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By Rory L. Aronsky | November 24, 2003

At its core, “Irene’s Last Call” is all about the passage of time. It’s about how we grow older from it, how so much of the outside world is turned from what we used to know into what we are now forced to know. Think of it as snail mail vs. e-mail. The times, they definitely change as much as possible.
In “Irene’s Last Call”, we are introduced to Irene Kress, whose “Kress Lounge” was the place to be for so many people. That’s because throughout its over 60 years of service, it never changed one bit. Not for anything and not for anyone. It all started in November of 1937 for Irene, as she relates a story about her difficulty in getting a liquor license, but soon accomplishing that task, becoming the first woman in Detroit to do so. Laced into that story, is how her family has been at the same corner in Detroit for so long, first starting out in the bakery business.
However, Irene is not the only one to tell the stories about her bar and why it is what it is and what it’s like to be there. The bulk of that task is left up to patrons both young and old who describe Irene’s style in running the place. “You swear, you’re out the door,” one patron describes. Another, Christine, talks of how she calls many of the patrons “kiddies”. A lot of these patrons sure do remember a lot and a great source here is Settie, who was also a patron of the Kress Lounge in Irene’s younger days.
There are also stories from the barmaids and Ed, an interim manager whose attempted renovation of the place did not go over well and everything went back to normal. Irene sees her bar as a place where people can come here, knowing what it’s all about, and be comfortable with the fact that nothing will ever change about it. Paintings of nude women adorn the walls, along with a jukebox that doesn’t conform to modern standards, but pumps out the sounds of such singers as Bing Crosby and Dean Martin.
Time does hang heavy over the place, though. Many of Irene’s patrons are well into their senior years, a testament to the Kress Lounge’s following. During the course of this documentary, director Renie Oxley wisely intersperses footage of the busy bar, along with the outside, where businesses look run down, along with much of the neighborhood. But inside the Kress Lounge, that sense of style and comfort is still there. It lingers in everything from the mahogany counters to the bottles in the back of the bar. And of course a bar like this wouldn’t be complete without its fair share of celebrity visitations. The list included Veronica Lake, Soupy Sales, Milton Berle, and even Roy Roger’s horse, Trigger, who “cracked all the beams in the place and kept the carpenters busy,” as Irene describes.
Nowadays, a bar is a place to drown sorrows and problems, if only to face the problem of a hangover the next day. It’s still a social gathering as well, but a place like the Kress Lounge seems very rare and it’s wonderful that Oxley has taken it upon herself to capture what’s found here. For one bar to begin serving people in November of 1937 and continue on for 65 years is truly a remarkable task. If you ever get a chance, take in “Irene’s Last Call” and be prepared to experience a place that’s not your regular watering hole.

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  1. Henry masakowski III says:

    Irene was my great aunt, I remember going there as a kid. I want to get this movie out to the public, I have a copy and want to make it public.

  2. Cathy says:

    My mother worked there for over 10 years, was Irene’s best barmaid,she looked like those velvet paintings hanging in back of the mom has many stories about that place an owner!

  3. John Gattorn says:

    I am reading on your website about the Movie “Irene’s Last Call”. Sounds awesome. Where can I purchase the movie? Thank you.

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