Joel Jones posing for a picture
Joel Jones, general manager, makes a lot of the cocktail and coffee drink ingredients in house, including gin. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

A new French-inspired cafe and cocktail bar at the bottom of a Midtown Romanesque mansion hadn’t even been open for an hour, and it was packed. 

When the door of Cafe Sous Terre opened for the first time at 8 a.m. Thursday, people were lined up.

outside of Cafe Sous Terre
Cafe Sous Terre, a French inspired cafe and cocktail bar at 445 W. Forest Avenue opened July 27, 2023. (Google Earth screenshot)

“My favorite places in the world are coffee shops and cocktail bars,” owner Reimer Priester told BridgeDetroit. As for the French jazz theme, Priester said he’s the grandson of a jazz drummer and that his second language is French, “I’ve been deep in French culture for as long as I can remember.”

The cafe at 445 W. Forest Avenue is open until 11 p.m. five days a week, putting it among a select few Detroit coffee shops open past the afternoon. The menu includes quiches and sandwiches from The French Lady, based out of Birmingham, and original vanilla and French oak syrup and four spice syrup. Outlets under the seats provide charging for people to lounge or work during the day. In the evening, the lights dim, the music changes, and the cafe transitions into a cocktail bar. 

“At night it’s a very dimly lit, romantic spot,” said cafe General Manager Joel Jones, who said he’s making a lot of the syrups and ingredients in-house to make drinks more affordable for customers. 

The seasonal cocktail menu includes more than 25 drinks with costs ranging from $10 to $17. Options include a “Summer Rye Punch” and “Melon Spritz” as well as classic cocktails like daiquiris, manhattans, and old fashioneds. For those who don’t drink, coffee drinks will be available at night, too.

“We’re doing a lot of things here, this is a very large cocktail menu,” he said, “but we’re trying to do them in a way that is as affordable as we can.” 

Jones said that the cafe has made it a priority to pay its 10 employees a good wage: $17 an hour, plus shared tips.

“Something that was really key was paying everybody a good wage,” said Jones, a seasoned food industry worker with past jobs that provided little to no breaks and paid $5 an hour or less.  

“I take it so seriously – it seemed like a basic need for everybody to get a good wage,” he said. 

Cafe Sous Terre is also aiming to save money by avoiding wasting food. When berries were about to go bad this week, Jones said he made a milk with a light sweet, berry taste. If they don’t sell all of the bagels each day, they plan to freeze them and offer them at a discount. 

Priester said he bought the building with two other owners in 2012 and plans for the cafe have been in the works for about two years. 

The property, built in the 1890s and known as The Williamson House, had been abandoned for several decades. They renovated the building, put six apartments up top and had an empty basement unit. Initially, a bridal shop rented the basement space, but later faced challenges during COVID-19. With the space open again and funding for small businesses from Invest Detroit, a mission-driven financer, Priester said it was the perfect opportunity to open Cafe Sous Terre. 

“I just feel like jazz, coffee and cocktails, it’s just this perfect marriage,” Priester said. “This is really intended to be a spot to hang out with friends and loved ones,” Priester said. “I’m not trying to be the ‘it spot.’ I’m trying to be a spot where people always want to go for a great drink and a chance to have a conversation.” 

The cafe is open Monday and Tuesdays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesday to Sunday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Everything on the menu is 20% off through Aug. 2 for its soft opening. 

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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  1. Glad to see Reimer is actually doing something with his properties. Hoping for the same with the abandoned properties on the Eastside.

  2. You….my dear brother..have stolen my heart with your mission statement. Can’t wait…see you soon enjoy and behold the beauty that You’ve created…I’m bringing some folks ..too💣

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