Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

March 16, 2014

The garage where everybody knows your name

GRAWN — The walls inside Dean VanSteenburg’s pole barn read like a family photo album — like a book documenting the life and times of the dozens of people who arrived as strangers and left as friends.

In the place of greasy rags and tool racks hang mementos reminding regulars and newcomers alike of the a decade of events, big and small.

“I’m always looking for signs,” he said. “My wife wishes I would pay as much attention to the house as I do to the pole barn.”

VanSteenburg still moves the tables to the sides of the room from time to time when he needs to turn a wrench on a vehicle, but the shop’s original purpose takes a definitive back seat to its new use.

There’s the framed T-shirt from Tanz Haus Rock and Roll Club — it is where VanSteenburg met his wife, Karen, 32 years ago. There are hundreds of signatures of the people who’ve enjoyed a drink or two while bellied up to the bar that acts as the centerpiece at the head of the 20-by-30-foot room. And there is a vintage snowmobile, a memorial to Steve Wagner, a regular who died last winter after falling through the ice on a nearby lake.

“It’s a big family here,” VanSteenburg said. “It just kind of happened.”

About 10 friends laid elbows on the edge of his bar during a recent Friday night, letting off steam, “kicking up their heels and telling lies.” A wood stove along the west wall of the room crackled with a belly full of scrap pallet wood. It pumped warmth toward the bar and pushed back the sub-zero air that leaked in around the rolling front door.

Bursts of warm laughter escaped the door with each newcomer.

“You know you made it when you walk in through the door and they yell your name,” said Jill “Rose” Johnson. “Nobody here is a stranger.”

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