The Orange Lantern

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2009,
Winter 2009
Original Images:

Author: James Mann

For many years, from the end of Prohibition until the year 2000, the Orange Lantern was a popular Ypsilanti landmark, even if it was just across the county line in Van Buren Township. Named for some light fixtures inside, the Orange Lantern drew its clientele from the factories, foundries and tool-and-die shops in the Ypsilanti area. At times the place was so crowded each patron who was coming in had to wait for someone to leave. This was a neighborhood bar, the kind of place where a guy stopped by for a beer while on the way home from the factory job. That may be why it was so popular for so long.

The Orange Lantern opened in 1933, just after the repeal of Prohibition. It was one of the first bars to be granted a liquor license. Then, the land around the Orange Lantern was soybean fields and maple sugar woods. Back then, the Orange Lantern was the last stop for liquor by the glass until Indiana.

During World War II liquor rationing for bars was set by the amount sold before the war, and, it is said, the Orange Lantern had the largest liquor ration in the state. Workers from the Willow Run Bomber plant, where the B-24 Liberator was built, enjoyed the friendly atmosphere of the place. The war years were the heydays of the place, when workers from the plant found it a convenient place to unwind. The regular clientele, it is said, included the woman who was the model for Rosie the Riveter.

The bar was run for years by Bill Eberts, and then for years after by his son, Dick Eberts and Bud Fahndrich, a nephew. Dick Eberts worked at the bar from the age of 18, with four years out for service in the army during the World War II. “It’s my life,” he told the Ann Arbor News for a story published on September 1, 1996. “It’s meeting new people and experiencing different things.”

Over time the number of customers declined, and no one had to wait for someone to leave before they could enter. Still, the regulars came and new ones stopped in. It was a place where everyone knew most everyone else. Dick Eberts died at the age of 83 on October 15, 1999. Fahndrich vowed to keep the Orange Lantern open, and did so for the rest of his life. He died in December of the same year. The doors of the Orange Lantern were closed and the lights turned out for the last time on February 4, 2000. The place is gone, and the memories are fading.

(James Mann is a local historian and author, a volunteer in the YHS Archives and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: The Orange Lantern neighborhood bar that opened in 1933 and closed in 2000 (Photo by Jim Rees).