Doherty Hotel Offers History and Hospitality in Clare, Michigan

Tracy Stengel by Chris C. via

The Doherty Hotel in Claire, Michigan turns 97-years-old this month and while it has grown from 60 to 157 rooms, it hasn’t lost its charm. The historical landmark is a fourth-generation family business.

The Doherty Hotel offers several guest room options, some with luxury amenities like a fireplace, Jacuzzi, and wet bar. They also have packages to pair your stay with your favorite activities such as golfing, hiking and biking, ziplining, or hitting the casino.

If you can’t stay overnight, stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in their dining room or have a cocktail in the Leprechaun Lounge. I love the mural in the lounge that wraps around the top of every wall. It tells the story of a leprechaun village making their ale and depicts each step of the arduous process. After all their teamwork and hard labor, they have a celebration. The mural was done in the 1930s by a man who was down on his luck and traded his artistic skill for room and board. of the mural in the Leprechaun Lounge. ☘️ Photo via

The Doherty Hotel’s Humble Beginnings

In 1920, the Calkins House Hotel and Saloon stood in the center of town and was the pride of Clare, Michigan. Unfortunately, the wooden structure was destroyed in a fire. The property remained vacant and the townspeople missed gathering at the Calkins House.

The community pitched in and bought the land, then gifted it to Senator Alfred James Doherty with the understanding he would build a hotel there. Senator Doherty owned the local hardware and began construction. In April of 1924 the Doherty Hotel opened for business.

The Doherty Hotel’s Heritage of Mobsters, Murder, and Misbehavior

During Prohibition, the Doherty Hotel was a speakeasy where whiskey was poured, gambling was rampant, and the women were wanton — a mobsters paradise — including the infamous Purple Gang. The Purple Gang exceled in bootlegging and didn’t shy away from extortion, loansharking, kidnapping, or murder.

In 1938, one of the most notorious murders in Michigan was committed in the Doherty Hotel’s bar. A former attorney of the Purple Gang turned Purple Gang member, Isaiah Leebove, was eating at a table with his wife, a show girl from Canada, and Sam (Fatty) Burnstein, the Purple Gang’s enforcer. Leebove’s cousin, Jack (Tex) Livingston, walked in still heated up about a real estate dispute he’d been having with Leebove.

Livingston pulled out a gun, aimed, and fired, killing Leebove right in front of everyone. Then, Livingston bought the bar a round of drinks. When the case went to trial, Livingston pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was acquitted.

Looking Forward

Senator Doherty passed the reins of the Doherty Hotel to his grandson in 1969 who passed them to his two sons in the 1990s. Dean and Jim Doherty plan to keep improving the hotel with modern amenities while still holding onto its nostalgic charm and fascinating history.

The next time you pass through Clare, which is halfway to everywhere in the Lower Peninsula, stop into the Doherty Hotel. You’ll be glad you did.

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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