The Detroit drinking matrix
A bar for every purpose under heaven.
Published: February 25, 2014
Note: Each category is on a sliding scale, and your mileage may vary.
Divey: If dive bars tend to be classics, it’s because nobody says, “Hey, let’s open up a dive bar.” Usually, these are historic spots where the bad behavior is grandfathered in. But nobody told the owners of My Dad’s Bar, who’ve given the joint a retro makeover that’s perfect for a little slumming. Best of all, when anybody asks where you’re going, you’ll be able to sound like a real old-timer.
Quirky: Quirky new hip spots for drinking and a little dining have sprouted up all over metro Detroit within the last few years. There’s MotorCity Wine and St. Cece’s in Corktown, Maccabees in Midtown in Detroit, One-Eyed Betty’s in Ferndale, Imperial Taco Bar in Ferndale, and Toast in Birmingham. Expect retro style, quirky dishes, creative cocktails and maybe a healthy cohort of twentysomethings.
Upscale: Given today’s economic outlook, not a whole lot of new drinking establishments are going to have chic trappings. Most watering holes want to seem approachable and not scare off drinkers with fancy settings. But some upscale restaurants, such as Jefferson House and the Grille Midtown in Detroit, do have bars where you can drink in some sensational surroundings.
Posh: There’s a posh bar on the 33rd floor of the David Stott Building in downtown Detroit. It’s called Skybar Lounge, and the fixtures are top-notch, the drinks are top-shelf, and it’s all topped off with 360-degree views of downtown Detroit from right in the heart of it. The prices are almost as high as the bar’s perch, so one drink will probably be the limit for all but the spendiest customers.
Divey: Classic dives? Detroit has you covered. You’ll want to peruse this whole column naturally, but let’s just say that, from Abick’s to Z’s Bar & Grill, from Jumbo’s in the old Cass Corridor to Ye Olde Tap Room on the far east side, Detroit is a treasure trove of old-fashioned shot-and-a-beer joints. Going out to Ann Arbor? You’ll want to see the Eightball Saloon, in the basement of the Blind Pig.
Quirky: On the corner of Second and Canfield in Detroit’s Midtown, Traffic Jam and Snug, tenderly known to regulars as TJ’s, has been serving the neighborhood and patrons of the various nearby sports and cultural institutions for more than 40 years, and it looks it, judging by the wealth of history in its dining areas. They brew their own beer on-site, and the “Snug” lounge in the back is the place to sample them.
Upscale: It’s hard to find a classic upscale bar, given the way drinking has just changed so much in the last 10 years. Metro Detroit was a shot-and-beer town with a few three-martini lunch spots. No more. A good way to split the difference is to hit a place that’s grounded in the classics, such as Cork Wine Bar in Pleasant Ridge. The craft cocktail bars in Detroit, Ferndale and Ann Arbor also hark back to drinking’s elegant past.
Posh: Can you become a classic in less than 10 short years? You can when you’re Centaur. Back when everybody was building new, Centaur made its home in a 1920s building, once the Iodent toothpaste factory. It was gutted by owner Sean Harrington (who also owns the Town Pump Tavern across the street) and refurbished in a ’30s Art Deco style of his own design. That’s how you become an instant classic.
Divey: One of Detroit’s oldest bars, the Two Way Inn, is getting a boost from a younger crowd, especially on the first Friday of each month. Nestled in a depopulated neighborhood north of Hamtramck, the building that dates back to the 1870s, and beer has been poured there at least that long. In recent years, the longtime tavern had been losing business, and owner-operator Mary Aganowski had considered selling the bar. But the nightspot has been winning converts. First Fridays have drawn tipplers from all over town.
Quirky: Jacoby’s German Biergarten is one of the oldest continuously named establishments in Detroit. Opened way back in 1904, when most Detroiters were German farmers, Jacoby’s started serving the neighborhood beer and Old World vittles. With its thoughtful beer list and German dishes made with the old family recipes, today Jacoby’s the last of what used to be several German establishments downtown, because it has changed with the times. That’s how you last 110 years.
Upscale: Originally a Belgian bar catering to the pigeon racing crowd, Cadieux Café is one of the oldest bars in the city. Belgium has some of the best beer in the world, and this Belgian café has a decent selection. On tap, go for a glass of Hoegaarden, a zesty white ale spiced with coriander and orange. Or try one of the high-octane abbey-style beers in the bottle. Rank-and-file beer drinkers will be pleased to find an abundant cooler. Choose from the Michigan-based Bell’s to cans of PBR.
Posh: It’s ancient, and it even was closed for a long time, but in 2012, the London Chop House reopened. The restaurant’s classy atmosphere remains intact, with plenty of original LCH furnishings. Once the restaurant of choice for Detroit’s 1 percenters, the London Chop House in its new iteration will eschew some of the fustier touches of yore. There is a dress code for customers, but not as demanding as in the old days. A drink at the bar is one of downtown’s more affordable pleasures.