Column: Remembering the Del Rio Bar

Del's Ernie Harburg in town Nov. 11 to promote new book
This snapshot of Del Rio's staff was taken in the early '70s. Ernie Harburg is in the back row, far right, wearing glasses: Ernie Harburg. Back row, middle, in red shirt: Torry Harburg.  Front row, far right: Sara Moulton. Just behind Sara, with moustache and glasses, is Rick Burgess.

This snapshot of Del Rio's staff was taken in the early '70s. Co-owner Ernie Harburg is in the back row, far right, wearing glasses. His wife, Torry Harburg, is in the middle of the back row, wearing a red shirt. In the front row, far right, is chef Sara Moulton. Just behind her, with a moustache and glasses, is co-owner Rick Burgess. (Photo courtesy of Larry Behnke.)

Some time in the mid-1970s, waiter Larry Behnke pinned a large sheet of paper to the bulletin board that hung in the kitchen of the Del Rio Bar. Behnke, also an artist, had written at the top in bold, psychedelic lettering: “What the Del Rio Means to Me.”

After a few days the sheet was filled with responses, ranging from the thoughtful to the droll to the pitiable – with some that were just plain wacky.

“A nice corner bar that suffers from delusions of grandeur.”

“A place where you get paid to have fun, where you can be crazy without being committed, and where customers and employees are more important than money.”

“It’s my substitute home where people are nice to me.”

“The Del Rio means a million things to me, which I refuse to limit to the narrowness of words and the confines of space.”

“The Del Rio is benevolent despotism.”

Probably a majority of Ann Arborites never walked through the door of the funky old saloon that used to sit at the northeast corner of Ashley and Washington. But for plenty of those who did, the Del Rio was more than just a bar. It was a state of mind, a way of life, a second home – a tiny world unto itself.

Born of the idealistic spirit of the late 1960s, the Del Rio was a combination bohemian sanctuary and bold socioeconomic experiment that somehow survived racketeers, recessions, and Reaganism to become a three-decade-plus Ann Arbor tradition whose passing in 2004 is still mourned by many.

Here now to help assuage those feelings of loss is “Liberty, Equality, Consensus and All That Jazz at the Del Rio Bar,” a history of the idiosyncratic watering hole published this month by Huron River Press. The book is a dream-come-true for all those longing to return to their favorite old hippie hangout – if only for a time, and only in their minds. But even those who never set foot inside the Del Rio will find it an absorbing read.

The book’s primary author is Ernie Harburg, one of three partners who founded the Del Rio nearly 40 years ago. But as Harburg freely acknowledges, he had “a little help from his friends” – especially Larry Behnke, an authentic Ann Arbor hippie who worked at the Del from 1972 to 1983, and for six years lived in a 1969 Chevy Step-Van that was often parked by the back door of the bar.

During his stint at the Del Rio, Behnke kept a regular journal. “After work I would usually write a page about the night’s events,” he says. “I felt like the historian of the place.” Later he turned his voluminous journal entries into an anecdotal chronicle of the bar. The resulting manuscript was never published, but Ernie Harburg has included a healthy crop of excerpts in “Consensus.” Behnke’s appealing and often amusing yarns add an extra dimension to Harburg’s more journalistic approach, making the book something of an artful mélange – much like its colorful subject.

Mirroring Ann Arbor

The story of the Del Rio is in many ways the story of the transformation of Ann Arbor from the heterogeneous, real-world community of yesteryear to the gentrified yuppie playground of today. In the late ’60s, the small business district west of Main Street was a rough-and-tumble working-class neighborhood where violence and vice were part of the everyday routine. Ernie Harburg remembers that, in the first year or so that he was operating the Del, he could read a book by the flashing lights of police cars.

But the arrival of three classy new bars – Mr. Flood’s Party, the Del Rio, and the Blind Pig – in the early ’70s would begin to change all that. Mr. Flood’s was opened in the summer of 1969 by youth-savvy entrepreneurs Ned Duke and Robert “Buddy” Jack, and the arty décor and live jazz, country, and blues music soon attracted a different sort of crowd – younger, hipper – and wealthier.

A year later came the Del Rio. Ernie Harburg, his wife Victoria (“Torry”), and friend Rick Burgess bought an existing blue-collar bar of the same name and proceeded with an extreme makeover. Out was the Naugahyde and Formica; in were antique wooden tables and chairs and the original brick walls. Out was the yellowed drop-panel ceiling; in was the elegant hundred-year-old pressed-tin ceiling that had lain hidden underneath. Out was the ’50s-era jukebox; in was a state-of-the-art sound system and an eclectic collection of hundreds and hundreds of homemade eight-track tapes, from Charlie Parker to the Beatles to Bach. And every Sunday night, Rick Burgess and others would play live jazz – at no charge.

Despite the mighty effort, however, success would not come overnight to the new and improved Del Rio. It would take time before the crew cuts made way for the longhairs. Plus, there were all the usual difficulties involved in starting up a new business venture. Such as the disastrous choice the partners made for the bar’s first manager, who had previously managed Mr. Flood’s. He was there for only a short time during the first year, and was hired because neither Burgess nor Harburg knew management, recalls Larry Behnke. But he didn’t bother to pay taxes or keep accurate books, Behnke says, and almost killed the new bar.

A New Way of Managing

Ironically, however, it was this debacle that paved the way for what was perhaps the Del Rio’s most distinguishing feature: management by consensus. When that first manager was let go, managerial duties were assumed by the rank-and-file workers, who eventually came to the conclusion that there didn’t need to be a manager. The owners agreed, and turned the day-to-day running of the bar over to the employees. Eventually this would evolve into management by consensus, with owners and employees having equal say.

It was not an arrangement that the Harburgs and Burgess entered into lightly. The Del Rio was like a family; and they vowed to abide by the family’s decisions, even if it didn’t always go their way.

Luckily – and perhaps a little surprisingly – the system turned out to work exceedingly well. The mostly young, nonconformist workers created the sort of environment they felt most comfortable in, which also happened to be a powerful attraction for the younger, hipper crowd that was starting to frequent the Main Street area.

Take as an example the relaxed attitude toward drug use during the Del Rio’s early years. This was a consequence of the time (the swinging ’70s) and the place (back then Ann Arbor was known to some as “the drug capital of the Midwest”) as well as the managerial power wielded by the staff. And it wasn’t only the customers who were high – often it was the employees, too.

“If our evening shift began at 7 p.m.,” recalls former waiter Larry Behnke, “we would all gather at the wait station and do a shot of tequila together at 9 p.m. By 10 or later we would gather at the pizza oven exhaust vent to share a joint.”

“I can remember only a couple of times when someone came to work tripping on acid,” he adds, “but we discouraged that because the customer would get poor or no service. We could give great, happy service when we were buzzed on pot or beer, since our customers were similarly altered. It was like we were all partying together.”

At one point Behnke worked with an editor from New York on his Del Rio manuscript. “She didn’t believe we functioned as well as we did, considering all the weed and booze and acid we consumed.”

Although in general the owners shared the workers’ lack of concern with regard to drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, and even LSD – as long as it didn’t get out of hand – they took a “hard line on hard drugs” (as a notice posted in the bar was titled). Anyone involved with hard drugs like cocaine or heroin on the premises would be banned from the Del Rio. In this the employee-managers were in (mostly) complete agreement with the owners.

But consensus didn’t always work perfectly. It was very difficult to fire anyone, because the employees were reluctant to take such drastic steps against one of their own, even when someone was caught outright with a hand in the cookie jar. Ernie Harburg also remembers one instance in particular where he feels that collective governance worked against the common good.

“I was deeply frustrated that we were unable to reach consensus about forbidding smoking in the bar,” he says, “because half of the staff smoked.” This included Harburg’s wife Torry. After much debate the group did agree to get rid of the cigarette machine and establish a small non-smoking section. But on the whole Harburg still feels that the battle over smoking represents a failure of the consensual decision-making process. That failure must have been all the more painful when Torry passed away in 1981 from lung cancer.

There were also other problems with the Del Rio’s lack of management. While it contributed greatly to the laid-back atmosphere that many Ann Arborites loved, it could also make the bar seem cliquish to infrequent patrons, and would sometimes turn workers and customers into adversaries. For instance, bartenders had absolute control over the music, both in what was played and how loud. No one – not even the owners – could force them to change either.

But in most respects the Del Rio’s system of collective management was quite successful. Compare, for instance, the traditional way that bars have dealt with troublemakers to the method employed at the Del. Instead of a bouncer instigating a confrontation that could lead to violence, the communally-minded staff (occasionally joined by a few customers) would all gather round the miscreants and quietly order them to go. Not even the toughest muscle-bound, bar-hopping badass could bear the disapproving stares of so many people for long. The rowdies would soon leave, almost always peacefully.

Changing Times

As the years passed and the countercultural scene faded away, the Del Rio kept as close to its hippie roots as was possible during the Reagan-led return to conservatism and materialism that epitomized the ’80s and ’90s. Ann Arbor was changing – whether for the better is open to debate – and the Del resisted as best it could. As Harburg explains in his book: “The local downtown restaurant and bar scene grew, with most of the newcomers part of a national chain. But the Del – defiantly true to its unconventional underpinnings – stayed open, holding a sort of monopoly on the glory days.”

Over the decades the Del Rio had acquired a loyal group of followers – “an irreverent, bohemian mix of artists, poets, musicians and working folk,” wrote Laura McReynolds in a 1994 Ann Arbor News article, “who don’t simply frequent the place, they help define it” – and became something of a local institution. Those who weren’t so into the free-spirited atmosphere would go for the fresh, cheap, and flavorful food. One of the Del’s offerings even earned a measure of national recognition. The Washington Post once rated the Detburger – named after its inventor, Bob Detwiler, who worked at the bar in the early ’70s – as one of the 20 best burgers in the nation.

The Detburger was really just a well-made cheeseburger covered with pizza toppings, but with one all-important difference: the patty was steamed in beer. Celebrity chef Sara Moulton has demonstrated the preparation of a slightly-enhanced Detburger on television, and included the recipe in her book “Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals.” Moulton’s passion for the Detburger comes as no surprise to those who know that she worked at the Del in the early to mid-’70s when she was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

Despite the popularity of its unique fare, however, the Del Rio would ultimately succumb to the pressure to be profitable. Ironically, it seems as though it was management by consensus that was the major contributor to the bar’s downfall. By the turn of the twenty-first-century, competition had become so fierce that the owners felt a major change was in order – including a switch to a more traditional management system.

“The bar’s operation as a collective no longer seemed feasible,” writes Harburg in “Consensus.” “In years past, a few dedicated employees had always emerged as informal leaders. But over the past decade, this had happened less and less frequently. Most of the employees of the ’90s lacked the idealism of earlier workers and weren’t committed to a collective.”

When the switch finally came, however, the owners discovered that the current crop of employees were in fact very committed to the concept of communal governance. Not only did several veteran workers quickly resign, many of those who left (or were fired) formed into picket lines that marched the sidewalk in front of the bar. The owners, all well into their 70s, decided that they simply didn’t have the time or energy to cope with this latest crisis. When no buyers could be found, the Del Rio closed its doors for good, following a gala last-night celebration that went on into the wee hours of January 1, 2004.

But the legacy of the Del stretches on, in the lives of the people that worked and played there. “It helped me to follow my dreams,” says Larry Behnke, who today lives out the ultimate hippie fantasy – a geodesic dome home powered entirely by solar electricity – on 20 wooded acres in northern Florida, which he purchased with money saved while working at the Del Rio. “It gave credence to our being happily unconventional.”

Editor’s note: Ernie Harburg will be in town to sign copies of his new book on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jewish Book Festival. The event will be held at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, 2935 Birch Hollow Drive.

About the writer: Alan Glenn is currently at work on a documentary film about Ann Arbor in the ’60s. Visit the film’s website for more information.


  1. November 10, 2009 at 11:14 am | permalink

    Thanks very much for this. I didn’t turn 21 until 2006 so as far as I know I never set foot in the Del Rio, but I’ve heard much about it in what can only be described as legendary tones.

    Also, there’s a pair of pictures along with a handful of stories on Flickr of Mr. Flood’s Party.

  2. November 10, 2009 at 11:16 am | permalink

    The few times I went to the Del Rio in the years before it closed, the service was slow and surly. I stopped going, and I know quite a few people who stopped going for the same reason. It may have been a great place in the late 60′s and 70′s, but by the 90′s it was coasting on its reputation.

  3. By thomas siterlet
    November 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm | permalink

    The Del will always be the “high-water mark” of my memories of living here a A2. It was one of the first places I visited when I moved here in the early ’70′s & I miss it to this day. There’s just no replacement for it.

  4. By Brian Tomsic
    November 10, 2009 at 2:51 pm | permalink

    Love that this is being published. Many great memories of the Del.
    Inevitably the story of the sloppy way the lazy absentee owners made the transition to “management” was whitewashed to make them look less responsible for the bar’s demise.
    Still missing the Del and angry at Ernie evry time I walk by that corner.

  5. By Mike Levine
    November 10, 2009 at 3:29 pm | permalink

    Why all the fuss over the detburger? It’s the zapata that deserves the recognition. Please, someone make me a zapata!

  6. By Fred
    November 10, 2009 at 3:30 pm | permalink

    I hear that! I’d like one too!

  7. By Ross Orr (Voxphoto)
    November 10, 2009 at 4:46 pm | permalink

    The Del may indeed have opened playing “eight track tapes”; but by 1985, when I started in the kitchen, it was all normal cassettes. I recall several hundred, neatly lined up on the wall behind the bar, all labeled in green Dymo tape.

    Preparing these was a special labor of love for Rick Burgess. Rick owned an exotic Nakamichi tape deck, and felt that only it was capable of giving the requisite sound quality. The staff would sometimes bring in their own music; but it had to be done circumspectly, in case Rick came around.

    The “terrible secret” of the Det-burger, by the way, is that the vegetable mix used dehydrated green peppers. The beer steam would plump them back up again, more or less. The consistency of the Del’s burgers wasn’t helped by the fact that in my years, about 2/3rds of the cooks were vegetarians.

    I’m going to agree with Mike that the Zapata was the Del’s real culinary contribution. Each cook had their own signature style of wrapping up the crust (the dough came from Pizza Bob’s, actually). My Zapata’s came out looking like a fox head. The “volcano” was a popular motif too.

  8. By AnnArborFriend
    November 10, 2009 at 5:29 pm | permalink

    Great story, thanks for the memories! I hung out there with friends in the early ’70s. As a woman, I never felt threatened by it being a bar, we all felt very equal and welcomed. It was just a great place to occupy a table and hang out, even for someone who was not a big drinker. The food was good but not the reason for us to go there. It was the spirit of the place! How I wish it was that time again…

  9. November 10, 2009 at 5:42 pm | permalink

    Long live the Del Rio!!!

  10. By Trevor
    November 10, 2009 at 6:49 pm | permalink

    I gotta say, I never understood the allure of the Del Rio. Like Tom above, the few times I went there (in the 90s), the service was surly at best. I got the impression that I wasn’t “hippy” enough to be treated like a regularl customer. Here’s one Ann Arborite who didn’t notice when The Del closed.

    Having said that, I know many people who miss the place badly.

  11. By AnnArborFriend
    November 10, 2009 at 6:54 pm | permalink

    Sounds like the 90s were not its glory days. You should’ve tried it in the 70s! (OK so if you were in diapers I understand you may not have appreciated it, but maybe so, given the right set of parents…)

  12. By Rod Johnson
    November 10, 2009 at 6:59 pm | permalink

    I loved the Del, but I spent as much time at the Liberty Inn, which had the twin distinctions of being biker-friendly and barrier-free, which led to some interesting altercations.

    And hey, somebody should track down Harry Tselios and record an oral history of the Flame. I bet that would be fascinating.

  13. By marsha chamberlin
    November 10, 2009 at 9:15 pm | permalink

    Many a lunch with artist friends was spent at the Del. We could barely see each other but the ambience was perfect and the detburger memorable. It is a great set of memories!

  14. November 10, 2009 at 9:24 pm | permalink

    I am going to have to agree with my buddy Trevor on this one. Being a long time townie I never really felt welcome at the Del, even though I had been patrionizing it for years. I personallly like a bar that I am familiar with and can spend some time away from town and still be welcome when I come back. I guess I was not considered that much of a regular when I took off from town for 6 months. When I came back I went to the Del to meet some friends but was told I had to leave because there was no where for me to sit and they did not want me standing next to the bar. Bad Buisness practice, so I was not totally suprised when I heard they were closing down. Having a co-op bar with no management is all great and wonderfull but somewhere along the line you should probably pay attention to where your money is going and especially where your client base went.

  15. November 11, 2009 at 8:04 am | permalink

    What wonderful memories, Alan. I always felt that the Del spent 30+ years of existence wrestling with its internal dialectic — an impossible effort to synthesize the antithetical self-indulgent and communitarian impulses of the era from which it sprung. Your article captures that perfectly. Thanks!

  16. November 11, 2009 at 12:29 pm | permalink

    I lived at the Del from the early 70′s till near the end. Like in nature, there is no vacuum, but I was allowed to make my own space. Thank you for some of my best years.

  17. By D Thom
    November 11, 2009 at 1:30 pm | permalink

    I miss the Del Rio. Hundreds of tapes, and yet the soundtrack from “Blade Runner” playing repeatedly. Things I wish I’d done before they closed: Gone down the secret hatch behind the bar; waltzed in and hung my coat in the staff “closet”; thrown an olive and knocked down that big plastic cowboy; ordered a beer with a shot of Mrs. Butterworth as a chaser.
    Surly, yes, but that was often well directed. In the height of the flavored martini frenzy, a martini at DelRio was served in a sherry glass with 3 salad olives on a wood toothpick. Soon after G.Peak opened, a couple came to the Del to kill time while waiting for a table at GP. The woman requested a strawberry daquiri. Bartender: “Well, it’s just from a mix” Gal: “Can I have it blended?” Bartender: “We don’t have a blender.” Gal ordered a lite beer instead. After they left, I challenged the bartender. “I thought you had a blender.” She dryly replied, “Well, I wasn’t going to get it dirty for them.

  18. By Dave
    November 11, 2009 at 7:49 pm | permalink

    And with that last anecdote, D THOM, you have summed up how the Del Rio was driven into the ground by a misguided and elitist staff. Sad, really, because it was a great place until those last few years.

  19. November 11, 2009 at 8:34 pm | permalink

    I’d spend my 20 minute break, while working at the Blind Pig, running over to the Del Rio and Mr. Flood’s just to see if I was missing anything. My 22 year old son has childhood memories of going with me to the Del Rio on Sundays for Jazz and is sad that as an adult he can’t partake. I’m sad for him. Glad I was young in Ann Arbor during those days. Hope that Tom Isaia and Jerry DelGiudice, who started the Blind Pig, get a mention in the book.

  20. By Rob
    November 11, 2009 at 10:08 pm | permalink

    Never connected with the Del, but Flood’s, now that was the party.Friday happy hour, oh yeah!!

  21. By D Thom
    November 11, 2009 at 10:40 pm | permalink

    Dave, some staff may have been misguided. I thought of the martinis as pleasantly anachronistic. The bartender was really not elitist in this situation. If anybody, it was the college couple looking down their nose at the Del scene. But I get your point. Snubs and judging happened in both directions in that encounter (and in many others in this oddly judgemental-tolerant town…) It’s real that many felt excluded. We had fun and alot of tempeh. I’m going to go put my romantic blinders back on now!

  22. By Ted Stanulis
    November 12, 2009 at 1:12 am | permalink

    I’m not old enough to have gone there before the 90s but I loved the Del! Was my favorite place back then. Sure I had *heard* of some people getting rubbed the wrong way by the staff but I never had a problem. Never saw any of those kinds of issues. Wish I had tried the Detburger. (I really their pizza and nachos……)

    And has anyone mentioned the over-the-top insanely creative and hilarious bathroom graffiti? I have not seen its like since, nor do I expect to.

  23. By David Orlowski
    November 12, 2009 at 10:01 am | permalink

    Worked there from ’91-’94, until I moved to New York City–and I started missing it the day I left. I was far too young for the ’70s heyday, but it was still amazing in the early 90s, and truly unique. Our customer-removal technique was consistently effective, even with truly crazy people. I remember a couple times we used police help to escort a genuine psycho out the door, but removal never led to a fight when I was working or hanging out. And it’s another testament to the place that there were always regular customers (“Friends of the Bar”) to stand with the staff giving those disapproving looks when it was time for someone to be told to leave.

    It was too bad it was so narrow that we had to forbid customers from standing at the bar, but when they did, they always found their way into the aisle, and then the waitstaff just couldn’t get the food to the tables quickly enough–so you see, even when things seemed arbitrary and mean, there was (usually) a good reason behind it. (There were as many who thought of it as a funky restaurant that had a bar as there were people who thought of it as a cool bar that also had food and table service.) Much of my favorite music, I first heard at 122 W. Washington. I met some of the coolest people I have ever known, heard wonderful writing and music from that tiny, rickety little stage, had countless great conversations, learned to say “I’ll take the blame!” when “disasters” happen at work, and I will remember that joint (well, at least some of those joints, there really were so many) until the dementia gets me.

  24. By Nancy W
    November 12, 2009 at 12:54 pm | permalink

    Having worked as a cook at the Del from early 94 to the bitter end I still miss it. Never even tasted a det burger as a vegetarian, many people would order a tempeh burger det style. All the food was cheap, good and fairly healthy. Beans cooked from scratch and vegan, homemade vegetarian soups, I personally loved the tempeh burgers and stir fry with tofu or tempeh. One thing never mentioned is one of the things that really hurt business is when the decision was made to close for lunch and not open the bar until 5pm. The afternoons in the Del, with the sun coming though the leaded glass windows on the west wall and mellow music playing, jazz on the days Rick bartended and a few regulars hanging out.

  25. By Betsy K
    November 12, 2009 at 3:42 pm | permalink

    What a fascinating article! I know of Ernie Harburg as the son of the songwriter Yip Harburg (Wizard of Oz, Finian’s Rainbow)but did not know about the Del since I moved to this area only five years ago. I just read another interesting article published recently in The Faster Times by an Ann Arbor-based writer, Davi Napolean, who interviewed Harburg mainly about the new Broadway production of Finian’s Rainbow. [Link]

  26. By Connie
    November 12, 2009 at 4:32 pm | permalink

    I don’t believe we will ever experience anything like the 70′s bar atmosphere of the Del Rio, Flood’s Party or The Blind Pig again. Those of us who were lucky enough to work in these bars had a common bond and sense of community that I have never experienced again. I worked at the Pig during the day, my husband, (X) John Nicholas, played in the band almost every night and we lived on top of the Pig. The Del was a place “to get away” and eat great food; our friends waited on us and the friendly connections we made back then were so precious. If there is a bar in A2 now that could come close, let me know, I’ve been searching for 30 years. Those sweet memories run deep.

  27. By Susan Cybulski
    November 12, 2009 at 5:10 pm | permalink

    Thank you, Alan — great article. I am grateful I got to hang out at the Del for many years. Thanks to my wonderful friend Audrey Simon for taking me there!

  28. By Peter Zobian
    November 12, 2009 at 6:01 pm | permalink

    Great article. I was a happy customer at the Del Rio from 1970 until I moved to California in 1978. Loved the brick wall and tin ceiling – but truly remember the pizza. The Del’s sauce was the best in town! One night I was sitting at the bar when the stranger next to me nudged me, offering a joint that was travelling up and down the bar. Only in the Del Rio! Mr. Flood’s couldn’t hold a candle.

  29. By yet another
    November 12, 2009 at 6:55 pm | permalink

    …the service was slow and surly. I stopped going, and I know quite a few people who stopped going for the same reason.

    …an impossible effort to synthesize the antithetical self-indulgent and communitarian impulses of the era from which it sprung

    Re: a few earlier comments on customer service at the Del…

    Regardless of whether on-site management is ‘traditional’ or handled through worker consensus, a decline will set in when the owners or primary decision-making group start to become unresponsive or unconcerned with the ill effects of inconsistent service. This can lead to a self-perpetuating downward spiral for any business. As time goes on, these people often proceed to hire others similar to themselves, which results in a further deterioration of service orientation toward customers or clients. Eventually, as I’ve witnessed in the past, the minority of staff who plea for a focus on improved customer interaction may find their proposals dismissed or even ridiculed by management.

    Given the typically self-centered nature of our culture, those who conduct staff hirings at places like the (former) Del need to diligently seek a high aptitude for service and social skills from among the pool of job applicants. You have to consciously hire for these qualities, and also be willing to turn away friends of current staff. There are plenty of hard workers out there who have only a limited understanding of customer service, some of whom will go as far as to argue that it gets in the way of doing their jobs efficiently.

    Some worker-run operations have been smart enough to set up a board of community members (which also includes employees) who act as overseers or as a source of feedback. Such a board may remain fairly passive much of the time but swings into action when the public begins to sense a breakdown in service quality and operations. It acts as a reality check — and a brake — when internal staff dynamics lean too far toward dysfunction. …As to how such a board might have fit in with the Del’s operation, given its unusual distinction of being privately-owned while worker-managed, I don’t know.

    In my limited experience, I was never treated in a surly manner by the Del’s wait staff. On occasion, they came across as indifferent or aloof; and then, when a regular customer walked in, the personalities of the staff would suddenly brim with life. This two-tiered service behavior, while less than welcoming for newbies, was hardly unique to the Del. Still, my experience aside, the slowly growing perception of service decline did do hurt through word of mouth. By the late 90s its internal work culture needed reinvigoration.

    Although customer service during the initial years might have been better overall, there’s an old anecdote (or urban legend?) said to date from the very early 70s: a guy in a business suit showed up at the Del after work, only to be all but pushed back out the door due to, in essence, his failure to outwardly comply with the bar’s culture and informal dress code. Borrowing from that era’s lingo, in order to patronize this establishment, you’d best not look like part of the establishment.

  30. By Linda Diane Feldt
    November 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm | permalink

    Of course the customers were a bit sketchy at times too. I recall a date that took place December of 1977. My date was short of funds, I had only enough to cover my part and tip. So he left a poem as a tip. Although it was a pretty good poem, I don’t think that kind of treatment contributes to happy wait staff. I still feel embarrassed. I used to buy the burrito sauce and take it home. It was fabulous, I’ve never found better. I had to stop going back due to the smoke. That little non smoking section by the front door really didn’t work. Thanks for the article.

  31. By Jay Barth
    November 13, 2009 at 6:12 pm | permalink

    What I wouldn’t give for a Detburger on an onion roll and an Antipasto salad….pure gourmet!!!!

  32. By Dan Madaj
    November 14, 2009 at 3:56 pm | permalink

    Do I remember reading that the Grizzy Peak folks have retained the sign and some of the particulars from the Del Rio, and there is some small hope that it might someday revive? I like to fantasize that if WALLY comes through, or the Greenway “sunlights” Allen’s Creek, that the Del might be one the enterprises to spring up alongside. We might need the locomotive version of a Duck Boat, to splash in and out of the creek on its way north or south. And, the bar might need to be renamed the Del Creeko.

  33. By Joe
    November 18, 2009 at 10:31 am | permalink

    The Del. OK food. Music too loud. Snobbish staff. It was an anachronism. The staff decided how and when to wait on you based on how you looked. Ann Arbor is better off without that.

  34. November 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm | permalink

    I had a lot of fun there with friends in the late 80s. What I remember is that the food & service were completely irrelevant to me — all I cared about was that I was sitting at comfortable chairs in a pleasant space and having a good time talking with friends.