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.

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