Exploring what’s left of legendary drag show-turned-rock bar, Gold Dollar, in Detroit

The stage at the Gold Dollar, where the White Stripes played their first show in August 1997.
The stage at the Gold Dollar, where the White Stripes played their first show in August 1997.

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

Along a desolate, blighted block in the Cass Corridor are the vacant remains of the once-legendary Gold Dollar, a small bar that packed in crowds with entertaining drag shows and live music.

Now the stage where the White Stripes performed their first live show in August 1997 is crumbling, and the ceiling above it is collapsing.

cass corridor_2153The bar closed in 2001 and has been vacant since, joining the fate of the other buildings on the 3100 block of Cass Ave.

But the property’s value has since skyrocketed because it’s just three blocks north of the Red Wings arena, which is scheduled to open next year. Now it’s owned by Urban Horticulture, a corporation that was registered by an East Lansing law firm, a move that keeps the true owners’ identities a secret. Urban Horticulture owns most of the block.

gold dollar oldFor most of the past 15 years, the Gold Dollar has been largely closed to trespassers or potential arsonists. But last month, a demolition crew razed two adjacent houses, leaving a gaping opening in the rear of the building.

The Gold Dollar first opened in the 1930s. From 1956 to the late 1980s, it was a popular drag show attraction. In 1996, the bar began attracting live music under new ownership.

Despite the talented bands that played there, the bar closed its doors for good.

“The Gold Dollar has become a right of passage for every aspiring band that comes through Detroit,” Amy Anselm of the band Blush told Metro Times. “It is such a shame it is closing its doors.”

In April 2015, the uniquely named “Another Fucking Bar” bar was demolished in the shadow of the Red Wings arena. It was a popular spot for punk music.

Here are photos of the old Gold Dollar, taken over the weekend by a photographer whose identity will remain anonymous.

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Building behind the Gold Dollar.
Building behind the Gold Dollar.

 

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • Dongald Trumpenis

    It looks like Snyder appointed an emergency manager to take care of it.

  • Stephanie Angelyn Casola

    Ah I always love a chance to see and read about The Gold Dollar. Though thanks for clarifying one thing Neil (also WHERE ARE YOU!? I miss you). The second that I read that it no longer had a steady stream of patrons I couldn’t quite remember it that way.. in my memory there wasn’t a night that the Gold Dollar wasn’t packed wall-to-wall and filled with great music.

  • Gold Dollar Detroit

    Hmm… Actually closed because I got bored. After it kind of stabilized as a business, it somehow lost some magic for me? Too many customers getting in the way of relaxation?

    Great to see some photos, and that some of my important duct tape work has passed the test of time.

    Good times…

    -Neil
    (last owner when it was open… Yikes, what’s my name doing in a photo?!?)

    • Sue Summers

      Well there you are! Haven’t heard from you in awhile, glad to see you are still out there!

    • muckraker_steve

      Great to hear from you, Neil! I removed the photo that showed your last name and changed the wording on why the bar closed.

      You ran a legendary bar. Thanks for creating memories for so many people.

    • Yuhaffa

      But how could you close a place where Jack White performed? HOW COULD YOU?! Oh, the humanity!!!

      I am rending my garments as I write this…

    • Joeysback

      I guess I’d rail at you about closing a successful business, and especially about turning away from up and coming music–especially in MoTown–but, asi es la vida and to each his own. Hope you are doing whatever makes you happy now. It is sad to see any building anywhere in such a sad state of disrepair–and even sadder to know that it has been snapped up by a “secret” corporation for Heaven only knows what nefarious purpose. “Urban Horticulture”, eh? Maybe they are going to plant flowers? We can only hope.

    • Joeysback

      I guess I’d rail at you about closing a successful business, and especially about turning away from up and coming music–especially in MoTown–but, asi es la vida and to each his own. Hope you are doing whatever makes you happy now. It is sad to see any building anywhere in such a sad state of disrepair–and even sadder to know that it has been snapped up by a “secret” corporation for Heaven only knows what nefarious purpose. “Urban Horticulture”, eh? Maybe they are going to plant flowers? We can only hope.

    • Thanks for operating this bar. I met my wife here during an NGO show in 1999. Cheers!

    • Thanks for operating this bar. I met my wife here during an NGO show in 1999. Cheers!

  • Harry Palmer

    Only 3 blocks north of the Li’l Taxpayers Arena?
    That’ll make a nice gravel top parking lot for sure…