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.