MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Secluded lake house in Hell


There is a small hamlet northwest of Ann Arbor called Hell, Michigan. It was founded 175 years ago by one George Reeves, who built a dam on what is now known as Hell Creek, with a sawmill, gristmill, distiller, and tavern. There are a couple schools of thought as to how it got its name. Regardless, you can say "dam" and "Hell" in the same sentence without swearing.

The U.S. Post Office, ruefully, does not recognize Hell as a town, using nearby Pinckney as a mailing address. You can get a hand-stamped "Hell, MI" postmark from the general store, which people have been known to use for sending checks to the IRS, exes, etc.

Hell's denizens have played off the novelty of their name, hosting events like the annual spring "blessing of the bikes" (Harleys, that is), and a party that received national attention held on June 6, 2006 (6/6/6).

It is actually quite charming, nestled in the Pinckney recreation area, with lakes, woods, and trails. Runners, hikers and cyclists come, stopping for recreation in what passes for downtown, featuring a tavern, general store, and year-round Hallowe'en shop, featuring an ice cream counter and a topping bar set out in a coffin.

I own a house there. Depending on the audience, I tell them I live in Hell, or Pinckney. Because I don't use it enough, and have a daughter in college, I've started advertising it on Airbnb. If you search, it's "Secluded Lake House," and can be found either by searching Pinckney or Hell. Unlike the post office, Airbnb recognizes Hell as a town.

It has been a learning experience. Airbnb began in 2008 with two roommates setting up an air mattress in their apartment to try and earn some extra money. It is now an international phenomenon, with destinations that rival luxury hotels. Customers' expectations are commensurate, which I have learned the hard way. There is clean enough, which most of us live in from day to day-and then there is what many travelers expect.

My first guest gave me great reviews, except for cleanliness. She wrote, "The house was full of a lot of your personal stuff. The excess items detracted from the space." ... Duh. It's because I live there sometimes of course my stuff is there! Nonetheless, I learned to pretend that it was a hotel. My wife and I would spend 3-4 hours prepping for each visit by doing laundry, mopping floors, scrubbing the shower with a toothbrush you know, stuff you might not always do for yourself.

The second guests were great, a wonderful family, giving me all 5-star reviews and homemade cookies. The third guests were another matter entirely. They came for the international soccer match at Michigan Stadium. When I returned after they checked out, I was greeted by 156 empty beer cans stacked up outside my garage. That's for six guys for two nights-and that doesn't include what they likely consumed in Ann Arbor on Friday and Saturday. They also, inexplicably, brought a charcoal grill which they proceeded to set up on my deck, right next to the gas grill I have. But the best part? They docked me one point for cleanliness because they found a package of marshmallows tucked away in the back of a kitchen cabinet that was past its expiration date. I kid you not. Dude, that was my food not yours!

The most recent guest was a young man from Ann Arbor who seemed very nice communicating over email. He told me he wanted to use the place for one night to hang out with a few friends on the lake. He even introduced himself to the neighbors when he checked in.

Let's call him "Eddie Haskell." A few hours later, I got a message from one of those same neighbors saying, "Currently you have approximately 50-75 people partying and carrying on. There are 29 vehicles parked on the road, and signs directing to party at your place." I told her I was on my way. I got to the house and the living room filled with teenagers, beer and liquor, spilling out onto the deck. I lost it, yelling at the top of my lungs, "This party is over. Get the f*** out of my house."

"Eddie" was sincerely apologetic. He offered me more money. He said he would hire a maid. He pointed out how he took care of my house by moving valuable items into other rooms vases, knickknacks, etc. (It took me fifteen minutes to find my kitchen knife block after he left.)

Within ten minutes, most of the guests were gone and the ones remaining were vacuuming and emptying garbage. I was still scared to go back the next day, but the place was strangely immaculate. I was relieved, though I did reconsider the whole Airbnb thing. Until the next day, when I got my daughter's tuition bill.

As for Eddie, he sent me two more apologetic messages. Though he hasn't yet called to claim the grinder* he left behind. (*Ask your teenager.)

My next guests, thankfully, are my own extended family. They'll get my love, rented pontoon boat, abundant food and drink. But I'll be damned in Hell before I break out the toothbrush for them.


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.

Published: Wed, Sep 26, 2018