Houghton, Michigan in the Keweenaw Peninsula is easily one of the truly historical cities in Michigan if not the midwest. Just driving down the streets takes one back 130 years. If it wasn’t for the cars, there wouldn’t be much difference. Many of the buildings are over a century old and still stand, used for businesses to this day.
Inside, many of the old buildings, the interiors have been modernized, but one is a marvelous step back into time. The Ambassador Restaurant is worth going to, simply to see the inside. It is colorful and antique while providing wonderful views. It is a place where the old town still lingers.
Built in 1898, the brick building is one block east of the Houghton Lift Bridge. From the outside, it almost seems like just any other place, but when you open the door, you step into a showcase of stained glass, murals, and woodwork. The back wall is lined with windows that provide expansive views of the Portage Canal, the Houghton Lift Bridge, and the city of Hancock, topped by the Quincy Mine hoist protruding into the skyline.
Though stained glass decorates the Ambassador throughout, it is the murals that adorn the walls and ceiling that capture the attention. The murals were originally painted as large oils on canvas and were commissioned by Joseph Bosch owner of the Bosch Breweries which were located in Houghton and Lake Linden. They were painted by a Mr. Rohrbeck and hung in the Bosch Brewery for several years. Eventually they came down and were hung in a bar that was east of the Ambassador called the Giltedge Bar. Prohibition struck and the murals were taken down and stored away. The Ambassador was a known speakeasy during Prohibition called Hole in the Wall.
When prohibition was repealed, saloons reopened or at least brought cocktails out of the closet, and began remodeling and redecorating the bars around town where the murals were rediscovered. Their next home was the Ambassador where they are now. The date of this is unsure, but it is believed it was in the 40s during a remodel.
If looked at in the proper order, they tell a story. The first depicts gnomes brewing beer. They are stirring it up in a large cauldron like a witches brew. The second mural has the gnomes drinking the beer and partying hardy. The third shows them the morning after, hungover and spent, wiped out by their night drinking. A guard is outside so their drunk has ended with the lot of them locked up. This last mural has three separate panels and covers most of the west wall in the dining room. The artwork is superb and it is done with an obvious sense of humor.
The Ambassador is a restaurant that has also won some accolades. Back in the 60’s they developed their own pizza recipe and has since won a place in Pizza Magazine’s Pizza Hall of Fame. Personally, I never knew there was such a thing. But hey, who am I to argue, the food is excellent and not overpriced.
Never been here? That needs to be fixed. Any trip to the Houghton area and Copper Country, should include a stop here. It is a taste of “old” U.P. that is so much more than just a meal. I stop here and have a beer just to look at the place. It never gets old.
There’s even a poem about the Ambassador:
COME FILL A BUMPER
With brushes in hand and gnomes in his head, he created the masterpiece on the wall above.
First home for the paintings was the old Giltedge Bar, east of here, but not too far.
Streets were of dirt, sidewalks of wood, hitching posts for horses, business was good.
Beer for a nickel, whiskey for a dime, sandwiches a quarter any old time.
Prohibition was next, and became the law, the Ambassador, a speakeasy, called “Hole in the Wall”
Paintings were rolled and stored away, for twelve long years in the dust they lay.
At last came nineteen thirty-three, the law was repealed and Bacchus was free.
Saloons and taverns opened their doors, folks danced, sang, and drank spirits once more.
The old bar was hauled out of its storage place, and the paintings were hung on the walls they now grace.
The artist, long gone, would be proud if he knew, that folks still enjoy them as much as they do.
Poem above taken from the Ambassador’s website. For more information about the Ambassador Restaurant, go to their website at https://theambassadorhoughton.com/