Best of Detroit 2011
Photo: Marvin Shaouni
Spend the Night - Readers' Choice
The music venues and watering holes our readers treasure
Published: April 27, 2011
Best Happy Hour in Macomb County
Dooley's Irish Tavern
12414 Hall Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-323-3501;
32500 Gratiot, Roseville; 586-296-BREW or 586-294-5331;
235 N. Groesbeck Hwy., Mt. Clemens; 586-954-1800; dooleysirish.com
This mini-chain of bars sprawls across the eastside. Dooley's is known for a few things, including a lively atmosphere, going big for televised sporting events, such as Final Four and Opening Day, drinking holidays, including St. Patty's, and a scantily clad female waitstaff. But cheap beer, and lots of it, is Dooley's biggest claim to local fame. After all, they do boast themselves as "the original home of the $1 beer."
Best Happy Hour in Washtenaw County - 3 way Tie
18 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-483-8200; haabsrestaurant.com
56 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti; 734-483-1035; sidetrackbarandgrill.com
121 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-994-0211; theearle.com
With two major universities in close proximity, it's no surprise readers couldn't agree what bar boasts the best happy hour. Haab's is a classic Ypsi joint. Totally unpretentious, they excel in things like potato skins and fried mushrooms and, during happy hour, $2 drinks. Sidetrack, another Ypsi staple, is known far and wide for its burgers and sandwiches, as well as the magnitude of its beer menu, a lot of which is Michigan-made and available in frosty 25-ounce mugs for just $3, while liquor drinks are priced half-off. In neighboring Ann Arbor, the Earle stands as a wine bar with one hell of a happy hour, offering a $3 mussel appetizer to die for and 20 percent off any of the wines that appear on their extensive list.
Best Bar for Sunday Funday - Tie
The Bronx Bar
4476 Second Ave., Detroit; 313-832-8464
Big League Brews
20428 Ecorse Rd., Taylor; 313-406-6931; facebook.com/bigleaguebrews
Friday and Saturday get all the attention. Sunday is basically the Jan Brady of the weekend, but, secretly, Jan knows how to party and she does so during daylight hours. Downriver, at Big League Brews, jocks can cop shots for just $3, and a bucket of beers will cost you a ten spot. At the Bronx, in Detroit, it's a different scene. There are no 200-inch hi-def TV screens, but there are two jukes and a pool table, as well as fully stocked Bloody Mary bar, replete with all the fixings, like spiced green beans and horseradish. They pour 'em heavy too.
Best Fetish Party or Fetish Night
Noir Leather's Hellbound
Parties occur at various Detroit locations. Contact Noir Leather at 248-541-6655; noirleather.com
Detroit's fetish community, dripping in pheromones, bound (and sometimes gagged) in latex, leather and lace, convene in hellfire club (look it up) rituals of debauchery at their frequent Hellbound parties, which happen about once every three months at venues around the city. Each Hellbound party is themed, from "Far East" to "steam punk" to "cycles, sluts and stockings" — and attendees in fetish attire are subject to in-store perks and floggings.
Best Dance Club in Detroit
Best Electronic Club
Leland City Club
400 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-962-2300; lelandcityclub.net
Inside the dark, sweaty and semi-secretive confines of City Club, a favorite after-hours spot for adventurous Detroiters, industrial beats pulsate from speakers, leading goth nymphs and steam punk pimps down quite a sexy sonic journey. More on that below.
Best Bar for a Last Call Hookup - Tie
Leland City Club
400 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-962-2300; lelandcityclub.net
Big League Brews
20428 Ecorse Rd., Taylor; 313-406-6931; facebook.com/bigleaguebrews
We imagine there are two very different kinds of hookups happening after last call at these two very different bars. Whereas you'll find drunk jocks looking to swing their bats and throw their balls for a few extra innings at Big League Brews Downriver, the goth gobblers at downtown Detroit's City Club might be more apt to trade a bat for a riding crop and a baseball for a ball gag. The next morning, however, might prove equally as awkward for both camps.
Best Club Night in Wayne County - Tie
Funk Night at the Majestic Theatre
4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; majesticdetroit.com
Hot Pot Thursdays at Motor City Wine
608 Woodward Ave., 313-483-7283; motorcitywine.com
After being an underground, storied staple of Detroit's nightlife for years, Funk Night is now readily available for the masses at the Majestic. It's as funky as ever, and has taken on a new vibe with the regular addition of the Will Sessions band and their frequent special guests, such as Motown session man Dennis Coffey and rapper Elzhi. Music's so funky, you can smell it. Thursdays at Motor City Wine, a shop and tasting room above the Grand Trunk Pub, are all about house and deep disco jams when resident DJs Guy LaFleur and Todd Weston man the decks. There's no cover and just room enough to get your groove on, with a good glass of cab sauv in hand, of course.
Best Club Night in Washtenaw County
Best Dance Club in Ann Arbor
516 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-994-5436; necto.com
Necto, a perennial club category winner, succeeds in creating a nightclub for everyone by mixing it up each night of the week. Service industry folk gather on Sundays for cheap booze and Top 40 remixes; on Mondays, with $3 craft beers till 11 p.m., DJ Jinx gears sound toward the goth-industrial crowd (KMFDM, NIN, Garbage); expect anything from soul to house on Recreation Tuesdays; DJ Hardy and Professor Purple blast electro-house on Wednesdays; College Night Thursdays welcome clubbers 18 and up and deliver half-off all drinks till 11 p.m.; on Fridays, Necto transforms into what's one of the most hype gay club nights around; they go big with Frequency Saturdays, which they boast is the biggest weekly club night in the state. Which night is for you?
Best Lesbian Bar
1641 Middlebelt Rd., Inkster; 734-729-8980
Let's just get it off our chests, shall we? Is Stiletto's not the most curiously located lesbian bar around? It is! Despite it, those heels have kicked hard for damn near two decades. Congrats, ladies! We hear you really strut your stuff on Saturday nights, hosted by some vivacious Queen, and that Wednesdays are wild. Would who've thunk that Inkster was so progressive? Year after year, women from across the region exercise their right to vote — and to par-tay.
Best Gay Bar
928 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit; 313-863-3934; menjoscomplex.com
Menjo's isn't one of those, well, seedier clubs you heard about from your best gay friend. That's not to say the party doesn't carry on in every room of the bar, because it does. Still, a trip to Menjo's is usually done with a group composed of at least a couple straight (or curious) friends along for an adventure on one of the more wild sides of Six Mile. Because it's welcoming to all doesn't mean it's not completely a gay bar though, 'cause it is wildly gay from the windows to the walls. They just kicked off a Wet Booty Contest. And that's only Tuesdays ...
Best Strip Club
The Penthouse Club
20771 W. Eight Mile Rd., Detroit; 313-541-7000; penthousegentlemensclub.com
The Penthouse Club has the best rep among all of Detroit's top-tier gent's clubs. Even if you've never been, you've undoubtedly heard that, unlike other clubs on the strip, the women here are beautiful, sober. The place has a sense of class, as much as a strip club can carry. Like their 12-ounce filet, valet is mandatory and worth every bit of the money. Gentlemen dine on their popular $20 New York strips and Alaskan crab leg specials on Saturday afternoons, and treat themselves to lap dances from Hanna Hilton, Heather Vandeven or Jamie Hammer for dessert. For hedonists who appreciate the finer things, Penthouse is like headquarters.
Best Burlesque Troupe
Detroit Dizzy Dames
Bringing cutesy, punkish appeal to the craft of burlesque, Detroit Dizzy Dames are a real-deal delight. You might remember troupe's libidinal leader Lushes LaMoan as the cover vixen from last year's Lust issue. The dames sing and shimmy, they tease and crack jokes, and they can dance in step as a group and are all savvy solo. The titillating silhouette shows are a fave crowd favorite. Dizzy Dames compete in the Burlesque Hall of Fame Challenge this May, and you can catch 'em doing their thing in June at a New Holland Brewery beer party at Cliff Bell's. Genius!
Best Bottled Beer Selection in a Bar
Ye Olde Tap Room
14915 Charlevoix St., Detroit; 313-824-1030; yeoldtaproom.com
There are very few bars, in Detroit and across the globe, that take beer as seriously as Ye Olde Tap Room. And they're ready and willing to prove just that, in bottle form, in more than 200 different ways. Born of a Prohibition-era blind pig, Ye Olde stands today as a veritable beer haven in which you can become a wobbly world traveler via their breadth (ales, lagers, porters, stouts, bocks, darks, etc.) of fine brew.
Best Draft Selection in a Bar
3087 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-547-3331; myspace.com/theberkleyfront
Belly up to the bar at the Berkley Front and you know you're in a serious beer bar. Choose from the various selections on tap on the ever-changing chalkboard, including craft beers, inventive black-and-tans and more. You could pound these brews, but tend to linger over them, as they stay good even after getting warm on the bar. Perhaps best are the "hand-pulls," which draw cellar-temperature beer into a glass without all the CO2: It's beer you can take a bite out of, creamy and delicious, exactly the way beer was poured for centuries, up until 100 years ago. We'll lift a toast to that.
Best Bar for a Martini
2233 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-963-4040; centaurbar.com
There was a day and age when you ordered a martini and new exactly what to expect. Of course you could customize it — shaken, stirred, dry or dirty — but the basic ingredients remained. Centaur delivers a fine glass filled with classic contents, but Detroiters are all abuzz over their specialty martinis, which include abnormal yet delicious ingredients such as beets, pumpkin, basil, strawberry or apricot nectar. They even have a martini called the Wasabi. Guess what that tastes like?
Best Bar for a Bloody Mary
Vivio's Food & Spirits
2460 Market St., Detroit; 313-393-1711; viviosbloodymary.com
At Vivio's, it's all about the Bloody Mary. Oh, sure, you can get all sorts of excellent bar food, mussels, sandwiches and more. But they really put their Bloody Mary out there. They sell their own mix, put it in their logo, and even include the cocktail in their web address. What's more, they serve you a full pint of the restorative tomato-and-vodka potation, fortified with a generous pickle, and graced with a little sidekick of beer for good measure.
Best Bar for A Classic Cocktail
2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543; cliffbells.com
Cliff Bell's is a destination. Resplendent in its period-perfect speakeasy interior, the club's a terrific setting for live events (jazz, folk, storytelling) throughout the week as well as a much buzzed-about Sunday brunch. But it's their pre-Prohibition cocktails that crowd the bar. And we're not just talkin' Gin Fizz, Tom Collins, and Manhattans, but Salty Dogs, Rusty Nails and, of course, the Old Fashioned. Take a sip back in time.
Best Bar for Trivia Night
5169 Trumbull, Detroit; 313-833-2701; woodbridgepub.com
Hosted by budding actor and GO! Comedy comedian Tommy Simon, the most happening trivia night in Detroit, Pub Stumpers, is going down at the Woodbridge Pub every Wednesday from 7:30 to 10:30. Operated out of Canada, Pub Stumpers gives Detroiters the chance to compete with trivia buffs across the continent, which satisfies the competitive urge of bookworms, pop culture junkies and history buffs. Each week, die-hards and newbies alike break into four to six teams to compete for a $50 gift certificate redeemable at, you guessed it, the Woodbridge Pub. It's not just students, artists, musicians and hipsters, either. Folks from the neighborhood, such as local business owners, Wayne State teachers, and all sorts of people come out. And if your team isn't kicking ass, you just might be eligible for a pity pitcher of beer! Duh, losing is winning!
Best Casino Poker
1777 Third St., Detroit; 877-888-2121; mgmgranddetroit.com
Since opening its doors in 2007, the MGM Grand casino and hotel has worked hard to earn a rep as Detroit's premier destination for poker and more. With top-tier hotel accommodations, customer service, three hot restaurants in Wolfgang Puck Grille, Bourbon Steak and seafood house Salt Water, and one exciting club, V, this reputable establishment is no stranger to our Best-of list. And of course, they're serious when it comes to gambling, with your favorite poker table in town. We're not bluffing.
Best Casino Slots
Best Casino Craps
Best Casino to See a Show
MotorCity Casino Hotel
2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 866-752-9622; motorcitycasino.com
There's always a lot going on at MotorCity Casino Hotel. Not only did Detroiters vote these gambling grounds as sacred when it comes to pulling slots and shooting craps, but Sound Board has become one of the most eclectic venues in town, hosting everyone from Boyz II Men, Goo Goo Dolls, Hall & Oates and Cyndi Lauper to such comedians as Eddie Griffin, Jay Mohr and puddin' pop himself, Bill Cosby. Good times are alive and well at MotorCity Casino Hotel.
Best Hip-Hop Venue
St. Andrew's Hall
431 E. Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-6358; livenation.com
Rappers touring this fine nation of ours, acts such as Snoop Dog, Jay Electronica, Devin the Dude and Lil B, book their Detroit shows at the legendary St. Andrew's Hall in Bricktown because it lends immediate cred and a kind of atmospheric intimacy. And it's a natural record-release venue for such local badasses as Danny Brown and Black Milk. We're also hearing rumors that some sort of regular weekly or monthly hip-hop night is coming back to the Shelter. Stay tuned. We'll see you there.
Best Hip-Hop Night
Blue Collar Gentlemen at the Old Miami
3930 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-3830; facebook.com/theoldmiami
On the first Friday of the month, hip-hop heathens congregate for the Blue Collar Gentlemen party at the Old Miami, a Vietnam Vet bar with more atmosphere than young Aretha had 'tude. Cover is only $3, and the talented cast of rotating rappers is legit to spit. You could catch local legends such as Guilty Simpson or Nick Speed, SelfSays or Invincible, or some of the United States of Mind cats, such as D. Allie, Eddie Logix, Metasyons and Asylum 7. There are up-and-coming rappers that take the stage, and out-of-towners, too. When you're looking for Detroit rap, look for the Blue Collar Gentleman.
Best Rock Club
The Magic Bag
22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030; themagicbag.com
The Magic Bag isn't just a rock club bestowed with a great sound system. They don't merely thread a string of national and local shows together; rather, the MB folks continue to serve many masters, catering to all types of concertgoers by featuring all types of bands. They book quality, rock, blues and reggae acts throughout the year, peppering their event schedule with local record releases, Wednesday and Thursday Brew & View flicks, and even the odd tribute band. In other words, the Magic Bag ain't just a rock club, it's a melting pot of music cultures, and a cozy Ferndale hangout.
Best Comedy Club
Best Comedy Open-Mic
Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle
310 S. Troy St., Royal Oak; 248-542-9900; comedycastle.com
Lewis Black, Bob Saget and Dave Attell are but a few of the first-rate national comics who yuk-yuk it up at Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle. For a night's worth of entertainment, the price is right, with tickets anywhere between $10 and $25. Of course, there are local showcases too. Wednesdays are just $3, which is cheaper than parking in Royal Oak!
Best Folk Venue
316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-1818; theark.org
You really couldn't ask for more from a venue that specializes in folk. Dig how gracious staffers offer patrons an intimate experience in what rivals the most audibly affecting rooms in the region. If names like Bettye LeVette, Mavis Staples, Hoots and Hellmouth, Todd Snider, Leo Kottke, and Great Lakes Swimmers mean anything to you, then you know how this venue recognizes the folky side of soul, blues, bluegrass and rock music. And on select Wednesdays, the Ark opens its stage to 15 random performers who've thrown their names in a hat. It might be the best $3 you can spend.
Best Blues Club
2105 South Blvd., Auburn Hills; 248-858-9508; atcallahans.com
Last year, Callahan's tied Royal Oak's venerable Memphis Smoke. With Memphis Smoke closing its doors after 16 years, Callahan's is the only big game in town for local blues musicians and nationally touring artists like Lil' Ed and the Imperials, who'll be there this Friday. Veteran Detroit blues musician and WCSX blues DJ Mark Pasman praises Callahan's for being more than just the last blues club standing. He gives the club props for having an ace soundman, Peter Jay, for paying musicians a fair wage in tough times, and for bringing in great groups "a la Sully's back in the day," to reference that great local blues club of yore.
Best Jazz Club
2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543; cliffbells.com
A great club with great atmosphere: You can't help but feel classier against a historic art deco backdrop. Also great drinks and food (French), making it a perfect place to spend a relaxing Wednesday, say, when R.J. Spangler's open organ jam is usually the musical attraction, or Tuesdays when it's usually the Dwight Adams Trio. The bigger names and weekends tend to crowd the club (not always with the most attentive bunch), making it harder to hear (hence a website note for next month's Lonnie Smith gig that a "listening room atmosphere will be enforced"). But even if it means some neck-craning from the back of the bar, what jazz fan doesn't want to catch, for instance, the annual Christmas holiday get-together of James Carter and the Hot Club of Detroit? The offerings aren't always jazz, so check first, if that matters.
Best Musical Open-Mic or Jam Session
2040 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-962-2933; facebook.com/parkbardetroit
Every Wednesday at the Park Bar, some of the city's best strummers and singers meet up to holler and hone their tunes. Musicians the likes of Don "Doop" Duprie, bassist Katie Grace, and veteran music man Greg Hanson show up, as do newbs (like you?). It's always a busy night, the draft beers are cold and quality, and all are welcome. Bring your own acoustic guitar. Don't suck.
Best Sports Bar
2301 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-965-9500; hockeytowncafe.com
With the Tigers and Lions playing within a few blocks, this restaurant and bar fills up fast for pre- and post-game foods and booze. When the sun's a-shining, Hockeytown's rooftop is one of the best places in town to catch a breeze and a buzz while cheering for the home team.
Best Local Beer
Motor City Brewing Works' Ghettoblaster
It started as a neat joke: a cocky little microbrewery naming an English-style mild ale after a jambox. But how has this brew lasted into the iPod age? Quality, baby: Slightly hoppy, with a solid malt-and-wheat flavor, and whiffs of nuts and caramel, here's one brew you're never too ill to swill.
Best Microbrewery or Brewpub - 3-way tie
Motor City Brewing Works
470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700; motorcitybeer.com
14600 E. 11 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-776-9428; dragonmead.com
Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.
5919 Chicago Rd., Warren; 586-979-8361; kbrewery.com
Our readers picked the best of all worlds with this tie: The urban, neighborhood microbrew feel of Motor City, with its enduring favorites, the open and lounge-like Dragonmead, with nitrogen-dispensed brews and high-ABV choices such as Final Absolution Trippel, and the high-ceilinged beer-hall vibe of Kuhnhenn, with its kick-you-in-the-face flavors and mouth-curdling sour beers.
Best Local Liquor
Hard Luck Candy Vodka
Born out of novelty, Grosse Pointe Park's Hard Luck Lounge came up with vodkas that came in two flavors: root beer and red fish (similar to but a trademark infringement away from red Swedish Fish). And the success has been phenomenal.
Valentine Distilling Co., 161 Vester St., Ferndale; valentinevodka.com
With a mission not only to buy as locally as possible — making vodka out of Michigan-grown grains, using Michigan labor — but to produce a stellar, single-batch vodka (eschewing corporate vodka's love affair with "continuous distillation"), Rifino Valentine launched distribution two years ago and now has more than 800 accounts in the state, as well as his own Ferndale tasting room.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
The best of the bottom shelf, here we have a working-class beer for a working-class city. Pabst Blue Ribbon — PBR (or Peeber) to those who order the stuff.
The oldest operating distillery in the parish of Glenlivit, Scotland, here we have what might be the most famous single-malt scotch ever poured.
Famous for its sexy, red wax sealed top! or mix. Keep it classy, Detroit.
When this gin hit the market, in 1987, it did so in true Manhattan fashion. From modern cloth patterns to high design martini glasses, the launch campaign featured renowned artists and designers such as Marcel Wanders and Yves Behar. So, yeah, Bombay Sapphire is sexy from the inside out.
Made entirely from blue agave, Patrón's stable of tequilas — Silver, Añejo, Reposado, Gran Patrón Platinum, Gran Patrón Burdeos and the coffee flavored Patrón X.O. — is top-quality booze. All of it, kids.
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