It’s out with the old, in with the older, on the northwest corner of Main and Liberty. Lena and its underground bar Habana, popular for its Thursday salsa-dance nights, closed on January 17 to begin renovations in order to bring back the Pretzel Bell. A group of U-M alums missed the Bell so much, they wanted to re-create it, says Jon Carlson of Lena owner 2Mission Design and Development.
The first step was to paint the outside bricks. Lena’s lime-green bricks alluded to the 1940s Cunningham drugstore that once stood on the spot. Over the holidays, the bricks got a coat of blue paint (not strictly M-blue but an easier-to-look-at slate blue), which will be the backdrop for maize Pretzel Bell signage, according to an artist’s drawing Carlson sent along. The original Bell opened in 1934 in the building that’s now Mezzevino (where its original sign is hung behind the wait station).
The Pretzel Bell was owned for more than forty years by the Castor family. After the announcement, the late Clint Castor Jr.’s children–Todd Castor, Shelley Castor, and Megan Uphoff–“were flooded with emails, texts and phone calls from family and friends asking if we knew about this,” they wrote in an open letter. “Our collective answer was NO. We had no idea that somebody would take our family business and call it their own.”
Because the trademarks had expired, they wrote, it seems that the new venture can legally be called the Pretzel Bell–but, they stress, “this new restaurant has no ties to the former restaurant and our family.”
Carlson says Lena and Habana are not gone for good, but it may take some time to find them new homes–he’ll need to find an existing restaurant space, “not convert any more retail space to restaurant.” As for where salsa dancers will go: “I don’t know! Hopefully whoever’s doing it in the area is going to have a lot more business.”