed, it most likely went up in the mid-1930s, given that Brown & Dungerow applied for their first tavern license in 1934. 

James Dungerow exited the partnership around 1941 in order to run his own bar elsewhere in town. Walter Brown continued as sole proprietor of the business on Paint Creek that he now called Brownie’s Tavern. During World War II, the tavern building was also the location of a lunchroom called the Victory Canteen. 

When Walter Brown decided to retire in 1947, he sold the business to Harold and Frank Snover, who changed the bar’s name to Snover’s Tavern. By 1954, the business was known as Paint Creek Tavern. This name has endured through several subsequent owners, among them Lee and Katherine Cromie, Douglas Wilkins, and Dr. Pierre Atallah.

One story brick and wood building with two front doors and five windows

Paint Creek Tavern Building Before 1996 Remodel – Photo by Deborah J. Larsen

Nevertheless, it is the nickname bestowed by local patrons that most defines the bar and marks its place in Rochester’s local history. Patrons who dubbed the bar the “yacht club” because of a rowboat tied up near it on Paint Creek went so far as to adopt an official logo and print PCYC “membership” cards. Area sports teams proudly played under PCYC sponsorship. Local legend even says that one of the membership cards was purportedly used to gain access to the exclusive St. Andrews golf club in Scotland. 

The Paint Creek Tavern building last received a makeover in 1996-97 and is currently closed while undergoing another transformation. Property owner Dr. Pierre Atallah has leased the tavern operation to Kruse & Muer, and a remodel of the building is now underway. Plans approved by the City of Rochester call for the restoration of the parking lot at the east end of the building, a resizing of the outdoor deck, and an addition to the structure to allow for kitchen expansion and additional seating. Kruse’s Paint Creek Tavern is scheduled to open to the public in the spring of 2020. “We look forward for another big success for the Kruse team in Rochester,” Dr. Atallah told Rochester Media in a recent e-mail.

Front of a wood-sided builing on Main Street, one story, four windows and a door in the middle. All painted white with blue trim with dozens of people on the sidewalk infront of the building.

Paint Creek Tavern is a Hot Spot during the Annual Rochester Hometown Christmas Parade – photo by Michael Dwyer

About Deborah J. Larsen

Deborah J. Larsen recently retired after 34 years as local history librarian at Mount Clemens Public Library. She currently serves as the research chairperson for the Rochester-Avon Historical Society, and writes on a wide range of local history topics.

Comments

  1. Thanks to D Larsen for this local history lesson. One of the reasons we were attracted to the area; a quaint town with an interesting history that is still evolving. Hope to see more of these pieces.

  2. Pete Wheeler says:

    In 1986 I found myself frequently visiting Detroit on business. I was introduced to memorable Paint Creek and its many its characters by my friend “Randy Haikio”,who still lives locally on Mead Road.I still have my membership card for the “Paint Creek Yacht Club”, signed by Douglas Wilkinson.I was accepted as a suit and tie wearing Alien with a funny accent ! I was always made to feel very welcome by the staff and customers. I remember the strange feeling of the level floor surface after first rerurbishment !!! I am now 88 years old and still share my memories with my now long time friend Randy I last visited the PCYC about6 years ago. I still consider myself a member – no suit or tie but stuck with the funny accent !

  3. June Hopaluk says:

    Thank you for the history of the Paint Creek Tavern. I enjoyed reading it.

  4. brenda ruple says:

    How fun reading this ! Thank you!

    I still have my dads PCYC card. the story my parents told me was that they and other friends were sitting around at the table one night making jokes about how it should be a yacht club and then decided to make membership cards.

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