As Anchor Bar changes owners, Derderian thinks of kids

Detroit — Vaughn Derderian will hand over the keys to the Anchor Bar on Tuesday morning, and all he wants now is the peace and tranquility of his 25 woodsy acres near Gladwin — except for Saturday, which he’ll spend at a union hall with 500 raucous, giddy kids.

The closing of the deal marks the end of an era for an iconic downtown bar, and not just “iconic” in the sense that media people drink there.

As for the throng of underprivileged children, they mark one of the highlights of the Christmas season for Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Corktown — and as Derderian says so long to the saloon business, one of his few concerns is the 57-year-old party.

“Like my father before me,” said Derderian, he’s been the chief shakedown artist raising money for the celebration. He’s also the guy who sends a load of cheeseburgers to IBEW Local 58 Friday to feed the volunteers handling the setup.

The Elia Group, the new proprietor of the Anchor, owns Parc and Fountain Detroit in Campus Martius along with 220 Merrill in Birmingham.

“I want them to inherit Trinity. I want that in the closing,” said Derderian, 71, sitting in his cramped office and waiting for the city water department to give him a final bill as he approached 40 minutes on hold.

Co-owner Vaughn Jr., 42, standing in the doorway, shook his head: “I don’t think you can put that in writing.”

Chances are it wouldn’t be necessary. Via email, Zaid Elia said he was honored to be a part of the tradition, and “we consider it our civic duty to the neighborhood and the underprivileged kids in the area.”

The Derderian family has owned the Anchor since Leo, the patriarch, bought a joint called Erwin’s Anchor Bar on Howard Street in 1959. Three moves later, it’s a habitual winner of best dive bar and best hockey bar awards, even if the hockey business melted away with the opening of Little Caesars Arena.

Derderian Sr., one leg resting on a battered wooden desk, was pondering what to take and what to leave behind. The two Bibles on a shelf full of old paperwork — leftovers from when you couldn’t use your phone to settle a bar bet — would go in a box. Likewise a few framed photos and posters.

A photo of Olympia Stadium autographed by Gordie Howe will stay. Elia wanted it, Derderian said, “and the guy’s paying me a lot of money.”

Exactly how much is a secret. Derderian and his late father paid $190,000 in 1993 for the former flower shop at 450 W. Fort. He turned down an offer approaching seven figures last year.


As for the party, said Monsignor Charles Kosanke of Most Holy Trinity, it’s a $50,000 enterprise, purely for the presents. Everything else is donated.

Gloves, clothes, a few toys — often, Kosanke said, “of the 500 children that come, many of them would not experience a Christmas otherwise.”

The Anchor has been a major conduit for cash and checks over the years. Given the potential disarray of the changeover, it’s best this year to send donations to the church at 1050 Porter St., Detroit 48226, or go online to

“I’m not authorized to use heaven as a threat,” said Derderian, “but if there is a heaven, donating or volunteering is going to get you closer.”

Meantime, his personal paradise awaits up north — dirt roads, trees, and nobody talking except maybe Sybil, his wife of 44 years.

“A big part of this job is schmoozing with people,” he said, and “as much as I’ve enjoyed it, I’m done with it.”

The kids at the party are the exception. Besides, he said, they don’t talk all that much. Mostly, they laugh.