Best of Detroit 2011
Photo: Marvin Shaouni
Spend the Night - Staff Picks
From upscale cocktails to dives to rawk 'n' roll, our fave nocturnal haunts
Published: April 27, 2011
Best Dive Bar
The Painted Lady
2930 Jacob St., Hamtramck, 313-874-2991; myspace.com/paintedlady
Do you remember what bars used to be like? Dusty, dirty, dark places where shifty characters gave you the fish-eye as you walked in? Places where any decent person would about-face and walk out? Where illicit behavior was warranted and winked at? Don't remember? Then you should stay as far away from the Painted Lady as possible. But if you want to join the ranks of the down and out, the losers, the screamers, the whiskey-soaked crowd mulling over failed dreams and washing the bullshit down, you couldn't do better than this venerable Hamtramck watering hole. Best of all are the oddball groups of crust punks, hipsters and, heck, even full-on Zen Buddhists who seem to enjoy crashing the fun. No yuppies allowed. Use the side door.
Best Low-Key Bar Night
Tuesdays in the Forest at the Loving Touch
22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3696
For the last few years, champion bar manager and community energizer Carey Gustafson has invited musicians, music writers and certain music scenesters to haul their music collection to the Loving Touch — your best bet to find a drunk musician any day of the week — and play DJ in "the forest" for a night. The thing is, no matter who's designing the night's playlist, the atmosphere is perfectly rounded out by conversations that swell mostly around music — good music — by chatty folk into what they're talking about.
Best Way To Have Concert-Quality Sound In Your Home
Pay musicians to play there
Andrew Rothman gives concerts under the banner of the Detroit Groove Society with his wife, Diane, in their West Bloomfield home; Danilo Perez, Cedar Walton, Michael Weiss are a few of the 20 or so artists they've presented in the last six or seven years. He shared a few pieces of advice for the prospective home-concert promoter when we contacted him the other day. He's a jazz fan, but the advice works regardless of genre. First, realize "the Internet is always your friend" for contacting artists. Second, figure out who is already booked to perform in the area so that their major travel is already paid for; the idea of staying in town an extra day to play in a relaxed enviroment for an attentive audience may be enticing for an affordable fee. The Rothmans charge $40 for adults, $15 for students, and get 35-45 attendees per concert, which more or less breaks even other than food and refreshments for the party. The most important thing, he said, is to remember it's a labor of love. Get on DGS e-mail list by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best Fire Guild
Detroit Fire Guild
OK, so there aren't any other "fire guilds," but that doesn't mean this troupe of outlaw circus and fire performers hasn't earned this honor. Rising from the ashes of the former Fire Fabulon group, this group of 20 to 30 Burning Man alums has been playing everywhere from Theatre Bizarre to Hustler Club, surprising people everywhere they go. Lately, they've upped their game, putting on the Winter Ball at the Crofoot's Eagle Theater in Pontiac, a full-on circus with fire dancers, gypsies, clowns and pagan revelry. Don't miss their upcoming show at the Crofoot (9 p.m. on April 30), The Fires of Beltane, a pagan-themed springtime spectacular with trapeze acts and a "human sacrifice." Their goal is to create an immersive experience where the audience wonders where the hell they are, or may even join the out-of-control fun.
Best Place to Understand What "garage-ist theater" Means
2357 Caniff St., Hamtramck; 313-365-4948
Despite Hamtown's dire fiscal straits, the local amateur theater has managed to stay afloat with eye-widening spirit and plenty of blue-collar sweat equity. Kudos to them for that, to be sure, considering the local failure rate of indie enterprises. Located on Caniff — which is, you'll note, Hamtramck's Broadway — where it's still kinda Detroit, the theater's like any other art that manages to thrive in the city; it's gritty and hard-won, but this one's blessed with performers who trade in authenticity. Besides, what are the options?
Best Old Speakeasy
10093 W. Seven Mile Rd., Detroit; 313-862-9768
Founder Tom Lucas bought the building in 1928, when Prohibition was law, and when Seven Mile was a dirt road. An astonishing 83 years later, Tom's survives, despite problems. In the last 10 years they've dealt with failed city lighting, a half-dozen break-ins, stolen power hookups, cut gas and water lines and, a few years ago, a car crash that caved in the front of the tavern and killed a woman on the sidewalk. How does it go on living? It's because the tavern's loyal patrons step into the breach whenever the bar is endangered, as volunteers and benefactors. It helps that the tavern has always attracted interesting people, and celeb news anchor Bill Bonds and pizza baron Mike Ilitch have been past patrons and supporters. Owner Ron Gurdjian, who purchased the place from Lucas in 2001, has overseen some radical effort to keep the building safe, and says, after almost a decade of work, it's "almost ready for bad weather." Open mostly on weekends, it's most crowded around Babe Ruth's birthday, when the walls are decked out with Ruth-related quotes and history.
Auto Tune Karaoke
Every Monday night at the Majestic Complex's Garden Bowl and Thursday nights at the River Place Bar, karaoke innovator Adam Pressley hosts Auto Tune Karaoke, where, as he puts it, "We can all be just like Kanye!" Kanye's too cool to have this much fun. The thrills here are cheap and true. Take your best shot at MJ, ABBA or Morris Day, all natural fits for the Auto-Tune treatment — hey, just like radio stars! — or digitize your voice to create playful contrasts and redo Bobby Brown, Björk or the Beatles.
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