Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Inspiration: Upper Peninsula Bars

Inspiration For The Mermaid Bar : Chute's Bar in Calumet, Michigan

I thought it would be fun to write several posts about how profoundly the Upper Peninsula, its beauty, establishments, and people inspired the novel Running Away To UP.

Whereas there are numerous fictional places I created for the novel and dropped into real settings, there are also real settings I used and those that inspired fictional ones.


There are always dark, mysterious, and seedy bars populated with colorful and sometimes mystical characters in any good sea yarn and so it is also true of Running Away To UP.

Oh, the fun I had, sliding into bars all over the UP for the purposes of my research.
(Truth note: I rarely go into bars alone or without my husband. But this was a research trip and I couldn't just wait for my husband, who was only able to join me on the other side of the Upper Peninsula for the last few days of my trip, before I ventured into a few of these mysterious places.) Some were on my map. Others were ones I discovered along the way. There were also more than I can name that I had to drive by quite a few times, their parking lots filled with Harleys, before I was able to muster up the courage to actually stop and go inside, check them out, and talk to the patrons and bartenders inside.

There should be a book about the bars and the history of bars in the Upper Peninsula. (My husband, a micro-brewery aficionado, is enthusiastic about taking on that project himself.) There is a ton of history––and color!––to be found in these establishments along with that which can fuel the imagination of a novelist.

One such inspiring watering hole along my way, was the historical landmark and local wonder known as Shute's 1890 Bar, in downtown Calumet on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Shute's, (a Croatian name, pronounced: shoot-eze), is a turn of the century, boom-town saloon that boasts an original Brunswick stained glass canopy hood (think Tiffany) over its bar that is worth a draft or two just to take in. The bar is a favorite gathering place in Calumet and host to bands, comedy nights (where the locals tell jokes they heard––what a blast!––like sitting around the kitchen table), and Karaoke. Everyone knows everyone. Locals are proud of this place and will greet you at the front door. It's a woolly backwoods and gentle crowd that meets there. And, yes, there are a few old salts at the bar who never lift their eyes, but you know they are listening and hear everything.

I spent a lot of nights there during my week at Calumet and it was the inspiration for The Mermaid Bar (that boasts its own Mermaid Tiffany Hood) in Running Away To UP.

Here are a couple of more pictures I found on the internet (*at urbanspoon michigan / urbanspoon.com) of the bar:

And, well, suffice to say, Shute's got me started on a fine adventure all in itself.

BTW, Calumet locals, if anyone UP there at Shute's would like one of my mermaid prints for the bar wall, send me a holler. It would be the least I could do to say Thank You for all the hospitality!!

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