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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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My Great-Grandparents' Blind Pig

Uploaded: May 27, 2014

Last week, I mentioned my great grandparents had a speakeasy in Detroit. But I was wrong – it was actually a Blind Pig.

Know the difference?

Speakeasies were Prohibition era (1920 – 1933) secret hot spot hangouts with a bar and music. Quite the scene. Everybody knew but no one was talking. Patrons were encouraged to "speak easy about their existence." A Blind Pig, on the other hand, supplied 'take out,' and was named because cops (pigs) turned a blind eye to their 'retail' sale of alcohol. A knock on my grandparents back door could access locally made and organic (!) rye whiskey, elderberry and dandelion wine, and beer, stored in a secret room behind the dish cabinet. Some customers were even invited in to drink at the kitchen table. For them, backyard chickens supplied fresh eggs for cracking into the thick glass mugs that held the homebrew. (Raw egg + beer = drink of the day?) None of my living kin know the password to get in. My guess? Sto lat!

I learned the story getting ready for last weeks garage sale. Mom kept opening cupboards with treasures and stories. She caught my ear with the comment, "these were the beer mugs Grandma Mary and Grandpa Joe used at their Blind Pig."



Really? Cool. Tell me more.

Turns out my great grandparents had a bar in Detroit until Prohibition shut it down in 1920. My dad's mom, Julia Augustyn worked there in her late teens and met my grandfather Frank Stec (a customer, 10 years her senior). They married in 1923 and Frank quickly got into the family business making whiskey in a second floor closet of the family home. No one had a car, and buses weren't an option, so Frank and my father Edward, (eldest of five children) carried the booze (no one called it liquor or alcohol) down the alley from their home on Military to the bar-turned-Blind Pig on Greusel and Kopernick.



"If the cops come, drop the (glass) bottles and run," my grandfather instructed my father, Ed Stec, all of about 6 years old at the time.

Increased demand around 1932 required new distribution methods. My Uncle Len remembers taking Sunday strolls to "grandma's house" with his siblings and mother, dressed in their Sunday finest, pushing a carriage filled with the little baby booze bottles.

The business continued until the upstairs distillery caught the room, and my grand dad, on fire. He had to fight it alone, and got badly burnt. What choice did he have? "Illegal? Nah, it was unlawful," explained my Uncle Richard (youngest of the three boys).

"It was only illegal back then if you got caught."

Sto lat, sto lat, niech żyje, żyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat, niech żyje, żyje nam.
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech żyje, żyje nam.
Niech żyje nam!


(Traditional Polish birthday drinking song)
Translation: A hundred years, a hundred years. Let him/her live, live for us!



The garage sale also uncovered a hidden box of old photos with the following ones in it. Above are Grandma Mary and Grandpa Joe Augustyn. Below, Dad (on left) about the age he was transporting + family



Uncle Leonard, Dad, Uncle Richard, all grown up



Need more to wet your whistle? Thursday May 29, The Academy of Science hosts Chemical Reactions Nightlife, including an 8 PM lecture with the author of Proof: The Science of Booze, a hands on look at fermentation and beer making, and a beer goggle view into the effects of alcohol on the brain.




Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by A Single Guy, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on May 27, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Hi Laura,

Thank you for sharing your ancestors' history, now I know what a blind pig is. Keep writing, this is my favorite Embarcardero Media blog by far!

Cheers,

A Single Guy


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anymouse, a resident of Midtown,
on May 27, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Laura,
I look forward to your blogs so much! Agree with 'Single Guy', you are my favorite blogger!

I love your stories. What a fine looking family. I always find it interesting to hear more about my own family's history, and it seems there is always something new I hear about. The way you write is such a joy!

Have you written any books or short stories?

Keep on .. keep on, as I think you have many fans.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 28, 2014 at 6:28 am

Laura Stec is a registered user.

Flattery will get you everywhere you two! Thank you. Keep asking those family stories. My mom is 88. My father 89. It's never too soon! And yes Anymouse - my book Cool Cuisine, Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming (Gibbs Smith 2008) is still current, alive and kicking! Co-written with atmospheric scientist Dr. Eugene Cordero, we propose global warming could be the best thing to happen to the culinary world in a long time! Thanks for the opportunity to give it a shout out. Let's change the world with great tasting food!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on May 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm

I have roots in the Detroit area - although my ancestors were a bit less "fun"; they were very involved in the temperance movement. :P But they were way out in the countryside, in Oakland County, very Presbyterian.

In any case - when you were there, did you look into the "urban farming" movement? Because so many people left Detroit, and so many old houses torn down, a lot of people are taking over vacant lots and using them for neighborhood gardens. It's gotten a lot of attention, well beyond Detroit, as a sign of people's resourcefulness.

My grandfather - who was way out in Milford, in Oakland County - used to be a "general farmer", and he'd drive his vegetables into Detroit - the still active "Eastern Market" - back in the 1920's. He eventually converted to being a dairy farm, and, upon retirement in the early 1960's, stopped farming commercially - one of the last commercial farmers in Oakland County. He split up his land into 10 acre lots, which wealthy business people build mansions upon, and mini-horse farms - a bit odd, given how terribly frugal he was personally. With the real estate collapse, you can now buy a mansion in the Detroit area very cheap. With the urban farms, it seems like things came full circle.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on May 28, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

Great story. Thanks.

Remember, the password is Swordfish (n.b. Marx Brothers).


 +  Like this comment
Posted by JoAnne Breitmeyer, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on May 29, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Our family is from the Detroit area and my sister is hard at work on our geneology right now. I am enjoying her family discovery stories but none sound as exciting as your grandparents Blind Pig. I can see some of these places in Detroit, which sort of became part of everyone's Family Tree. The neighbors were all involved in Prohibition one way or another. Wish I had paid more attention when my grandmother took us on secret rides through the neighborhood around town showing us where Mugs Malone and the other colorful gangsters lived. She lived to the ripe old age and knew so many secrets of the streets and dark alleys of Detroit. Amazing how people could live and let live so much easier in those days ... guess lives depended on it so much! Reminds me of San Joe's Cheese Factory eventhough Prohibition was not involved on that level. Thanks for your blog. Keep it coming! I am a huge fan!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Casa de Cerveza, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on May 29, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Casa de Cerveza is a registered user.

Great blog post Laura! Your family sounds like a hoot! Thanks for sharing.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 31, 2014 at 7:28 am

Laura Stec is a registered user.

JoAnne, thanks for this share and Alan I loved Eastern Market. A friend of mine still lives pretty close. A few years ago John G. took me on a tour of the Detroit urban farms. So interesting to see big swaths of land in downtown neighborhoods (where old burnt houses stood for years.) There was a green house powered only by horse poop which was growing spinach in the dead of winter! That would be a fun day trip the next time I return.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a Almanac Online blogger,
on May 31, 2014 at 11:05 am

Laura Stec is a registered user.

You all have inspired me to to ask my friend John G. for a tour of all the terrific urban agriculture gardens in downtown Detroit when I am back in August. He agreed! Stay tuned as Detroit rejoins The Food Party! later this summer. Thanks John!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by BroIL, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jun 2, 2014 at 5:04 am

The place where Mom grew up is also on that map. Kulick street just west of Gruesel.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jun 2, 2014 at 6:21 am

Laura Stec is a registered user.

BroIL - That's interesting! I wonder if your great grand parents went to my great grandparents bar or Blind Pig?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 3, 2014 at 8:51 am

Blind Pig is also a famous music club in Ann Arbor, and a blues label in San Francisco, which apparently is a spin-off of the famous club.

Thanks for sharing!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jun 4, 2014 at 6:18 am

Laura Stec is a registered user.

Mark Weiss in the house! I have listened to music at the Blind Pig many times (still there). But my favorite watering hole in Ann Arbor was the Del Rio (now gone) :(



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