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.