Is there a more iconic symbol of the real Kalamazoo? Louie's, at North and Walbridge, has been serving good food, and drink (wink, wink) for 100 years. On July 14th, they'll celebrate those 100 years with a live music event.

"If these walls could talk" might be a bit cliche, but in a century, a lot of memorable things happen. A few of those might be best forgotten, but Louie's is still home to a diverse clientele, (and was, even before it became fashionable), a lot of laughter, and with an ownership change a decade ago, a return to hosting entertainment.

It all started in 1918, as World War 1 was ending. The Nowak family opened a restaurant/soup kitchen that served the surrounding working class neighborhood, which has a significant Polish population.The north side was teaming with manufacturing work, whether it was Checker Motors, Gibson Guitar, or the paper mills in nearby Parchment.

With the start of Prohibition, Louie's might have been a speakeasy. Or maybe not. It also became somewhat of a supper club for a good portion of the middle of the 20th century, with the nearby train tracks that carried passengers not only passengers between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, but also between Chicago and Detroit. The late matriarch of the Nowak family, "Granny" Louise Nowak, would tell stories of celebrities, during train stopovers, making their way to North and Walbridge.The most recent of which, is country star Frankie Ballard, who played regularly at Louie's before making it in Nashville.

(Jackiejb05 via YouTube)

Louise and her husband "Big" Ted ran the establishment for many years, and then, their son Louie ran it until selling it to a long time customer, Mike VandeMaele bought it.

Before the sale, Louie's had become a "cop bar" hosting many off-duty and retired public safety officers; the irony being, what was once a speakeasy was now a cop bar.

With VandeMaele's ownership came a return to a seven day a week operation, along with late night entertainment. Timing is, of course, critical, but much of the renaissance of Louie's coincided with the similar renaissance of establishments along Kalamazoo Avenue, and the neighborhood surrounding Louie's. What was once a t-shirt factory owned by Nowak brother Walter John, has become Green Door Distilling and what was vacant land has seen condominiums pop up.

Google Street View
Directly east, across the street from Louie's, are apartments and condos, and also just to the north and east. (Google Street View)

As it's heritage is Polish, there is a Polish drinking song to commemorate birthdays, "Sto Lat". It translates to "100 Years". So, as July 14th approaches, "Sto Lat".

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