Once the prime spot for 21st birthday celebrations, Ann Arbor’s restauarant Pretzel Bell is set to reopen this spring after closing three decades ago.
The Pretzel Bell, or “P-Bell,” occupied the southwest corner of East Liberty Street and Fourth Avenue beginning in 1934, the year after then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt repealed prohibition. The establishment’s connection to the nation’s acceptance of alcohol was no coincidence, as “P-Bell” became a drinking hub in Ann Arbor, according to students at the time.
University alum, Patricia Warner, who received both her bachelor’s and master’s in Public Health from the University, in 1967 and 1977 respectively, remembers the restaurant as her regular hang out during her time as a student.
“My cousin took me to P-Bell’s for my 21st birthday,” Warner said. “I did the whole tradition of standing on the table, chugging beer and tossing (peanut) shells onto the floor.”
Her husband, Public Health Prof. Kenneth Warner, described it as the “single most fun thing to do in Ann Arbor, with the exception of a victory over Ohio State.”
The restaurant closed in 1984 due to health violations and legal issues surrounding the then-owner, Clint Castor Jr.
Since its closing, a group of University athletes and alumni have been working with new owners Jon Carlson, Chet Czaplicka and Greg Lobdell to reopen the restaurant. Carlson, Czaplicka and Lobdell are behind some of Ann Arbor’s other restaurants including Jolly Pumpkin and Grizzly Peak. They recently closed their Lena and Habana restaurant and nightclub on Main Street to revive Pretzel Bell in its place.
The owners did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Both Patricia and Kenneth Warner spoke particularly fondly of Pretzel Bell’s live music, with a special emphasis on the RFD Boys. The RFD Boys, a local bluegrass band, played at P-Bell three to four times per week from 1973 until 1984 when Pretzel Bell closed. Despite their growing national popularity, the band honored its commitment to Pretzel Bell and the residents of Ann Arbor. Warner attributed some of his best memories to the band.
Willard Spencer, banjo, dobro and vocals of the RFD Boys, spoke fondly of his days playing by the front window, describing his favorite memory of a particular Valentine’s Day.
“There was one time on Valentine’s Day and there was a good foot of snow that hit Ann Arbor,” Spencer said. “I remember that everything was closed except the Pretzel Bell. There must have been 500 people that night. We had an incredible party.”
Many locals, including Patricia and Kenneth Warner, have expressed hope Pretzel Bell legends will return with the establishment’s reopening.