Chelsea Lake Roberts
It’s 5 p.m. Friday at Harry’s Place. A group of customers in their 30s and 40s have a long chat with their waitress.
“Did you miss me?” she said, having apparently been absent the previous week. She talks about her children for over a minute, then one of the patrons lovingly tries to guess her age. She takes her time with the regulars and the interaction between her and the customers is natural and genuine.
That’s what makes Harry’s Place special, says Rawley Van Fossen, one of the many regulars. “It’s in the way they welcome you, that simple feeling of connection and good food.”
This Saturday (July 30), Harry’s Place, 404 N. Verlinden Ave., on the west side of Lansing, will mark 100 years of business with an all-day party. “Come with stories,” said co-owner Harea Bates. “We want people to remember and say hello to Art.”
Art is his father, Aristides Arvanites, who owned the bar from 1965 to 2005. Arvanites learned the trade from his uncle, Harry Andros, the original owner, whose customers were mostly car factory workers.
Bill Castanier, president of the Greater Lansing Historical Society, said it’s rare for three generations to run the same establishment in Lansing. “They managed to survive as everything around them closed in.”
Harea Bates, who owns the bar with her husband Hugh, has worked there all her life. “It’s in our blood.” Their son Matthew, who they believe will one day take over, said long-term staffing was key to Harry’s longevity. He jokingly called the restaurant’s 2005 transformation a “facelift,” describing the interior updates and the big shift from factory worker fare to home cooking and rotating craft beers.
When the GM Fisher Body factory closed in 2005, Arvanites considered selling Harry’s Place, but decided to give it to his daughter. Under the couple’s ownership, the restaurant has become a hub for western bands, neighborhood politics, trivial parties and a weekly fish fry.
Dan Kelley, who has frequented the bar for about a decade, called it a community hangout. “You know all the faces, pretty much.” He and Harea Bates both credited neighbor to the west, Danielle Casavant, for her involvement in reinventing Harry’s Place by inviting the community and encouraging the addition of Michigan craft beers to the menu. Today, we are far from the restaurant that Arvanites bought from his uncle in 1965.
At the time, Harry’s Place primarily served workers from the GM Fisher Body plant across the street on Verlinden. From 1935 to 2005, up to 5,000 workers worked there and they only had half an hour for lunch. To meet customer demands, the restaurant was gearing up for a lunch rush that was as carefully and quickly orchestrated as the factory line. The Arvanites asked the workers: “Will you come back tomorrow? so they can settle in for lunch the next day. The workers, in turn, told the Arvanites if they were going to be on vacation and which of their colleagues would come to lunch the next day. If you couldn’t get people to the table, you had to stand around the bar or just huddle in the restaurant to eat their lunch during the short breaks. Routine has turned many workers into regulars. They sat in the same place every day, even going so far as to write their names on the stands. If a passerby walked out of the street during the rush, they risked picking the wrong seat and being asked to move because “it’s the chef’s table, and he’s going to be there any minute.” .
Arvanites said a politician had a special seat in Harry’s Place, so special he decided to hold his retirement party there. At the end of the night, the man got up and started taking the chairs and the table with him. The Arvanites cried, “What are you doing? and the politician said to him, “I sat in this place for 30 years. You can replace the chairs. Arvanites agreed that he could take the furniture and thanked him for his three decades of loyal business.
Arvanites learned the restaurant trade from his uncle, the first Harry Andros, who is depicted on Harry’s Place signage and menu in a bold line drawing with a cigar in his mouth. The story goes that in 1922, auto industry pioneer and GM co-founder William “Billy” Crapo Durant asked Andros, then a 26-year-old Greek immigrant, if he would open a restaurant for serve workers at the new Durant Motors plant. , the predecessor of the Fisher Body factory. Durant loaned Andros the $8,500 to build the cafe and the rest, as they say, is history. Harry ran the restaurant from 1929 to 1965 (except for five years during the Great Depression). Originally named Star Café after the Star automobile was made across the street, Andros changed the restaurant’s name to “Harry’s Place” in 1934.
Van Fossen, Emma Henry, Leighanna Beach, Amanda Mussell and Jim Heinowski get together for a weekly happy hour with colleagues on Fridays. For Van Fossen, it’s a comfortable place. He knows the Bates kids, Matt and Kristi, by name. During the pandemic, he said, Harry’s Place has remained relevant by updating its outdoor seating, complying with COVID protocols and hosting beer outings and other outdoor events. Like many of his colleagues, he has been coming for about ten years. “The neighborhood vibe has been consistent,” he said. “It hasn’t changed at all.”