Established by Bohemian Immigrant, Vencil Sleder, in 1882

Sleder’s Tavern’s History

Since 1882, people have been coming to Sleder’s Family Tavern to enjoy good food, good drink, and good talk in an intimate and nostalgic family atmosphere. Michigan’s oldest, continuously-operated restaurant, Sleder’s is an important piece of the unique tapestry of Traverse City and a treasured part of the area that locals proudly share with visitors.

It all began in the heart of what was once known as Slabtown, a working class neighborhood on Traverse City’s west side. Vencil Sleder (1850-1904), a Bohemian immigrant and wheelwright, wanted to build a tavern where everyone could relax after a day of hard work. With the help of neighborhood men, Vencil began construction using wooden slabs from nearby sawmills.

“It took three years to build because the crew could only work on Sundays,” said Louie Sleder (1909–1993), the last of three generations of Sleders to own the tavern, “Afterward they would eat, drink, and tell lies.”

Louie’s mother, Polly, helped establish the “good will is good business” attitude that still prevails at Sleder’s today. When patrons bought a case of beer from Polly for $1.50, she threw in a double shot and a beer for free. She even dispensed regular medical advice to clientele, like her guaranteed cure for a neckache – heat salt in a fry pan, mix in some egg white, soak a rag in the mixture, and then wrap it around your neck.

There was little doubt that Louie would end up in the family business, and he learned it from the floor up, literally, by earning 25 cents apiece to clean out the 21 spittoons in the tavern. By the time Prohibition rolled around in Michigan in 1917, his business savvy helped him manage to keep the tavern open for loyal customers (which is why Sleder’s is the state’s longest continuously operated tavern). He kept barrels of special “root beer” (bourbon and rye), which he served in tea cups and for free, of course, to law enforcement officials.

A Traverse City Time Capsule

If Walls Could Talk

Sleder’s decor still contains the original bar along the east wall, an impressive 21 feet of solid mahogany sided with cherry wood and fronted with a brass rail. Under the warm glow of antique lamps are old wooden booths and an array of century-old round oak tables and ice cream parlor chairs. The 12 foot ornate stamped tin ceiling is higher than those of most similar structures today, and remains virtually unchanged except for the conversion of gas lights to Thomas Edison’s new electric ones. And many of the signs and memorabilia, trinkets and unique conversation pieces, and photographs that document the inseparable history of Sleder’s and Traverse City have been here since the 1920’s.

A few structural changes have taken place over the years. Prior to 1930, women weren’t allowed in the main barroom but had their own social area in the back room, which they entered through a special door. There was also a small, private “courting” room, but Louie opened up both rooms in the 1930’s, to the dismay of some of his more outspoken male patrons. And he converted the Columbia Hall Ballroom upstairs into living quarters, though a sign on the outside of the building still proclaims its presence.

Around the time of Sleder’s centennial, Bob and Sylvia Classens, who had bought Sleder’s in 1975, uncovered the hardwood floors, re-finished the wainscoting, and added a Victorian-styled side porch that immediately became a popular venue for private parties, receptions, banquets, and even weddings! When they sold the tavern to Deb and Brian Cairns in May 1992, the Cairns held their own wedding there, and the tradition shows no sign of slowing down.

With a Moose to Kiss for Luck!

A Legacy of Stewardship

“Sleder’s is such a special part of Traverse City that the entire community feels a little ownership in the place,” say Deb and Brian, “If you visit Sleder’s once, you’ll come back again. How many places can you say that about?”

Deb and Brian’s legacy of stewardship now continues with their son and daughter-in-law, Ryan and Megan Cox who took ownership of the business December 31, 2019. Ryan and Megan are committed to maintaining Sleder’s nostalgic charm, family-friendly dining, and iconic, turn-of-the-century barroom featuring the longest mahogany bar in town, down-home food, and numerous hunting trophies decorating the walls.

The most impressive of these is the moose named Randolph, located over the entrance to the back room. Most people who pass through Sleder’s don’t pass up a chance to “Smooch the moose for luck!”


  1. 9 Oldest Bars in Michigan -

    September 6, 2022 at 10:46 pm

    […] tavern has a long history of serving up drinks to the locals and tourists alike. Sleder’s family tavern was founded by Vencel Sleder in 1882. In those days, the tavern offered a variety of food items, including steak, pork chops, […]

  2. Comment by Michael Johnson

    Michael Johnson Author

    October 16, 2021 at 8:35 pm

    My parents took my brother and I camping to Interlochen every year when we were kids during the 70s…because my Grandfather took my father there when HE was a kid. One of our lunch stops every summer was Sleder’s Tavern, for burgers and smelt. My brother and I kissed the Moose many times, and about ten years ago I finally was able to introduce my 4 year old son to the Moose tradition. He’s almost 15 now, and always wants to know if we’ll be hitting Sleder’s when we’re in town. My wife and I will be up there this coming weekend, and we hope to grab a burger and some smelt. One of my favorite places anywhere.

  3. Comment by Sue

    Sue Author

    July 28, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    I have been visiting TC and Sleders since I was 15 (now 65yy) . My family lived on corner of Randolph and Maple. My great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and mother, my great aunts and uncles all went there. We’ve always looked forward to going to Sleders We missed coming up the last 2 yrs but I am so looking forward to this August when we come up again and get to visit one of my most favorite and memorable places in TC. The food is great! Please save us some bean soup.

    • Comment by Randolph @Sleders

      Randolph @Sleders Author

      July 28, 2021 at 7:26 pm

      We look forward to seeing you again, Sue! We’ll have some bean soup for you. 🙂

  4. Comment by Abram

    Abram Author

    April 7, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    So happy to learn that Sleder’s is in good hands with Ryan and Megan taking ownership from Deb and Brian. I worked there from 1995-1998 and have fond memories of all the people I met. Sleder’s is a special place and everyone there was incredible. I look forward to my next visit when I make it back to Traverse City. I wonder if Ryan will keep the basketball hoop out back? I think the last time we played I came up short. I want a rematch😀.

  5. Comment by Chris

    Chris Author

    January 14, 2020 at 9:20 am

    Little Louie was paid $5.25 (a week? month?) to clean 21 spittoons when average rent in Traverse City was $7.25/month. Employers in the region should follow Sleder’s example and pay their food service employees a living wage!

  6. Comment by Mindy Wilkinson

    Mindy Wilkinson Author

    December 10, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    My sister and her family visited your restaurant 1 1/2 yrs ago. My nephew kissed the moose and got a free t-shirt. Since then, he came to my daughter’s birthday slumber party and somehow his t-shirt came up missing. Would I be able to trouble you for a replacement? I would be willing to pay for the shipping.

    Thank you in advance,
    Mindy Wilkinson

    • Comment by Randolph @Sleders

      Randolph @Sleders Author

      December 16, 2019 at 8:45 am

      Hi Mindy! We still have the “I smooched the moose t-shirts” for sale. Others have thought they were free with a kiss too, but they have never been free. Kids shirts are $12, adult shirts are $16, and long-sleeve adult shirts are $20. Shipping for one shirt is $7.50. We send it priority mail. Please call the restaurant at (231) 947-9213, and we’ll be happy to help you replace the shirt. Thank you!

  7. Comment by Denise Zalsman

    Denise Zalsman Author

    August 2, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Do you have tee shirt that said kiss a moose

    • Comment by Randolph @Sleders

      Randolph @Sleders Author

      August 4, 2019 at 6:18 pm

      We have “I smooched the moose” t-shirts for sale at the tavern, yes. 😊

  8. Comment by Terry Crawford

    Terry Crawford Author

    December 28, 2018 at 5:43 pm

    Even though I’m a Michigan native and lived there full-time for 66 years, I never heard of Sleders until today, when I bought a very cool ball cap at my favorite resale shop here near West Palm Beach, Florida and I looked you up! Now I’ll be sure to stop in Sleders the next time I’m in TC. Until then, I’ll do what I can to “represent”!

    • Comment by Randolph @Sleders

      Randolph @Sleders Author

      April 5, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      Thank you for finding us, Terry! How cool that you bought a Sleder’s ball cap in Florida! Wear it proudly! We hope to see you soon!


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