Few institutions in Detroit are able to boast the history that Baker’s Keyboard Lounge can. I’m particularly partial to the place, despite having been there only once, years ago. The ambiance was exemplary, the music was great, and they served me when I was still only twenty. Which, when you’re underage, is pretty outstanding.
Baker’s has been in operation since 1934. Since then,the club has played host to Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Waller, Nat King Cole and Cab Calloway, among others. Even the just aforementioned names alone should be enough to warrant landmark status.
Like many institutions in Michigan, Baker’s is in trouble. Years of economic decline in Detroit have pushed the club’s finances into the red for a few years, and the current owner, John Colbert, has been forced to declare bankruptcy. As a result a court-supervised auction is scheduled for this coming Monday. There’s a good chance that whoever ends up buying it would continue it as a jazz club. There’s been a lot of interest in the property, according to the realtor. I can’t imagine what else potential investors would want to do with what is arguably one of the most important musical institutions in Detroit. And in a town like Detroit, having the storied musical legacy that it has, is saying a lot.
So, Baker’s, thanks for the good times. I have a feeling that everything will work out for the best, and that we’ve not see the last of this vaunted institution. It may not be the exact same, but, then again, the best things in life never do stay exactly the same. Baker’s might serve as a metaphor for Detroit and Michigan. We’ve got a way to go, but the worst of the bad time are behind us, and we look forward to better things to come, much like Baker’s. It’s uncertain, but there’s a future there.