Up in smoke, or should we say ‘vape?’

Bearer of bad news

A raging blaze on Maynard Street has destroyed one of our favorite Indian restaurants. Madras Masala (at 328 Maynard) burned to the ground Jan. 20, a devastating loss to the owners and the community after two decades in business. The fire also consumed its neighbor, Vape City #2, which had replaced a funky coffee shop at 326 Maynard in 2021.

The same site — in that 330 block of Maynard — had once been home to the Canterbury House, a groovy venue hidden behind a plain black door at the end of the alley across from Nickels Arcade. The former print shop served as a folk concert venue during its heyday, and from 1966-71 you could have seen live performances by Tim Buckley, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Janis Ian to name just a few. Dave Van Ronk, Odetta, Richie Havens, Buddy Guy, Ramblin’ Jack Ellliot, Doc Watson, Skip James, and Sun Ra also came through.

In true Ann Arbor fashion of the time, the place also served as a ministry on Sundays, holding a rare form of church for the Christian hippies.

“Canterbury was totally in keeping with the moment, with the times,” Craig Hammond, a chaplain there from 1967-70, told our Michigan Today writer, Alan Glenn, in 2012. “It was a cultural, spiritual, and political force in a community that had come alive. It was exciting, it was dynamic, and never the same from one day to the next.”

I never experienced that place, but for some reason I still mourn its loss, even though it’s been gone 50 years.

Been burned

The alley that led to the original Canterbury House. (Image courtesy of U-M's Bentley Historical Library.)

The alley that led to the original Canterbury House. (Image courtesy of U-M’s Bentley Historical Library.)

As a “news-adjacent” writer with an iPhone, I had to get out of my office at 412 Maynard and investigate the fire Jan. 20. I felt the adrenaline rush as smoke — and burning vape cartridges — fogged the air and seeped into the fibers of my scarf and jacket. I approached from every possible angle, twisting around the police tape to get a better look. By 10:30 a.m. the site was a smoldering hulk of twisted and charred debris. Firetrucks, ambulances, and eventually bulldozers lined the streets and hauled away the wreckage.

My compulsion to be there is hard to explain. In 1997, I lived through a fire in a rented house in Los Angeles. It was about dawn on the Sunday morning after a Halloween party when our alarm alerted us to a blaze that had started in the wiring behind a wall. Flames shooting out the back windows of your house at 6 a.m.? Not good. Everyone survived, the physical losses were minimal, and insurance covered the homeowner’s loss. But the vague PTSD remains, and the scent of smoke that lingered on my clothing in 2023 took me right back to the 99-cent store on LaBrea Ave, where in November ’97, I tried to hide my tears and the soot under my fingernails while purchasing cheap toiletries and replacement undergarments.

That’s nothing compared to the PTSD the owners of Madras Masala and Vape City #2 will have to endure in the coming months and years. MLive reports the fire started in the kitchen ventilation system of the restaurant, but it’s likely an urban legend will persist that the vape shop is to blame.

As in 1997, I have tremendous gratitude for the brave firefighters and other emergency personnel. I will miss Madras Masala very much, and my heart goes out to the families and business owners who are navigating the aftermath.

So much life force and creativity has animated that spot over the years — mind-blowing performances, spiritual awakenings, delicious meals with friends. One day it will happen again.

A week after the fire, the scent of burnt detritus still lingers in the air. I count my blessings: I’m the lucky one who can wash it out of my clothes and carry on.


  1. Mark Haviland - 1982

    With all the numerous Indian restaurants in the Ann Arbor area, Madras Masala was by far my favorite. It will be greatly missed.


    • Deborah Holdship

      Me too!


  2. Jan Carline - 1970

    For a short time of my life, Canterbury House felt like a home for my soul. Although I participated in the services of a number of churches and denominations while in A2, this little venue was the place of my strongest and deepest feelings of a deep joining in the meaning of life through the voices, words, and art of the performers shared with the audience. It was a funny little place of deep meaningfulness.


  3. David Lyon - Did masters work at SNR

    Before my time, but I like the reporting.
    Thank you


  4. Robert Gadon - 1983

    During the late 1970s and early 1980s, this site was the home of Eden’s Deli ( located at the back of the alley ) and a natural foods store that operated on Maynard Street. I recall eating many a hummus pita sandwich at the deli and often saw people I attended classes with at the School of Natural Resources ( SNR; now SEAS ). The deli closed sometime in the mid- to late-1980s, and the storefront sometime after. I think the owners of Eden’s relocated to Clinton, MI where they continue to operate a production and distribution center. Given the value of real estate on Maynard, I’m sure the site will eventually be redeveloped.


  5. Kim Alder - 1975

    Loved Eden’s! Hummus sprouts and chapati.
    The best!


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