By Emell Derra Adolphus
Competitive sports fans tend to rally around an underdog, and in the equally competitive world of restaurant business, so do foodies. At downtown’s Briggs Detroit, fine fare and athletic fanaticism make a seamless team, as the eatery slowly redefines the notion of “sports bar” with a charm tailored to its target audience — LGBT people who like sports.
“We don’t have a sports bar (in the city) dedicated to the LGBT community. So filling that niche is a very important role for us,” says Briggs co-founder Rocco Tossone, who opened the bar with his business partner, Tim Moored, last fall. “We have a very diverse staff. (And) everybody wants to have a great time.”
Although pairing gays with goalposts may not be in the traditional restaurant playbook, Tossone likes to throw the playbook out the window. And so far, he’s winning.
“There are a lot of gay men, lesbians and transgender people who love sports,” says Tossone. But finding a place where LGBT people can feel comfortable partaking in the fanfare of sports can be an issue, he explains. “Unfortunately, when they go to a sports bar, sometimes they feel uncomfortable celebrating with someone they love, holding hands and giving someone a kiss when their team scores.”
When it comes to restaurants, helping people feel a part of a community can be just as important as the cuisine, says Tossone, who formerly owned a deli-style restaurant, “The Fern,” in downtown Ferndale.
“No matter what we do, it’s important for us to be a part of a neighborhood and it’s important for us to be a part of the gay community,” he says. “We open our doors to everyone. And that’s a big part of our mission statement here.”
Another part of Briggs’ mission is to change the conceptions of “bar food.” On the menu at Briggs, you’ll find Piedmontese beef, house-braised corned beef and tarragon chicken salad sandwiches with other bar staples such as wingdings and onion dip.
“That’s how we are approaching gastro pub here,” says Tossone. “We are making everything from scratch, and we are making everything really good, and making sure everything is delicious.” This includes the drink menu — a simple, yet satiating list of two rotating alcohol infusions and about 20 craft beers — and the entertainment menu.
There’s is karaoke on Tuesdays, trivia night on Wednesdays, and on Briggs’ busiest nights, all the seats are filled and the TVs are flickering with sports casts, from Ultimate Fighting Championship fights — “There’s nothing hotter,” Tossone says — to “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” But the bar really hits it out of the park with a backroom dance floor, the “Trophy Room,” where special guest DJs help kickoff the weekend.
“It’s a great location. It’s a statement bar. It’s the perfect fit for us,” he says, though it took around two years to find the right fit.
Before settling into its current space off Jefferson Avenue across from the Renaissance Center downtown, Tossone considered locations in New Center and Corktown, to pay homage to where the old Briggs Stadium once stood. Wherever the place, it had to be in Detroit he says.
“We decided we wanted to be a part of Detroit and this excitement that’s happening down here,” says Tossone, explaining that he hopes the bar will be one of many symbols that the LGBT community is alive and well in Detroit. “To us, that represents ‘new Detroit,’ this diverse population of old, young, black, white, gay, straight. Just everybody coming together and having a good time. And that’s what’s important to us.”
519 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit, MI 48226