History of the Unicorn Tavern
What follows is what I have put together on the history of the Unicorn Tavern in Lansing, Michigan. It is located at 327 E. Grand River Ave. in the part of the city now known as Old Town. In the past called North Lansing or simply the North Side.
This research gave me a chance to use the free City Directory’s at HeritageQuest.com that I learned about recently. Most of the information was gleaned from these.
Basically it has had three names in it’s existence.
The first name was the Alt Heidelberg, which first appears in the 1934 city directory. Which is not surprising since prohibition ended on December 5, 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the constitution. The proprietor was listed as Fred Kloppert. According to the 1930 census he was a tailor at the time and immigrated from Prussia-Germany in 1923. Doing a google search Alt Heidelberg was apparently a popular brew before 1920, out of Tacoma, Washington. Also the name of a popular 1901 play in Germany, which several movies were made from there and here in America. Alt Heidelberg means Old Heidelberg in English. Kloppert continues to be named as the owner up to the 1941 city directory.
There were no city directory’s made from 1942 to 1944 because of World War 2 paper shortages. So not sure exactly when it was sold to James I. Lapish, who appears as owning it in directory’s from 1945 to 1948. Then in 1949 ownership passes to Robert O’Neill and Joseph O’Neill. From 1930 and 1940 census’s it appears they were father and son.
The second name of the beer garden was the Shamrock Bar. Probably because of their Irish last names the O’Neill’s decided to change the name. Which starts appearing in the 1953 city directory. The owners seem to change soon after. In 1954 under the name of J. Munroe Gardner. Then in 1959 with Ronald J. Huff and Lester Huff. In 1967 just under Ronald Huff. By 1976 it was owned by Arthur H. Klepper, who also ran Art’s Refinery Station. He had it until it was bought by the current owner, Tom Malvetis in November 1978. (1) Mr. Malvetis was born on Halloween in 1922. North Lansing had become a rough place to be. So much, because of a murder that happened there in 1982, he decided to change the name of the place. (2) My personal memories of growing up in the 1980’s were being told to never go to the north side it was a scary place to be.
The third and current name is the Unicorn Tavern. This name starts appearing in city directory’s in 1986. Glad it is a better place to be now. I have been there twice in the last couple of years. Also seen from a few Facebook friends that they have bands there virtually every weekend.
(1) Lansing City Council minutes from October 29, 2007 found online.
(2) Changing Gears online article, September 28, 2010.
Also city directory’s at heritagequest.com and the downtown CADL Lansing library.
And census info from familysearch.org
Written by Timothy Bowman – January 18, 2016.