The Roostertail

Historic Roostertail Sponsors The 22

The Schoenith family's Historic Roostertail
The Schoenith family's Historic Roostertail

Webster Racing has announced that the historic Roostertail nightclub will be the title sponsor of the family's race team for the 2013 DYC Detroit APBA Gold Cup. Presenting sponsorship will be provided by Conway MacKenzie, a Detroit based business consulting company with ten offices world wide.

The 22 Conway MacKenzie presents Roostertail 55 will be honoring the historic venue's 55th anniversary. The late Joe Schoenith, patriarch of the family with a rich history and connection to Unlimited Racing in Detroit, built the Roostertail in 1958 next to the Gold Cup pit area.

In a recent article for MLIVE – Detroit writer Michael Wayland wrote:

The Roostertail continues to evolve.

The entertainment complex, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this month, has survived by changing its image. From booking unknown black acts in the '60s to changing themes to meet the times, the Roostertail is a constant part of Detroit's famed musical history.

Arguably everywhere you look in the massive facility that Joseph A. Schoenith and his W.D. Gale Inc. electrical company built in 1958, there is nostalgia — from the original lighting board and lights in the main room to the photos and memorabilia on display.

"It's a place you can go back and have memories," said Tom Schoenith, son of Joseph, who has owned and managed the Roostertail in some capacity since the mid-'60s. "You think of good times … That's the fun thing."

One particular room that probably not many have seen truly stands out though. Under the main stage is a small, yet historic, space that was used as a dressing room for the once-great nightclub.

On the walls are photos of artists who have brought down the house, including Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Tony Bennett, Marvin Gaye, Bob Seger, The Temptations, The Contours, Ray Bolger, Sid Caesar and countless others.

Many of those famous acts were brought in by Tom and his twin brother Jerry, who originally opened a Rock 'n Roll club called the Upper Deck inside of the Roostertail in 1965.

"While nightclub owners looked at their empty tables and blamed it on the drizzly rain elsewhere in the city, young patrons stood in long lines at the Roostertail," reads a 1965 article by the Detroit News' A.L. McClain about the opening of the Upper Deck called, "Night Spot for the Young."

Following the success of the Upper Deck, the two started "Motown Mondays" in 1966. The Four Tops opened the concert series. Opening night was recorded and released as "Live at the Roostertail." Each Monday there after the shows were broadcast live on radio.

Tom and Jerry, named after the Christmas drink, both said at the time, they never realized the significance of the events that were occurring or how they managed to balance everything out.

"I don't know how we did it," Tom said. "We had no idea (what we were making)."

But when the 1967 Detroit riots occurred, things went south for everyone, including the Roostertail. To help it survive, the Schoenith twins — particularly Jerry, as Tom concentrated on Gale Inc. — continued to have elaborate events and update rooms to bring people from the suburbs to come back into the city, according to Jerry.

"We took Detroit during the worst time and made it happen," Jerry said. "We were the last big name … We had stars coming, walking in and out, for all age groups."

During the decade after the riots rooms in the Roostertail continuously changed names in an attempt to keep things "new," according to Jerry. Names included Jerry's Roostertail, the Palm River Club, Mud Hut and Jerry's Marine Bar.

But once the city and the family's Gale business started to decline due to the economy and family turmoil, including a lawsuit filed by Jerry against Tom and older brother Lee; the Roostertail turned to catering in 1979.

And although the Roostertail, 100 Marquette Dr., continues to serve as a banquet facility more than a club or concert venue, it's once again evolving in an effort to survive another 55 years.

Michael Schoenith, son of Tom, is now managing the day-to-day operations. He is growing business, technologically updating the Roostertail, mainstreaming operations and expanding event operations.

"We've been working on everything – from the pieces of paper we use, to the color ink, to the checks, to the lights to the linens … the list goes on and on and on," Michael said. "If you can think it, we're working on it."

Just "working on it" may be an understatement. Since Michael started overseeing operations about a year ago, dozens of enhancements have been made and its Facebook page has grown from less than 1,000 "likes" to more than 42,000.

The business operations have also continued to boom. In the first three months of this year, the Roostertail had already surpassed bookings from two of the past three years.

And while catering is the moneymaker of the business, Michael has brought more open-to-the-public events and concerts back to the Roostertail as well.

"Part of our balancing act is keeping the history alive," he told MLive.

Since spring, the venue has hosted a number of "party" events, including a Mother's Day brunch featuring Detroit's Selected of God Choir; a Ciroc vodka party featuring DJ Clue; "Cheers to Help" fundraising wine tasting presented by the Health Emergency Lifeline Programs; and a Swingin' Night with local Detroit retro artist Slaw to kick off the Roostertail's 55th anniversary.

During the Swingin' Night, a special portrait by Slaw for the Roostertail's 55th anniversary was unveiled.

Upcoming events also include an invitation-only 70th birthday party for his father later this month and an APBA Gold Cup event July 14.

The Schoenith family has a rich heritage of racing, along with entertainment. One of the reasons Joseph built the Roostertail, which is named for the spray a hydroplane makes when racing on the water, was to entertain clients during the races.

"I think that was what so unique about our family," Tom said. "We were on the social page at one point, on the entertainment page and the sports page all the same day.

"That was a unique concept back in the heyday."

Joseph was a boat owner for 26 seasons, winning dozens of trophies. Jerry, who was a driver for a handful of years, also was a world championship owner in 1983. Tom and his wife, Diane, have also served on dozens of charity boards in the city.

The family has continued to support Detroit and racing through the Roostertail. During last year's races, the Roostertail also held a kickoff dinner for 250 volunteers of the APBA Gold Cup.

And while boat racing and Detroit may not be what they once were, the Roostertail continues to evolve with the passing of time for what the Schoenith family hopes to be another half century.

"The Roostertail is going to be very exciting," Michael said. "The opportunities are endless."

Tickets for the APBA Gold Cup event at the Roostertail are on sale at 313-822-1234. They range from $25 tickets to about $200 packages.

July 8th, 2013