Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Study Spots

As all students living in Ann Arbor know, it's getting to be exam time. Some students have already started their exam blitz, I know I have. Studying for exams is one of my least favorite things. Not because it's particularly painful, I just get bored. I hate being told things twice, and I feel like studying it telling myself the same things over and over again. I get antsy, and end up studying for 5 minutes, and taking a 30 minute brake before resuming for another 5 minutes. However, I have come up with a system to help with this: Studying at the bar.

Now, this gets me weird looks from the general populous, but I'm telling you, it works wonders. Having a beer or so an hour does enough to relax me that I can focus on my studies without getting bored, or letting my mind wander. Most Ann Arbor bars, have WiFi access to patrons, so if internet access is needed, it's available. Also, food is always a waitress-flag-down away, too.

Not all bars are good for this study technique, but the following provide a good atmosphere (fairly quiet, WiFi access, etc.):

BTB Cantina: Food, WiFi, fairly inexpensive (but terrible) beer. Other than nights (post 10pm) Thursdays and Fridays, this is a pretty good study spot, otherwise, it get's pretty loud, but there are nice couches.

Good Time Charliey's: Food, WiFi, very cheap food and drink during one of the longest happy hours in Ann Arbor (2:30-6) all throughout the week. It's super quiet until around 8pm.

Scorekeepers: Food, WiFi. I really only would go on Wednesday. NO ONE is there, and they have a great deal for $6, you can snag a good burger, fries, and any pint they have on draft. This fits in nicely with the 'Study Day' for students this Wednesday before finals.

Grizzly Peak: Food, WiFi, a bit more expensive. Unless you're planning on rolling through for the post-11pm study session, this can be pretty expensive, but it's generally not too loud, and you may run into your prof, so you could always just ask questions about the material to them (especially if you're taking 'History of College Athletics').

Places to Avoid:

Mitch's, Heidelberg, Conor O'Neil's, Rick's (honestly, if you needed me to mention that, you should probably euthinize yourself), GTC's in the evening, the list goes on.

I wish the Tap Room in the Union was still a tap room. Life would be so perfect if that were the case. Oh well, curse our country's founded-by-prude-ness.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Event: Euchre Tournament

When: Wednesdays 8pm (weekly)

Where: BTB Cantina

It is a round robin format. there is a $8 per team entrance fee. First place gets a $30 bar tab Second place gets their $8 back. There are various specials for those playing, including discounted food, and beer.

For those non-midwesterners out there, Euchre is a fantastic card game and you should learn it (link to rules).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Requiem: Leopold Bros.

In May 2008, one of the finest bars/hangout spots in Ann Arbor moved away. Leopold's was not only a brewery, not only a distillery, and not only a restaurant. It was quintessentially Ann Arbor.

Leopold's was as I would imagine Heaven to be, if Heaven sold beer, doughy pretzels with fantastic mustard, and absinthe.
As you walked in for the first time, you would noticed how strange it felt. while completely open, the building was divided into very distinct areas. Wide open spaces were the dividing lines between each segment.
One quarter was dedicated to 'Ann Arbor's Largest Jukebox Selection,' along with pool tables. No matter the day, it was extremely rare to find at least one of the tables being used. I rarely ventured to Leopold's to play the pool, but the tables were well taken care of, the slate was level, and the felt well groomed. Only Monkey Bar had better maintained tables.

Across from the pool tables was the bar/restaurant area. Typical restaurant style tables and fairly comfortable chairs rested alongside the large bar with a large TV within view, generally with local news or sporting events just loud enough that you could hear it if you wanted to, but It was inaudable to those farther away. Behind the bar: a large wall of games, ranging from Monopoly to Sorry! to Scattergories. The Ann Arbor branch of the International Sorry League played there every Sunday. Any of the games could be checked out with the deposit of a driver's licence.

A quarter of the building consisted of long picnic tables with bench seating. You would see groups of people sitting together with their laptops on a Sunday working on their fantasy drafts before a season of Sport X begain. A table down, a (sometimes raucous) game of Apples to Apples would be played, sometimes disturbing the UofM GSI two tables over who was grading papers. An order would come up, and the smell of asiago covered breadsticks would waft through the air, watering the mouth of every patron in the resturant.

The remaining section had a more lounge feel to it. It had it's own TV and soft leather couches, a few coffee tables, and a dart board. The lighting in this corner was low key, and the shape of the roofline and entrance directed sound away from this area. If it was a particularly busy night, this corner was ideal for graduate students to shift to, allowing them to continue writing their paper with a fine drink in hand.

All of the beverages were made in small batches. The distillery won awards with 3 of it's 4 spirits, including an award for it's absinthe (which had been recently legalized in the United States). All of their take-home bottles were hand labeled with batch numbers written on in pen. I tribute to the personalized nature of the place. Each bottle unique, a reflection of it's birthplace.
Around the back, closed off by a glass door, you could see the inner workings of both the brewery and distillery. The large polished kettles caught your eye evertime you walked by. The beer was made in small enough batches that at least one new beer would be available each week, while one would come out of the rotation. While there were generally only 3 or 4 beers any given night. None of them were given witty or esoteric names. It was kept simple, because beer doesn't need to be pretentious. On Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, all beer was half off ($2 for a pint, $3 for 24oz.) For $6 ($4 if you tipped well the night before) you could 'go around the horn' and have a pint of each beer. At least enough to last two games of Sorry!, three if you're a particularly slow drinker or fast Sorry!-er.

The charm LB's had resided in it's air of high brow quality. It's focus was making a place where you could kick back with a quality drink, and slowly, quietly do work, hang out with friends, or just have a snack, without being bothered by drunken 19 year olds who came with a fake ID from someone who's 6 inches shorter than they are. And all of this was accomplished without creating an isolating environment. Indeed, it was the most open bar in town.

Alas, they are gone. They left for Colorado in May. Skyrocketing rental costs along with archaic brewing and distribution laws forced them to leave the area. The cost per month for the location had tripled in the last few years, and the company could not keep up with it, dispite growing sales numbers. Selling their beer in stores required a separate ditribution center in Michigan. They sold their brewing equipment in March, as it would not be making the move down to Colorado along with them. The final batches of the various brews dwindled, and then ran dry. They continued to distill to the end. Martini's and absinthe verdi were forced to replace the brown ale and the porter. A slow death for one so loved.

They've reestablished themselves in Denver, now. No longer brewing, but still crafting award winning liquors. They've now branched out to liquers and various whiskeys, some of which have already won first places in various competitions. I wish them the best, and hope Denver treats them well. I hope to visit them in the future to see the 'new' LB's. Denver is a great town and hopefully with treat them well.

Cheers to Leopold's! To live in hearts we leave behind is to not die! You are missed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grizzly Peak Brewing Company

The Location: 120 W. Washington (between Main and Ashley)

The Facts: Grizzly Peak opened in 1995, after refurbishing an older building just south of Kerrytown. It is one of two breweries still in Ann Arbor, since the departure of Leopold Bros. GP keeps about 6 beers constantly on tap, with three other seasonal specialties. These are swapped almost every week, and more than once, I've seen them swapped while I was there. Drafts are $4.50 dollars during regular hours, but after 11pm, all drafts are $1.99 all nights. You can order beer samplers as well, where you can taste some or all of the various beers on tap for fairly cheap (price varies on how many beers you get). There are also various wines, and bottled beers, as well as a fairly well stocked liquer cabnet.

Grizzly Peak also offers a quite nice menu for lunch and dinner. The prices are moderate, though I would have to say my personal favorite is the pulled pork slider for $1.99. I generally get 4-6 and I must say. They're delicious. Be wary, the kitchen closes at 11, the same time happy hour starts.

GP has a 'Mug Club' where, for around $60 you can buy a lifetime membership, and get 25% off all in-bar and to-go beer (growlers, mini-kegs, etc.). Also, when ordering a draft, you get your beer in a special mug, which is slightly larger than a normal pint. Other perks of Mug Club membership include special 'Mug Club only' events, and other special deals.

The first tuesday of every month, there is a 'Brewer's Night' from 6-9 where there is discussion on home brewing techniques and tips, as well as $2 off beer samplers.

I find GP to be a fantastic place to go and 'hangout'. I don't think I've ever gone there on a weekend with a bunch of people, but almost every Sunday, my two friends (though one of them has lamely been absent recently) and I head out around 10:30 and have a few beers and chat. You can often find various Ann Arbor locals/professors doing the same. I would regard it as a much more stereotypical 'pub'/'brewpub' than anywhere else in Ann Arbor, even ABC has a bit of a 'college bar' atmosphere, compared to GP.

There are a few televisions around the bar, that generally have various sports games, and sometimes news on them. I certainly wouldn't consider it a 'sports bar' but on the occcation, townies will show up to watch an NFL game dressed in their favorite team's gear.

The biggest problem I have with Grizzly Peak is the location. If you live near Kerrytown, this is a fantastic hangout, but it is a bit out of the way to someone like me who lives in University Towers (hopefully for the last time after this year...). As it gets colder I'm afraid I'll be less and less likely willing to make the trek, but we'll see.

Given the choice of late night hangout, I would chose GP first or second in almost any situtation. The prices are low, and I'm becoming a bit more 'low-key' as I evacuate my youth, which, matches the atmosphere there. I wouldn't really want to go there for a birthday, or some other event with a lot of people, and going there early is asking for a large tab, but a dinner there is pretty nice, with pretty good food. I give GP 4 stars. The food and drink is quite good, and the atmosphere is fantastic if that's what you're looking for, but the prices other than late night beers make this prohibitive for anything but special nights, at least for my wallet.

Link: http://grizzlypeak.net/default.html

Monday, October 20, 2008

State College - A Comparison

Over this last weekend, I took a trip down to State College with a couple of my friends. While I didn't get to spend more than about 34 hours there, I'll attempt to give a description and comparison of it to Ann Arbor, to give a better idea of what I like and dislike about Ann Arbor, and how another, fairly similar college town matches up.

Ok, I'll be the first person to say that visiting only two of the many many bars in State College was both a terrible mistake and an epic fail of my own, but we did visit one of the two bars that we were told were the "can't miss" State College hotspots, The Lion's Den. Now, if you've ever driven on I-94 or half a dozen other highways in America, you'll know that this is the name of an 'adult book store' chain. Well... not so with this. The Lion's Den in State College is completely incomparable to any Ann Arbor bar. It has both outdoor and indoor seating, the outdoor being covered with an awning. The building is actually quite small, maybe only 30-40 feet across by about 60 feet. Along each of the long sides of the building there is a bar. We arrived about and hour before the PSU-Michigan game, and were able to find a seat, but within 15 minutes of gametime, we were never able to even see our waitress again, it got that packed.
Pitchers of Bud Light were on special for $4 and other domestics were $5.

The style of the bar was completely foreign to me. It had the decor of the amalgamation of a barbershop, a 50s diner, and a modern architecture interior. The crowd was rowdy, but less douchey than the average Penn State crowd we encountered (see below). I liked it, though it felt a little Socotran, being so different than what I'm used to.

The other bar we went to, earlier in the day (mostly because we all had to pee really badly, but we ended up staying a little because the people seemed cool) was Saloon. This place is two parts Rick's, one part Scorekeepers. The bar is located down a flight of stairs and under another business. The bar is fairly well lit, (though for things other than games, I'm going to guess they darken it up quite a bit). There is a small dance floor and stage in one half of the bar. The other half has tables and booths. There were at least 5 TVs up showing various football games.

The drink menu included fairly standard fare, but also had small pitchers of rum and coke for $7 which was kind of cool. I don't think I've had a rum and coke in years. The other interesting thing, I don't really remember was it was called, but I knew it had 'monkey' in it's name, was basically a 60oz pitcher of a Long Island Iced Tea (and the various derivations there of). It came in multiple flavors, but what set it apart from the fishbowls at Charlie's was the fact that it was VERY strong. It cost $12.
The gameday atmosphere was that of Skeeps. The patrons were adults, generally alumni. I didn't see any students in the bar.

The recurring theme I saw in both of these bars was that the men's room bathrooms consisted of just a trough with water made of sheet metal, and a similar looking sink (no soap). I can only assume drunk Penn State students often mistake one for the other. If you plan on going, I recommend bringing hand sanitizer. Oh, and take a dump before you go out.

The most glaring difference between State College and Ann Arbor is in the restaurants. On every block, there was at least one chain restaurant. McDonald's, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Auntie Anne's, Long John Silver's, KFC, Arby's, Wendy's, Chi-Chi's, Hardee's, just to name a few. We have a few chain restaurants, but in Ann Arbor we keep them either out of downtown, or in the Unions. This is why Ann Arbor has been home to so many startups that are now big businesses. We keep the chains out to let small businesses grow. I won't go into why this is a better idea in this post, but the next time you're walking through AA, notice that you have more unique places to eat and take advantage of it.

Pre-Kickoff Gameday Atmosphere:
Well, I'm not going to say I've never had liquor poured on me before, but I certainly never had it poured on me from 8 stories up. Penn State fans are ROWDY, and a lot of them are pretty obnoxious. When the three of us were walking around town in maize, we were told to 'Go home faggots' no less than 18 times. They certainly are passionate. Before the game, everyone was very excited and 'pumped up'. My strongest indicator of this was how many PSU fans around me responded when I yelled 'We Are!'.

Post-Final Whistle Gameday Atmosphere:
In stark contrast to the pre-game, NO ONE was excited after this game. After 12 years, there is no cheering in the streets, no excitement, nothing. The fans looked dejected and solemn. 




Penn State regards us (mostly because of the 12 year streak) as one of their biggest rivals. They got exactly what they've wanted for YEARS and now... what? How did the intensity before the game fade so fast? It was even a come from behind victory, and they're well on their way to having a Big Ten Championship and a shot at the National Title. I expected more.  Sad. I'm glad we found a 'gathering/party/whatever' afterwards, because the town was dead post-game. At most, I could muster no more than about 15 people half-heartedly responding to my 'We Are!' How boring. 

I only went to two, so my sample size is about as statistically significant as the evidence that taking ginko improves your memory. Howeva! I will describe them to the best of my ability/recollection.

1.) The first party I went to was a weird cross-breed between a frat party (because of the total lack of girls/the fact that it was thrown by a bunch of guys in a frat) and a multiple-house/apartment party. The frat was fairly new and didn't have an actual house, so a bunch of the brothers rented a bunch of duplexes near (but not attached) to each other.

These houses had pretty standard fair, a few people's personal fifths, Natural Light (in cans, they said something about not being able to get kegs)  and the case my friends and I brought with us of (very warm) Busch. In one of the houses, there was a foosball table that seemed to be garnering a lot of attention. Though we arrived around midnight, the party was said to have died down considerably already. People were mostly sitting around on couches talking. Other thanfoosball, an empty beer pong table was the only remaining evidence that an 'actual' party had gone on. Very low key.

2.) The second 'party' I went to was not really a 'party' but I didn't know what else to call it and it's similar in many ways to what happens in Ann Arbor, so I figure I'd mention it. We got invited to some girl's house after the bar (Lion's Den) to hang out, mainly because this girl wanted in one of the guys-(who will remain anonymous)I-came-down-with's pants. Like whoa.

At her upon-departure-request from the bar, we changed out of our UofM gear, and headed over to her apartment (which we got a little lost trying to find). Once we got there, there were about 8 people total, two of whom left shortly there after. We sat around, waiting for our friend to make a move and drinking for a few hours. People who have hooked up with someone they've met at the bar, know this routine. However, two things were very different:
  1. This started at around 8:30 pm. Even after a late-ish game, this is much sooner than almost anyone I know here in AA will start partying again. You need time to recharge before resuming drinking (this led to yours truly not remembering anything after 11:00.
  2. My friend who the girl was digging on failed so entirely to pull the trigger, I don't have the words to convey the disappointment we all felt for him. The only way she could have made it easier for him would have been to rip off his pants and demand sexing. Sadly, she just gave him every other possible signal available.

The night concluded (I can only assume, by taking in the evidence left the next morning) with the other one of my friends and I falling asleep on the couches in this girl's apartment, while the first friend slept on the floor next to us... because couches are for closers. We discreetly left around 8am. The icing on the cake was that this girl called us while we were on the way back to Ann Arbor, and told us how disappointed she was that *name redacted* didn't at least wake her up and say goodbye. Megafails.

Other notes:
Holy crap. My friends and I rolled in at around midnight and Friday, and the first thing I notice was that EVERYONE was out. Like, honestly, Ann Arbor doesn't have that many people out and about ever.
Not only were the yards/sidewalks/etc. covered in people, they seemed to not notice that there were cars driving on the streets. Ann Arbor jaywalkers will at least make an effort to not get hit by a car, or maybe just look both ways/make eye contact with the driver they are planning on walking out in front of.
State College-ites? Not so much.

The tailgate, which is massive, we did not attend. I hope to visit again to give a more complete review of this important aspect of the State College scene.

In the end:
State College is VERY cool. If Michigan has a bye-week when PSU has a home game, sometime in the future, I'll definitely go. I wouldn't really like to live there, because of the lack of uniqueness in the commerical district, but to visit, I very much recommend it. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The Location: 812 Monroe (just south of the Law Quad)

The Facts:
Dominick's is a restaurant that's known for it's atmosphere and drinks. It is open during the spring, summer, and fall, and maintains fairly early hours closing at 10pm most nights. It has some indoor seating, but the majority of the tables are outside, with a first and second story patio in both the front and back.

Other Info:
Dominick's will be closing for the winter (I'll try to find out exactly when ASAP) soon. If you want to visit, now is the time.

As I said before Dom's is known for it's atmosphere. The almost exclusive outdoor seating and the interior decor give it a feeling of a spanish bistro mixed with an alpine cafe. The patrons are a nice blend of townies (often there with their children), law students, and professors. The undergrad population there is considerably smaller than you would assume given the proximity to student housing, but I certainly welcome the change of pace from the younger spots in AA.

Dom's also has a very famous sangria. You can order it in pints, quarts, and half gallons, (pricing scales from ~$6 to ~$17. It comes in a mason jar, and you can pour it into smaller cups at your table. It is mixed there at Dom's using their own recipe, much like MY favorite Dom's drink: Constant Buzz.

This stuff is to die for. Remember the first time you saw a boob that didn't belong to a family member? Yeah, like that, but with alcohol. And stawberries.

It's basically a strawberry daqueri but with about 5 more types of alcohol. It only comes in one size (slightly less than a half gallon) mason jar, and costs about $20. When it's fall, it's less fun to drink, as it's cold out, but during the summer, there really is nothing better, than on, a Friday afternoon, going to Dom's splitting, a Constant Buzz with a friend, and sitting out on the top porch watching Ann Arbor go about it's business.

Dominick's also sells a number of local wines, and has several local beers on tap. These drafts are fairly costly, and I have never had one there.

The food at Dominick's is what you would expect from a Continental restaurant. Pasta, pastries, seafood etc. The pricing is fairly steep, so, if on a budget, I'd recommend somewhere else, though the few times I've had it, the food has been pretty good.

Personally, I've never been to a place like Dominick's in the states. It's a very European experience. I recommend going there with someone who's already been once, just because the intricacies of ordering, etc. are a little confusing at first, but definitly try to make it there if you have the time and money. I give it 4 stars.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Across The Bar

Last night, I was asked to guest barback at Circus Bar and Billiards for Friday (that'd be tonight, for you kids keeping track).
I'm not sure exactly what I'll be doing, most likely checking IDs, busing cans and bottles, etc. I'm really excited. The fact that I was asked is probably the funniest part, perhaps being an indication I go there too often.
I'm hoping to get insights on what it's like to have to deal with drunk bar attendees, and how to be a better patron.

I've always wanted to run/own a bar (after my illustrious film career takes off, of course), and I can at least see some of the difficulties that would pose doing this.

Should be fun. Karaoke night tonight at Circus, swing on by!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Red Belly Boardshop

The Location: 1671 Plymouth Rd. (on the corner of Murfin and Plymouth)

The Facts:
Red Belly Boardshop opened in 2002, becoming one of the premier action sports shops in the area. They are active in snowboarding, skateboarding, kiteboarding, and wakeboarding. They sponsor local competitions at various locations in the Ann Arbor area, as well as the occational local video. They also offer comprehensive kiteboarding lessons, as well as snowboarding lessons and skating tips.
Redbelly has a full stock of hard and soft goods, from shoes to decks, as well as skate and snow vids. Other items for sale include hardwear for all your equipment, rails, mini-verts, etc. They offer tune ups for gear, waxing, edgesharpening, just about anything you could need.

My favorite part of going to Red Belly is that it's owned and operated by riders/skaters/whatever you call kiteboarders. They know their stuff, and they're always willing to help you with a question. They'll work with you regardless of your knowledge (or lack thereof) to get you in the right gear for the right price.

Their stock is large, though there are a few brands they don't carry. When asked about a particular brand, one of the guys responded, "while their high end boards are good, there's a huge disparity between quality and price." While I'm not sure how true that is, the concept is good: only supply quality products. I lift my hat to those guys for it.

The soft goods selection has increased in recent years. It's populated with the brands you'd expect: Volcom, DC, Vans, etc. along with Red Belly's own line of clothing and hats. They even have their own board.

I like the concept of RBS along with places like it. It's somewhere where some guys focus entirely on their sport of passion. They're not just geared at making money, they're dedicated to the culture. While RBS doesn't stick out in terms of uniqueness in terms of boardshops, it does stick out in terms of Ann Arbor culture. There are few good boardshops in SE Michigan, in general, and RBS has higher quality and larger selection than the other shops in the area. The reason: the owners/employees. Good job guys, keep on huckin'. Four Stars.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Village Corner

The Location: 601 S. Forest (corner of S. Forest and South U.)

The Facts: 
Started in 1970, Village Corner has one of the largest wine selections in Michigan, with over 5000 wines. It is also a general store, also dabbling in tobacco products with over 350 cigar varieties. Village Corner was built after a fire destroyed a once historic residence of many Ann Arborites, including Bob Dylan (Rob Zimmerman at the time). It remains one of the few places close to campus that acts as a true grocery store with (semi)fresh fruit and veggies, packaged meat, etc.

My VC visits up until this school year had been limited to the rare mid-night-on-the-town stops for 40s and the like in between parties. It wasn't until this year, when I moved across the street from it did I realize just how cool it was. The first time I went to buy a bottle of wine (a necessary aid when studying French, in my opinion), I spent 40 minutes perusing before coming to my final selection. I had been in VC before, but I didn't realize just how big it was until I took the time to wander through the selection. You can find just about anything you're looking for there, and if you can't, the expert wine staff can help you. They're there from 9am-6pm everyday but Sunday (noon-6pm). The beer selection is large, but not staggering, while the cigar selection is probably the 3rd or 4th largest in Ann Arbor. Good, not great.

While VC doesn't have a Meijer-sized selection of food, you can pick out most of what you need, from frozen foods, to canned goods, to meat and greens. The quality of the veggies is a big hit or miss, and the prices are a big higher, so it's best to do your shopping in bulk elsewhere, if you're on a tight budget, but for those who live nearby it's a convenient place to grab a few groceries.

VC's ability to sell liquor at current is in question due to unknown circumstances. I overheard this being murmered between employees, but when asked, they responded they just had a shipping snafu. I plan on updating info on this later. When it's there, the liquor is fairly standard in selection and price for a near-campus business, with perhaps a slightly larger selection than average. Being far from well versed on wine and the particulars of it's pricing, I'm unaware how VC stacks up to other places but it didn't seem too different, from my limited knowledge. Also, when buying wine, you can get a 5% discount on any purchase of 6 or more bottles, which seems like a pretty decent deal.

Village Corner's building is a little sketchy, with a fairly dirty appearance, both inside and out. The employees, especially the late night employees tend to be a bit crabby, and contribute to a less than stellar atmosphere. I give it three stars. It's an astoundingly good wine cellar with a convenent grocery store attached and I like the fact that I don't need to drive to Meijer to get my shopping done. It's off the mark on it's cleanliness and employees. I'd love to give it four stars but until the fresh food quality improves I don't see myself giving it a four star rating.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I feel I should explain my criteria for the ratings in my reviews:

The quality I hold in highest regard is uniqueness. I will never review the Starbucks on South U, because it's Starbucks. If you've been to one, you've been to them all. Ann Arbor is home to few chain restaurants (though when it is host to a chain, it feels the need to play host to 87 of them, e.g. Jimmy John's), and I think it is an indication that we haven't yet given up our 'bastion of individualists' title. If a restaurant is simply a clone of Ruby Tuesdays,  Bennigan's, etc. Or if it's a fairly run-of-the-mill bar, I will rate it lower than I would a more unique business.

The next most important quality is pricing. If someone plans on charging me $6 for a domestic draft, $9 for a movie ticket in an uncomfortable seat, or $12 for a standard hamburger when there is equal or better food/drink/tickets elsewhere, I'm going to dock them. It's not so much a matter of me giving the best ratings to the cheapest businesses, but I will give the best ratings to the places that have better than average quality for how much you are paying.

The other big quality that determines the rating I will give a business is the atmosphere. While this plays into the two above listed traits, I feel I need to make clear that it is, in an of itself, distinct. The atmosphere is affected by the typical patrons (students? professors? Yspians?), the quality of the staff (are they nice? is service fast or slow?) and, for lack of a better term, the Feng Shui of the locale. A restaurant where you have to sit around for an hour to get your food under bright florescent lights while shady homeless guys hassle you for change is going to get more than a couple stars taken off of it's ranking.

I will try to rate places with consistency in category. Sports bars should have the same qualities as lounges. Short order diners shouldn't be graded on their visual appeal like a sit down restaurant should. I will make my best efforts to compare apples to apples, and feel free to call me out if I slip.

Finally, the scale I will use is from 1 to 5 stars. Five star businesses are places that you won't find anywhere else, are worthy of going again and again, and won't destroy your wallet. One stars are places I hope you never go to and I seriously regret any time I have ever gone there. Anything three stars an above you should make an effort to go to at least once, to complete your Ann Arbor experience.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Blind Pig

The Location: 208 S. First St. (between Liberty and Washington, two blocks west of Main)

The Facts: The Blind Pig was opened in 1971 by a couple of UofM students who renovated an abandoned building. It originally was a coffee shop and upscale blues lounge. In the early 80s the venue changed hands, was renovated yet again, and became more of what it is today: a stepping stone for young rock acts. They usually have concerts 5-6 days a week and ticket prices generally vary from $5-$15. Depending on the night, 21+ tickets are $3 less than 18+ tickets.

The Specials:
Blind Pig has a beer of the month, each month at a discounted price. For the month of September: Budweiser - $1.75

Other Info:
The Blind Pig typically hosts relatively unknown indie groups. It has also played host to then unknown, but eventually big stars ranging from Iggy Pop, to Nirvana. Curt Cobain regarded it as his favorite venue (and also Nirvana's first venue outside of Washington.)

The Pig is one of the most intimate venues I've ever been at. Even if you leave your place near the stage to get a drink/go to the bathroom, coming back and getting close isn't too difficult. There is always great interaction between the band and the audience. One concert I was at, the MC had someone come up onstage to beatbox for him while he freestyled.

The acoustics aren't fantastic but don't limit the venue as an enjoyable place to go. The advantage of it being a small venue is that the audio doesn't need to be cranked to reach the back, so standing at the front won't make you deaf for the next four days. 

The bar is fairly typical for this type of place. Bottles of beer, mixed drinks. Nothing is too pricey, but there aren't any 'deals' other than the beer of the month. Going to the bar after a set is generally a bad idea, as it's pretty crowded and the wait will be killer. The bar isn't far from the stage, so it's not like you'll be missing the concert if you slink off to grab a PBR.

The 8-Ball Saloon, located underneath the Pig is technically all part of the same place, but I'll review it separately because it's a very different place.

I give the Blind Pig four stars. It's a great place to go and rock out. While often the bands playing are unknown they generally bring in decent talent for a decent price, and you never know when the next Nirvana will be playing there.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

BTB Cantina

The Location: 1140 S. University (corner of South U. and Church)

The Facts:
Cantina opened it's doors last winter, after Upstairs at Charley's closed and was renovated. After several delays, BTB Cantina finally opened amongst much hype. It has much more of a lounge feel than a bar. There are several couches and tables arranged throughout. It is well lit, and generally not too loud. There are two dartboards and a shuffleboard table, along with a few video games. The bar serves standard BTB fare (burritoes, chips, etc.) as well as a wide assortment of tequila, margaritas, and Mexican beer (bottles only).  The tequila ranges from decently priced ($3) to YGBSM ($350). All tequilas can be had straight, tequila cruda, or in a margarita. BTB Cantina is open until 4am most (all?) nights. It's marketed as a stoner-getting-the-munchies hotspot with the slogan 'when you roll 'em... we roll 'em.'

Other Info: Cantina is rarely the only destination of it's patrons. From my observations most people stop in after going to another bar, to grab food and maybe one last drink, or as a short stop before going out to their final/next destination.

Probably the most hyped openings since I've been in Ann Arbor, BTB Cantina promised to be a combination of late-night-food and 'the next Charley's'. Well, consider me disappointed. While it's a very relaxed enviroment, it certainly lacks any real draw as a bar. The pitchers of margaritas are ok, but expensive for how much you get, tequila as your only liquor leads to upset stomachs and reluctant indulgence. My feelings regarding Mexican beer and how it is made are as follows:

Step 1.) Drink lots of tequila.
Step 2.) Urinate into jar.
Step 3.) Bottle contents of jar.

One of the few high points to BTB Cantina is the shuffleboard table. It is one of only two I know of in Ann Arbor. There often is someone playing it, but the wait is generally short. They also have a few nice dartboards, but the last time I was there (last week) the darts were damaged, so that's something to be aware of if you're looking for a place to play.

Though BTB Cantina is marketed to the 'stoner' crowd, I almost never see them there. Though I rarely stay past 3-ish, the plurality of Cantina patrons are college Greeks. It seems to take spill over from The Brown Jug, from what I can gather.

The redeeming quality of Cantina is going to it not at bar time. Going to Cantina with a laptop, using the wireless internet, and getting some work done with a margarita in hand seems like the best use of Cantina to me. It's fairly quiet, especially around 4pm, it's comfy (the couches rock) and food is within 25 feet. Other than that, it's a very sub-par bar/lounge. I give it two stars.

State Theater

The Location: 223 S. State (at the corner of State and Liberty)

The Facts:
An iconic Ann Arbor location, the State Theater has been around since 1942. In the 80s the balconied theater was divided to have four different screens. In the late 80s, the owner sold the lower half of the theater as retail space (now Urban Outfitters). The State tends to screen newer independant films during the week. Films generally start at 7 pm and 9:30 pm-ish. On Saturdays, the State has it's Midnight Movie, screening a different cult classic each week.

Other Info:
Screenings are $9 for adults, $7 for students, and $6 for Saturday and Sunday screenings before 6 pm. You can buy a membership that will reduce your ticket price to $6.50. On Tuesdays, student tickets are only $6.

Review: The State is not my favorite venue. Because each of the screens are the remains of the balcony getting chopped in two, all of the seats seem at an angle. The seats are comfortable enough, but the lack of leg room forces taller people to be a little cramped. The screen is smallish, but no disproportionate to the amount of seating. The audio system is a little hit or miss. I've been there times when it was fine, but other times (screening the same print) it's been terrible. The State is think is an underutilized resource for students, though. Considering it's location, the pricing is nice. If I believed in 'buying things for girls' on dates I'd take a date there, hell, even if I wasn't very interested in a girl, but she offered to buy me a ticket, I'd go there with her...

I'm a big fan of the Midnight Movie. All of the screenings are 35mm prints, and they show some great flicks. 'Back in the day' (25+ years ago) they used to alternate screening Harold and Maude and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now they mix it up much more, though Rocky Horror is always screened Halloween weekend. It's the only time when there are two Midnight Movie screenings in one weekend (Friday and Saturday).

I give the State four stars. It's something that should not be missed if you spend more than a few days in Ann Arbor per year. After UofM, the State Theater (along with the Michigan Theater) are the first things to pop into my head when picturing Ann Arbor. Fight Club is screening this Saturday at Midnight, if you're looking for something to do and can't find a party, I'd recommend going.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Event: Brian Regan

Brian Regan, one of my favorite comedians, will be doing a set at the Michigan Theater at 7 pm on Sunday, September 28th. Tickets are $39.50.

Family friendly (but still funny, trust me).

Post Frequency

I'm going to try to post two reviews a day for the next week or so, and then it will probably settle down to around one a day. Posts about cool stuff, like speaches, concerts, etc. will come as I hear about them.

That is all.

Good Time Charley's

The Location: 1140 S. University (corner of South U. and Church)

The Facts:
Since opening in 1979, GTC's has become a staple of the Ann Arbor college scene. They feature one of the largest shooter menus in town, along with a modest tap list. Charley's has several flat panel TVs hanging from the ceilings viewable from any seat inside the bar, showing college and pro athletics. Charley's has both interior and exterior seating, though as fall turns the weather colder, the exterior seating loses it's 'charm' and gains it's 'areyoujokingmemynipplesarefallingoffjustwalkinghere'. A little over a year ago, Charley's underwent a renovation, segmenting off several parts of the building. The top floor has since been filled with BTB Cantina, but the section on the west side has yet to be claimed.

The Specials:
Chuck's has one of the earliest Happy Hours in the Ace Duece, starting (on weekdays) at 2:30pm and running until 6. This features $3 pitchers of Miller Light, Killian's, Labatt Blue, and PBR, $2 tall beers (23 oz) of the same and a dollar off 'pub menu' food (pepperoni twists, onion rings, etc.) and mixed drinks. After 10pm, all of the above drinks go back on special but pitchers are instead $4.50, and talls are $3.25. Every night, there is a 'shot special' where one of the shots/shooters will be at a discounted price. Sunday nights are coin flips; after 10pm, you can flip a coin and if you call it in the air, your bill will be half off (only counts toward drinks bought after 10).

Other Info:
Charley's has karaoke on Tuesdays, supplied by DJ Stoo.

What to say about GTC's? The only real negative I can say about Chuck's is that after 10pm on Thursday-Saturday, it's pretty packed. Expect to wait in line to get in, unless you plan to arrive at 9:30 or earlier, and don't expect to get a table, either, especially when it gets colder.
While GTC's is rarely bad, it's rarely even close to spectacular. The prices are fair, but nothing I would really call a 'deal'. The beer list is uninspired to say the least, and it's generally too noisy to hear any of the TVs (though that's not really needed). Conversation is difficult from the noise as well, unless you don't mind yelling. Service is slow, more because of the number of people there than a bad wait staff, but I've waited over 45 minutes between sitting down and getting the pitcher I ordered.

While the crowd has it's negatives, it's also the reason why Charley's is to popular. You will almost never go to GTC's and not see someone you know. The fact that everyone seems to know someone and a friendly (if a little understaffed) staff, and comparably bright lighting make the bar have a 'happy' air about it, making it great for meeting new people.
The 'Longest Islands' at Charley's are quite popular. It's a giant mason jar (it used to be a hurricane glass, but people kept stealing them) filled with a selection from their various Long Island recipes. It'll ring in at $9.50 for  60 ounces.

Contributing, also, to it's popularity, is it's central location. It's right next to campus, it's very close to Greek Row, UTowers, and several other large student areas. On afternoons, it's a great place to get a seat outside and people-watch with a pitcher and a monster basket of fries.
I regard Charley's as a backup option every night. While it doesn't have a solid 'Must Go' night, it will never disappoint. I give GTC's three stars. If they were to add another special, I'd probably up rate them, but there's no real need for them to, since they don't have any problems filling up without it.


Quickie Burger and Dog

The Location: 800 S. State (corner of State and Hill)

The Facts:
Quickie Burger and Dog is a fairly new place to eat in Ann Arbor. It replaced Tubby's Grilled Subs last winter. Quickie serves burgers, hot dogs, fries, rings, etc. all made to order, with tons of different toppings available. They are open late night, generally until 3am to 4am every night, and staying open all night on Fridays before home games, and grilling outside on home game Saturdays.

Other Info:
Quickie is in the process of acquiring a liquor licence. The basement of Quickie will be converted into a bar. They have stated they plan on having 15-20 beers on tap, with a few rotating taps.

For those of us who have low cholesterol (or at least don't actually know their cholesterol and just say it's low), Quickie is probably the best food location in the world. I've eaten 5 straight meals there. The key to enjoying your Quickie experience is experimenting. You can get anything they have on anything. Bacon on your Dirty Cheesy Dog (cheese on a Coney dog)? No problem. Egg and cheese on your fries? Not an issue. You just have to ask. Divine inspiration (or an intoxicated late night food run)  can strike you with some of the most delicious Cholesterol Cornocopias ever dreamed up.

A lot of Ann Arbor purists have shunned QB&D in favor of Crazy Jim's Blimpy Burger. Now, don't get me wrong I like Crazy Jim's, but they close at 10... in a college town. That's like buying a girl dinner at Chop House, and when she asks you if you want to come up to her room, without a word, you throw her out of the car, slam on the gas and go home, alone, to wank-it to snow sculputres of polar bears.
Quickie knows that it's in a college town, and adjusts it's hours accordingly.

A Burger Joint for the People.

I rate QB&D five stars. Not only does it excell at being what it is (a late night greesy food joint), it strives to be more (a late night greesy food joint that you can get hammered at). When they finally get their liquor licence, I don't know what I'll do. The scale only goes up to five stars, but maybe I'll give it a 5+. Who knows.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Circus Bar and Billards

The Location: 210 S. First St. (two streets west of Main, between Liberty and Washington) Up the stairs, big red door.

The Facts: 
Circus is the top fourth of the Cavern Club 'complex' (a total of 4 bars/clubs). During the week, Circus is segmented away from the rest of the bars, but on Friday and Saturday, all 4 can be accessed through a series of stairwells, though cover is required on these nights. Know for it's economical drinks, free pool at their 5 tables, and free popcorn.

The Specials: 
Circus is known for it's very cheap PBR cans (yes, cans). While [oldpersonvoice]when I first started going there[/oldpersonvoice] the PBR was 55 cents, from open-1am, currently, the special runs from open-midnight, and the PBR is 75 cents. Apparently, after looking closely at the actual math of it, adding lost deposit on crushed cans, delivery, etc. they were losing money selling the Pibber's at $.55.

Other specials include $2 (one drink) Long Islands, $3 well drinks on Thursdays featuring mid-shelf 'well liquors' such as Jack Daniels, Jose Cuervo, and Tanqueray, $1 Jolly Rancher shooters, and $2 Bud Light bottles.

Other Info:
Circus's calendar is as follows:

Sunday - Closed
Monday - Occasionally Double Take Karaoke, otherwise standard pool/jukebox (No Cover)
Tuesday - Standard Pool/Jukebox (No Cover)
Wednesday -Bluegrass night (No Cover)
Thursday - Double Take Karaoke (No Cover)
Friday - Occasionally Double Take Karaoke, otherwise standard pool/jukebox ($5 Cover, access to all of Cavern Club)
Saturday - Occasionally Double Take Karaoke, otherwise standard pool/jukebox ($5 Cover, access to all of Cavern Club)

On No Cover nights, those 18-20 can get in for a $5 cover fee and black 'X's on your hands.
(Be wary, they tend to watch under 21's very closely and will kick you out if you even sip a drink.)

Yeah, so I go to Circus religiously. It's a rare Thursday that I'm not seen there belting tunes with Double Take's live karaoke band. It's really a completely different experience to machine karaoke. Circus has the distinction of being one of the few bars in Ann Arbor who's patrons are largely non-students. This is a mixed blessing. While Circus is rarely too crowded on weekday to find a seat, there are some 'questionable characters' that frequent circus. The non-students at Circus aren't going to be your prof, and they aren't going to be middle management business suits. They're going to be sketchy townies and Yspilanti folk. Think less GRE, more GED. That's not to say most Circus patrons aren't nice people, it's just something to be aware of before you go.

One of the high points of Circus is the bar staff. Lou and Chris are exceptionally nice. Pretty standard fare, if you tip well, they treat you well. Just keep in mind that you're only paying $.75 a beer, so more than the standard 15% should be your norm. I'd generally put down about a buck for a beer. It's only a quarter, but it's still a 33% tip.

While I don't play pool that often (mainly because I'm terrible, and vice a versa), Circus has some pretty nice tables, especially considering they're free. The pool sticks are kind of hit or miss, so if you're an avid player, I'd recommend taking your own. You can get a table for an hour at a time (longer if there's no one waiting) by giving them your drivers licence as deposit. If it's a busier night, you may have to wait a while (I've never waited longer than about 15 minutes) until a table opens up.

Popcorn (or sometimes pretzels, if the popcorn machine is broken) is in bowls all around the bar. This tends to get stale by about 9:30. To get more/new popcorn, just go up to the bar, near the popcorn machine and grab a new bowl. These are generally fresh and crisp (and you know no one has stuck nasty dirty fingers into them).

No matter the night, Circus will have a movie with subtitles playing on a small TV next to the bar. On nights when nothing big is going on (Mondays/Tuesdays), they have been known to project movies on the wall and have the sound going. This is actually pretty fun, as you have all the popcorn you want and as much beer as you want within 15 feet of you. Oh, and it's free. Win-Win-Win. The movies they generally play are action and comedy flicks that have come out recently to DVD, or are 'modern classics' (my 'modern classics' are different that what you all would call them but I digress) such as Zoolander, Fight Club, Wedding Crashers, etc.

The only time Circus nears a 50/50 split between college students and townies is on Friday and Saturday. These nights, the entirety of Cavern Club is open, and Circus tends to get the less 'Dance Party' oriented patrons who got dragged to Cavern Club by their friends, along with a few of the Double Take regulars. I plan on doing a piece on the whole of Cavern Club a little later, so I'll leave that for now.

As you will eventually learn, I'm a big fan of dank, dingy bars. Circus fits the bill. It's dark, occasionally smokey (occasionally with non-tobacco products), and has a cool, slightly weird decor. Covered in  a Barnum and Bailey motif, it's certainly a unique place.  The only real bright-ish part of the bar is 'under the big top' of the actual bar. This, and the fact that there are tables, a TV, bands, and pool give Circus a 'come as you please' atmosphere. Some people go there every night, just for the pool, and never sign karaoke, or sit around and chat. Others come just to hang out, or just to sing karaoke. I give Circus four stars. It's a fantastic hangout spot. If you haven't already, check it out.


Mission Statement/Memo

Forgive the Jerry Maguire reference.

I've noticed a number of people asking me where to go for 'X' type of experience in Ann Arbor. Sometimes it's from people new to Ann Arbor. Sometimes it's from students turning 21 and wanting to know where they can get specials. Sometimes it's from visitors to Ann Arbor just looking for something to do on a weekday. Hell, sometimes, it's from people who always go to the same bar (read: Charley's) and want a change of scenery.

This 'blogs' purpose is to compile my personal reviews of various Ann Arbor bars, theatres, shows, parks, etc. Basically, I want to make a site where you can browse the thousands of Ann Arbor activities and get a good idea as to the experience you might have there.

What this 'blog' isn't: Anything other than an editorial. I aim to present my take on the topics I post on. If you disagree, go ahead and comment on it, but I won't apologize for offending your favorite spot.

Knowing that the number of readers at current is likely zero, I'll refrain from asking what else could be added, but feel free to drop me a line if you have a request for a review on a bar, or want to know about a certain Ann Arbor topic.