With a custodial sentiment for a 163-year-old building in the heart of downtown, the son of the late Peaceable Kingdom owner Carol Lopez is rolling out a new coffee shop/bar steeped in the history of that space and the city.

The Hidden King Cafe & Bar is intended as “the perfect place for locals to bring visitors, somewhere with a sense of history and no TVs,” according to Mark Wilfong, who opened for business on April 1, offering coffee drinks from Super Duper Coffee of Rochester Hills, donuts from nearby Washtenaw Dairy, and pastries from Yoon’s Bakery on Plymouth Rd.

When its liquor license takes effect in early May, local beers, Michigan wines, and a few liquors will be available. In the meantime, business hours are flexible, but he plans to eventually be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. most days.

Mark Wilfong is returning the Main St. building to something like its original use: It opened in 1860 as a German beer hall.

“What’s old is new again,” says Wilfong of returning the building at 210 S. Main to something like its original use. Built in 1860 as a German beer hall first run by George F. Lutz, it later had English proprietors, then served as a bookstore for two decades beginning in 1912. Shoes and leather goods were sold there during the mid-twentieth century.

The three-story brick building retains many of its long-standing features, including oak flooring and an original stamped-steel ceiling that survived the metal recycling boom necessitated by World War II.

The roof eventually fell into disrepair, and the removal of a buckled lath-and-plaster wall in 1983 revealed quite a curiosity: an eight-foot-square mural dating to 1863. It depicts Gambrinus, a legendary European hero associated with beer and brewing, standing regally, with a lion underfoot. In the background is Fourth St. and the then-new Western Brewery near the foot of William. (The core structure is still there; it’s most recently been home to Mathematical Reviews.)

The late local historian Wystan Stevens took a photograph of the mural before it was concealed again behind fresh drywall. Lopez bought the building three years later, moving her eclectic gift and folk art shop to its third Ann Arbor location, where it remained another thirty-one years until closing in 2017.

“I love that everybody who loves the Peaceable Kingdom and shopped here walked past him and never knew he was hidden behind there,” says Wilfong, noting that his mother was aware of the mural and ensured no holes ever went into that drywall.

After business conditions prompted her retirement at age eighty-one, Lopez wanted her building to host another independent retailer, “the way she had had a chance to be as a single mother,” according to Wilfong. He thought they’d found it with music store Underground Sounds, but it stayed less than a year before finding a more suitable space at 120 E. Washington.

Meanwhile, Lopez gave her son the go-ahead to see if the mural was still there. He consulted with Chicago art conservator Elizabeth Kendall, who had earlier restored three of his grandfather’s murals. (Lopez’s parents were both artists and professors.)

Wilfong reports that when he called Kendall with news that the section of drywall he removed had revealed a visible corner of the massive mural, “Boy, did she change her intonation! ‘Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, don’t remove anything else!’” So the revealed portion is on display, while the rest of the hidden king awaits the wherewithal for a professional restoration.

Dozens of enlarged photographs with local historical resonance, many with curated descriptions, hang elsewhere in the café, and another key conversation piece dating to 2005 remains in place: a fairy door created by Jonathan B. Wright, among the first of his Urban Fairies miniature installations around town.

Wright fondly recalls that Lopez was so open to his proposed project that she gave him a key to the store to help the fairies move into the space near the front door. The self-styled fairyologist has continued maintaining their habitat ever since.

“I imagine once Hidden King gets on a roll, they’ll probably be back and do something else,” he hopes. “I love to go to Sweetwaters and sit at the table and work on other projects and just watch people come and see the fairy doors and discover them. Yeah, I’ll probably do the same at Hidden King as well.”

Another local artist, David Zinn, recalls that his first downtown sidewalk chalk drawing was in front of her store. It was almost his last, because the foot traffic obliterated his efforts all too soon, “which was discouraging.” But on an evening walk weeks later, he noticed a photo of that drawing in the storefront window along with a message: “‘Where are you, Chalk Man?’

“It was really only because of the encouragement I got from the Peaceable Kingdom that I continued drawing in that part of town,” Zinn reflects. “Eventually I was selling my greeting cards and postcards in there.”

He had chosen that spot for its “very nice smooth piece of concrete right in front of that entryway, I think because it covered the old coal chute, if I remember correctly. And so it was an appealing and inspirational canvas, but also because if you want to be creative, putting yourself in geographic proximity to the Peaceable Kingdom was a good way to get the right vibe going. Crouching down near a fairy door is definitely going to make you feel like you’re on the right side of the spirits of downtown Ann Arbor.”

Wilfong aims to keep the spirits flowing. Before she passed away last August, his mother encouraged him to “go with Plan B”—converting the historic space into a café and possibly getting a liquor license. His wife’s sister, Emily Frenette, serves as the café manager.

“I’m just a caretaker,” Wilfong stresses. “Too many people have worked too hard and gone the extra mile to not rip this place apart and put up a drop ceiling and a linoleum floor. This place is unique.”

The Hidden King Cafe & Bar, 210 S. Main. Hours to be determined.