Raise the bar
A shortlist of better bars, for drinking, music and more
Published: October 20, 2010
Ashley's 338 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-9191; 5150 Carpenter Rd., Ypsilanti; 734-528-9898: With an award-winning beer selection from the four corners of the earth, made-to-order food using fresh ingredients, and a genuinely hospitable attitude, Ashley's is an excellent bar for beer-lovers. Think you've run out of new beers to explore? Better stop in soon.
The Belmont 10215 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-871-1966: This long, rectangular bar is nestled snugly on Hamtramck's main drag, situated inconspicuously among the oddball dollar stores, ethnic grocers and resale shops. But its glowing red sign serves as a beacon to hardened barflies and rock 'n' rollers alike, who come for cheap beer, generous shots and many of Detroit's best songsters. Keep walking and the walls begin to close in — an abrupt narrowing that ends at the stage. This crank layout means you can avoid the stage without feeling totally separated from the action. Live shows abound, with some terrific punk oldies, such as GBH and Jello Biafra, hitting the stage in the last month alone.
The Berkley Front 3087 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-547-3331: The magic number, it turns out, is 42. That's how many beers you'll find on tap at this neighborhood biergarten. And, unlike most bars, the Berkley Front features an uncarbonated pull, and there are always several local brews to choose from, matched up against a genuine selection of German and Belgian ones. The beer pulls you in, but the juke, live music and conversation keep you there.
Bert's Marketplace 2727 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-2030: This granddaddy of the current jam scene is into its second decade. You never know what to expect — luminaries, swingin' grade-schoolers brought by doting parents or a waif of a singer from Central America with limited conversational English, fluently belting "Midnight Train to Georgia — for the $3 cover.
Cass Cafe 4620 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1400: As if the vintage bicycles chained up outside weren't a clue. Then the walls tell the story. The music backs it up. Look over the shoulder of any messenger-bag-wielding patron and you're likely to find them — assuming they're not chomping into a turkey burger or sipping a pint— sketching, reading, knitting, writing, perhaps focused on a MacBook. Pretentious? Nah. OK, maybe sometimes, but how can art exist without that? Cass Cafe is the unofficial meeting place for Detroit painters, poets, musicians, etc. The crowd's a boho and blue-collar blend, fairly reflective of the creative community as such. And the place is as much an art gallery as a café; its walls adorned with local fine art — mostly paintings and installation pieces — that's usually engaging.
Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave.; 313-961-2543: Cliff Bell's honcho Paul Howard will tell you jazz is "the best music to see live — especially in small setting." And although there's more than jazz to be seen and heard in this art deco temple — other musical genres, burlesque, poetry and the Moth story-telling sessions, for instance — it has built a stable of top-notch local swinging regulars, semi-regulars and occasionals — including the Hot Club of Detroit, Gerard Gibbs and Wendell Harrison's Swing Ensemble — and such out-of-towners as Dr. Lonnie Smith and France's Moutin Reunion. It can get rather noisy for listening, but it's also got class galore and great small-plates dining.
Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. 120 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-741-7325: Downtown Ann Arbor's burger- and steak-lovers' go-to spot, Grizzly Peak offers several of its award-winning beers on tap. And, as it winds down for the night, its pub, the Den, rolls out the red carpet for cash-strapped beer connoisseurs. Every night after 11 p.m., the space's massive oak bar, high-topped tables and cozy booths fill with friends who prefer chatting over a pint to getting freaked on. But get there early — this little gem fills up fast!
Grand Trunk 612 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-3043: It's Saturday morning — you're looking for good grub and drink that's not OJ. What to do? It's easy: Head to downtown Detroit to the Grand Trunk (formerly Foran's), where brunch and booze ain't no joke. The funky, compact bar sits inside the old Detroit Grand Trunk ticketing station. The House pop is Faygo and the bread's from Avalon Bakery, the produce is from Eastern Market, and the taps boast 14 various Michigan brews.
Goodnite Gracie Jazz & Martini Bar 301 Huron St., Ann Arbor; 734-623-2070; 224 S Sherman Dr., Royal Oak, 248-584-7400: Though the musical flavorings change throughout the week at both of the Goodnite Gracie lounge locations — bringing in jazz, reggaeton, funk, blues, live music and DJs — they consistently serve up myriad martinis metro Detroiters crave. The original location in Royal Oak serves up their magnificent martinis and all other fantastically fermented beverages at a half-off happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Note: You'd be doing yourself a favor to make the attached Italian bistro, D'Amato's, your dinner destination.
Jolly Pumpkin 311 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-913-2730: While pub-like in atmosphere, the food is a bit more up-to-date. Expect tofu cracklings, French fries flavored with rosemary and truffle salt, and a butcher's snack board of cured meats and more. There is no real entrée menu as such. A small list of daily specials are offered, such as broiled walleye and mushroom risotto. The rest of the list consists of salads, sandwiches and pizza. Children are considered with an entire section of their own. And, of course, there is the beer. Diners not yet familiar with Jolly Pumpkin beers might want to ease into the experience with something slightly tamer, like a North Peak Amber Ale. But hardcore fans will likely find the cask ale to be the liquid they want in their glass. Along with a few Michigan wines and spirits, and a list of non-alcoholic cocktails, there's a drink for everyone. Open 11-2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, noon-midnight Sunday.
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