GTPulse: Traverse City Woman Bought The Bar She Worked At

Brady’s Bar is a cultural icon in Traverse City. One of the many bars on Union Street that locals have stories of staying up late and making drunken memories at, Brady’s has largely stayed the same since it’s opening in 1975. From the green walls to the dearly loved chicken wings, Brady’s has been a stone in the river of downtown Traverse City businesses and new owner Nolen Sleder wants to keep that legacy strong.

Nolen has a warm and bright personality and was one of the first people I met when I moved to Traverse City. She fed me, gave me beer and talked to me about all of the different historical families and places in the city. Nolen bears the very historical Traverse City last name Sleder from Sleder’s Tavern, Michigan’s oldest operating restaurant.

“My husband’s side was the meat market brother, and Sleder’s Tavern was the tavern brother.”

However, Nolen is no newcomer to the area. Her parents, both New York City opera singers, moved to Interlochen when Nolen was a little girl to teach at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. 

Although she is only 7 months into owning Brady’s she just hit her eight year mark working there this past August. She moved to New York City after high school and started working in bars. After a flaky roommate stopped paying rent, Nolen was in the difficult and common situation of being broke and confused in New York City. She moved back to Northern Michigan in Traverse City where she started dating her husband.

“I had never been to Brady’s! My husband and I came here to eat wings and he told me ‘you should just apply here’ so I came in the next day to apply and the owner called me the following day and said ‘I’d like you to come in tomorrow morning.’ I showed up at 7 a.m. and said that I was there for an interview and he looked at me and said, ‘an interview? No. I’m hiring you.””

She began waitressing in the morning and when a bartender left she took their hours and began working behind the bar. She loved working as a bartender but temporarily left to pursue realty for a couple of years. People who have worked or currently work in the service industry go one of two ways; they can’t wait to get out or they can’t stay away from it. Nolen returned to Brady’s but this time around she had another idea in mind.

“My husband and I, throughout our relationship, our engagement, our marriage… we’ve talked about owning a bar. We didn’t know where we were gonna do it, we didn’t know if we’re gonna stay in Traverse City or if we’d build our own.”

Nolen had dinner with then owner Pat Cole to see if buying the bar was an option. Although Pat has three children, all of them are in careers and weren’t interested in taking over the bar. Pat had had offers from others looking to buy the bar over the years, but none of them had been right. None until Nolen came along.

“We waited til the end of the dinner to ask and I must have not been articulating well because his wife said to him, “Pat she wants to buy the bar!’” Nolen said laughing. “It was just the right fit. It took two and a half years to get it done.”

Nolen took over the bar this past March, just shy of Pat Cole’s 50 year mark of owning the bar. Pat had turned down other offers out of fear of someone potentially changing the bar or not taking care of the employees. The employees have always been a top priority of the bar, with some working there for over 20 years.

“Buckey has been here 19 or 20 years bartending, Patti has been here around 30. Laurie, my waitress has been here for 33 years this month isn’t that nuts? She was here before the bar burned.”

Brady’s used to rent out rooms on the second floor and in 1988 the roof caught fire. The bar had to be closed down while repairs were being done. Pat offered his staff work helping to repair the bar so they wouldn’t be out of a job while the building was being fixed.

It’s important to Nolen to keep that family atmosphere and neighborhood feel. She works with the staff to make sure they have a good work life balance and she runs the bar with the love and support of her husband and two year old son.

“My son loves it here. He knows he’s not supposed to go behind the bar so of course that’s always the first place he tries running to when he gets here.”

However, Nolen would like to make some changes to the bar. 

“There’s carpet in the back room, I’d like to put wood vinyl back there at some point. I’d like to paint, I don’t like the green very much. I wanna make sure we have a variety of beers, we have a seasonal and a local beer handle now. We have the NFL Ticket.”

Change can be hard to take for longstanding bars with longstanding community members. Nolen hasn’t taken on bar ownership without some push back.

“People wanna tell you how to do it, they think they know best because they’re older or wiser and it makes them feel good to tell someone what to do. On the other hand there are the people who wanna make sure that it stays what it’s always been.”

She plans on keeping Brady’s what it’s always been; a lovable, local hole in the wall that’s a cozy place to get a drink and not feel like a stranger.


Categories: GTPulse