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Woodbridge Pub

5169 Trumbull
Detroit, Michigan 48209

Jim Geary

By Tunde Wey
May 22, 2013

Jim Geary is a plain-spoken fellow, solid-looking and bearded more often than not. He looks like one would expect from someone who grew up on a farm and later worked in building construction. Geary is owner of the Woodbridge Pub, which sits on the corner of Trumbull and Merrick in Woodbridge.
Geary moved to Woodbridge in 2000 from Ann Arbor and opened up the pub in 2008. His move to Detroit was deliberate and in keeping with his direct personality. He says, "I like Detroit; it’s more realistic than a lot of places. I enjoy the struggle. I feel Detroit has a little more balance than a lot of cities; we have potential, history, struggle, success and failure. It's all there around you. Some cities all you see is success or a polished image. It's a reminder that we have what we have while we are here; there is no permanence to success, and you can’t just coast."
For Geary, starting and running the pub exemplifies this stark quality of Detroit. A building restorer by profession, Geary spent two years transforming the vacant building from a drab, derelict, shuttered structure to its current incarnation as popular neighborhood watering hole. The bar is constructed from salvaged oak dating back to the 1890s, and the bathrooms are made from repurposed oak doors and an old walk-in refrigerator.  
Geary did most of the work himself, using his expertise and penchant for historic accessories. "The building was one notch up from abandoned – it was rough, there were no windows, no roof. Half the windows had to be rebuilt. It was filled with junk, no electrical, no plumbing, (no) heating. I did everything I was allowed to do. I did all the finish work and detail work."
Geary says it took two years to open up the pub after he purchased the building because of the meticulous approach he took, with his focus more on restoration than renovation. "Restoration is a little bit more with a mind towards preservation that renovation. From my perspective restoration is with a mind to keep as much of the original stuff as possible or repair it so it can stay original."
Although Geary didn’t have any restaurant experience when he opened he had a plan to provide local and fresh ingredients for a seasonal menu. Geary, who grew up on a farm in Salem, Michigan, believes that seasonal menus are important.
"When I think of my childhood we would eat corn on the cob and snap peas because that’s when it grew. People have an inherent taste for things that are seasonal; there are certain things you have a natural craving for depending on the season. We try to keep that stuff in mind. We sit down and map the tastes of the season; what does this season make you feel like? We think of food as seasonal, how it appears in color and taste – and tastes that give you the impression of the color.”
The pub was a success upon opening; the neighborhood, which didn’t have any restaurants or other dining options, immediately embraced the pub.
Geary says it took a while to develop their season menu as they built their experience and industry knowledge. Now the Woodbridge Pub serves a seasonal menu, with most ingredients locally-sourced from within five miles of the pub and most items made in house and from scratch.
The building where the pub now sits was vacant for 25 years before Geary purchased it. The neighborhood that surrounds the pub was moribund. Like a spark to dry grass, the Woodbridge Pub set off a series of distinct projects that are enlivening the area. Geary’s Woodbridge Pub supports a variety of local farmers including Brother Nature, using their produce to craft its seasonal meals. The pub also plays host to Pie-Sci, the popular local pizza pop-up, which serves inventive pizzas every Sunday.
In the spring, a bustle of activity starts across the street from the pub: the Woodbridge Community Garden draws neighbors to seed and water the many raised beds. Geary, who had been involved with the garden since it began, just recently purchased it from the city. He has plans to turn it into a permanent community space, replete with gardening, art classes, and concert programming, and continue the summer evening movie nights. Geary also purchased the building adjoining the garden for use as a community space.
In the summer, around Independence Day, Geary throws his annual – and cleverly-named-- Woodbridge Merrick’n Summer Fest, a day-long outdoor free music festival featuring local bands.
For Geary, community building is important. Now, thanks to the Woodbridge Pub and the energy it contributes to the neighborhood, community restoration is also happening.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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