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A salty story

Published November 29, 2007

These days, students are on a first-name basis with their favorite campus bar - whether it's Mitch's, Ashley's, Rick's or Charlie's. But it wasn't always this way.

For more than 50 years, a bar known simply as "P-Bell" topped the list.

The Pretzel Bell, which opened in 1934 after Prohibition was repealed, was an extremely popular student hot spot on the southwest corner Liberty and Fourth Ave. up until it closed in the summer of 1985.

The bar was also a favorite gathering place for several campus groups, including members of The Michigan Daily and the Men's Glee Club.

On weekend nights, the Pretzel Bell hosted live music. For many years, a local blue grass band, the RFD Boys, played on most Saturday nights, usually to a full house.

Now the Champion House, a Chinese and Japanese local restaurant, occupies the building. Although the Pretzel Bell has been closed for more then 20 years, alumni still regularly ask for directions to their one-time favorite watering hole, according to Champion House employees.

While many locals and alumni remember the Pretzel Bell fondly, the campus icon also had its share of legal troubles over the years.

The early 1980s marked the beginning of the Pretzel Bell's legal issues.

Late in 1983 and again in mid 1984, the Pretzel Bell was closed by the Washtenaw County Health Department because of health violations.

The bar closed for good when the IRS seized its assets in the summer of 1985 after owner Clint Castor Jr. failed to pay more than $110,000 in employees' withholding taxes, dating back to 1982, The Detroit News reported.

On April 16, 1985, the IRS auctioned off most of the fixtures and memorabilia of the bar, including the bar's lamps and namesake bell. The items grossed $208,000, according to The Ann Arbor News.

Years earlier the Castor family was also the victim of kidnapping. In 1973, two men forced themselves into the Castor home and tied up Clint Castor Sr. and his wife, demanding money.

When Castor told men all the money he had was at the restaurant, the men drove him there at gunpoint where they stole $1,500 in cash.

During the ride back, Castor overheard the two men discussing whether or not to kill him. While the car was moving, he jumped out. Then he called police. The men were all eventually caught and charged.

- ALEX KAZICKAS