Best No-Cover Bar (Wayne)
Sitting in the shadow of the Fox Theatre on Park Avenue, the Town Pump is hard-core proof that you don’t have to be named Ilitch or Forbes to operate a thriving entertainment establishment in the heart of our theater district. Kudos to the Pump’s Sean Harrington for taking the reins of the family’s Park Avenue Hotel and turning it into a regular pit stop on any downtown hipster’s barhopping escapades. Although the Town Pump has not been around for a long time, its tin-ceilinged charm, ivy-framed windows and clubby interior make it seem like a longtime mainstay on our local bar scene. The bar draws a diverse mix of regular downtown scenesters, Park Avenue residents and happy-hour types, with a smattering of DJ and live music thrown into the mix. The Town Pump is the type of bar you’d find in droves in other cities the size of Detroit, but, this being Detroit, we’ll just have to settle for one. However, the Town Pump has set the mold for other pubs to come along, including the equally impressive State Bar as well as the Center Street Pub in Harmonie Park. As for the future, look for Harrington & Co. to continue their longtime efforts to transform the old Iodent Toothpaste Building across the street into a glittering pool hall/bar/loft development ... as long as the city of Detroit doesn’t lose their drawings again. —Casey Coston
Where’re the cocktail wieners?
Best Happy Hour Spread (Oakland)
TIE: Big Buck Brewery and Tiki Bob’s Cantina
My dear MT readers, did you misunderstand the term "happy hour spread"? Does it not imply generous portions of free food — stainless-steel tubs warming heaps of miniature egg rolls and saucy Swedish meatballs — that type of thing? Neither of our winners seem to qualify under this definition, although both host popular happy-hour events.
Perhaps you took "spread" to mean "a large, open area," such as a cattle ranch. Or maybe you thought we meant "a wide and varied selection of single persons." Both venues do occupy vast, cavernous spaces. Both bars also attract a sizable number of fairly good-looking, seemingly single men (in Big Buck’s case, the man-woman ratio is extremely high). But there are no buffet lines in sight.
The Big Buck Brewery is the unofficial corporate liquor dispenser for DaimlerChrysler Tech Center employees. Happy hour runs from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Drinks are $3.99 apiece. There’s no free snackage, but a special happy-hour menu offers hot appetizers such as battered mushrooms and cheese sticks for a minimal charge (I’m told they used to be free). I suppose one could purchase two or three of these plates and "spread" them out on the bar before eating.
Tiki Bob’s Cantina hosts a happy-hour party every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 7-9 p.m. I was assured that free food would be available, and envisioned a table full of sweet ’n’ sour riblets, pineapple chunks and other tropical delights. Instead, two 18-inch plastic deli platters sat on the long countertop: one with sliced lavash roll-up sandwiches and the other held raw veggies and ranch dip. The real happy-hour deal at Tiki Bob’s is found behind the bar. All drinks — bottled beers, draft beers, shots, mixed and blended cocktails — are only one or two dollars apiece. With booze this cheap, you’ll soon forget about your empty stomach, and you can always fill up on olives and cherries.—Karen Fisher
Bar for all
Best Bar for Lunch/After-Hours Place/Beer Selection/Top-Shelf Liquor Selection (Washtenaw)
With more than 55 different single-malt scotches alone; Ashley’s was a shoe-in for Best Top-Shelf Liquor Selection. It was also tough for any other bar to compete for Best Beer Selection: 60 different brews on tap is a feat few other places attempt to boast.
Ashley’s is a pub that takes its calling seriously. It offers so many beverage options that it’s sure to please even a picky patron. Located right off State Street, it has integrated itself into the U of M campus as a meeting place for students and professors. Its proximity to campus and true English pub atmosphere make it a prime choice for lunchers. The menu isn’t neglected: Munchies and meals surpass the standard bar fare. Fresh soups and breads offer students a perfectly priced quick bite on their break, and assured Ashley’s a spot as best bar for lunch. A well-stocked jukebox is the sound track for a laid-back afternoon or evening, and the staff keeps up with the demands of the weekend-night capacity crowds. It seems that fans of Ashley’s just don’t want to leave; crowds stubbornly stay put past last call. It’s reason enough to select Ashley’s as the best after-hours bar in Washtenaw County, even if it’s just wishful thinking.—Mariah Cherem
Shiny happy people
Best Place to Hear Techno/Best-Looking Club/Best Bar to Find a One-Night Stand (Macomb)
Mount Clemens is well on its way to becoming the chic culture center of Macomb County, an area better known for its light industry, strip malls and '50s-style residential neighborhoods than hip boutiques, markets and high-tech night clubs. Last year, the Emerald Theatre complex's arrival furthered the city's coolness factor, bringing big-name acts such as Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock to Mount Clemens. The theater also hosts personalities from numerous local radio stations and showcases up-and-coming area bands. Watch for a Tower of Power date and a performance from comedian Louie Anderson in the coming months. It's no wonder the place made a hat-trick in Macomb County's nightlife section of Best of Detroit. Emerald Theatre won Best Place to Hear Techno, Best-Looking Club and Best Bar to Find a One-Night Stand. —Melissa Giannini
Belgians and others of a feather
Best Bar to Play Games
Forget pool, darts and picking up dates, your favorite bar game in Wayne County is feather bowling, and you can play it at the Cadieux Cafe. Epicenter for the area’s Belgian population, the bar has a wonderful European charm right down to its central diversion. Taking place in large grooved lanes, the object of feather bowling is to knock down a pigeon feather with a wooden, wheel-shaped ball. The competition can get intense, and due to high demand it’s often a good idea to reserve a lane in advance. Or, if you just want to soak in the Flemish atmosphere, there are tables and chairs for all you spectators.
Cultural heritage has never been so much fun! —Aaron Warshaw
Soloing stars on swinging parade
Best Place to Hear Jazz (Washtenaw)
Bird of Paradise
You make sure there’s toilet paper. You make sure there’re napkins. You worry about the crowd. You worry about the weather. You think about the vacuum cleaner that’s on the fritz. The kitchen, the air conditioner, who’s called in sick on the waitstaff. You think that you’re the owner, but mostly it feels like the place owns you. You think about everything except the music … until the band takes the stage.
"And it all goes away once the music starts because that’s what it’s all about — the music," Ron Brooks said the other day, reminiscing about what it’s been like for 16 years at the helm of the Bird of Paradise, the last year of it a new location that doubles the capacity to the 150-200 patron range.
And what a year it’s been. Pianists Chuco Valdes, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Brad Mehldau. Organist Joey DeFrancesco. Bassists Ray Brown and Dave Holland. Drummer Roy Haynes, one of the last drumming titans of the bebop era. Jane Bunnett and the Spirits of Havana, that multi-culti musical extravaganza. In fact, sparks flew at the new club on the very first night when the reunion of soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd — to quote a Lacy superlative in this here solo — lifted the bandstand.
That’s been the caliber of national artists trekking to the stage of the Bird. But that’s only part of the Bird’s success. Some of the rest: the 15-piece Bird of Paradise Orchestra led by bassist Paul Keller on Mondays, bassist Brooks’ own group on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Pete Siers’ Latin-jazz group Los Gatos on Wednesday.
And to mention a couple schedule standouts on the horizon, there’s Ray Brown’s return to the club at the end of May and David "Fathead" Newman’s gig at the end of April when he’ll play with Brooks’ group.
"It’s been like nurturing a family," Brooks said, trying to put it all in perspective. "What you get back … what I’ve gotten back is equal to and surpasses what I’ve given. It’s been a great venue for a lot of people." —W. Kim Heron
Rock hog heaven
Best Place to Hear Rock ’n’ Roll/Best Place to Hear Blues (Washtenaw)
Originally a blues club when it was founded back in 1977, The Blind Pig has transformed into Ann Arbor’s premier venue for world-class, up-and-coming indie rock. A forerunner in showcasing innovative and exciting music, the Pig hosts the best in independent bands, local favorites and the occasional gem of a national act, in a cozy venue with excellent sound and memorable patrons, and brings it all to you five nights a week. Plus it’s open to ages 19 and up, so the young ones don’t have to miss out on the fun. The Pig is both a haven for beginning musicians to cut their teeth and an intimate setting with plenty of crowd interaction. Groundbreaking acts such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam graced the Pig back when they were just starving musicians dreaming of stardom.
A former biker bar turned college hangout, the Blind Pig attracts all kinds, including neo-hippies, corporate types, affable, crusty old regulars, greasers, punks, hip hoppers and squeaky-clean swing kids. You can also cruise downstairs to the 8 Ball Saloon to shoot some pool, throw darts and make your own musical selections on one of the best jukeboxes in all of Ann Arbor.
In the venue’s continuing effort to support original, non-homogenized independent music, it has even given birth to its own record label — Blind Pig Records, now stationed in California and featuring top national blues, roots rock, zydeco and R&B acts.
So next time you’re out in Ann Arbor, make a point to check out the Pig — and one day you might be able to say "Oh yeah, I saw so-and-so at the Pig way back when, before they were superstars." —Sarah Klein
Best-Looking Club (Wayne)
Pure Bar Room
When Pure Bar Room debuted, the idea of bringing an upscale nightclub to a downtrodden stretch of Woodward was quite the shocking prospect. Naysayers swore the club would never succeed in the long run, that no one would want to pay the whopping $20 cover after the initial novelty wore off, and that club-going high rollers would prefer a safer location in a cushy suburb. A year after its grand opening, Pure has proved them all wrong. Still going strong, it has demonstrated that bringing a slice of New York or Miami nightlife to humble Detroit is a hot idea indeed. Pure has even spawned the development of several other similar clubs in the area with a comparable price tag, decor and clientele.
The concept behind Pure is image; aesthetic is the first priority and no expense is spared. You’re paying for atmosphere, status, the prospect of rubbing elbows with Detroit Red Wings and Lions and Tigers (and bears, oh my!), and the privilege of getting through the door — if you’re dressed shoddily or just don’t look like you belong, you will be turned away. It’s also tiny — much smaller than you would think. The gorgeously revamped historic building blends the polished hardwood floors and chandeliers of the original structure with pulsating lights and electronic music. The exclusive VIP upper floor offers a more intimate atmosphere than the throbbing dance floor, with plenty of plush crimson velvet couches and mirrored walls for those in love with the sight of their own stunning reflection.
Sure, some may say the club is exclusive and elitist, but so what? Sometimes pretending you’re someone important is pure fun. —Sarah Klein
Best Looking Club (Oakland)
Since opening last summer, the Temple — located in funkified Ferndale — is a shining new beacon of metro-Detroit nightclub life. Walking through the door for the first time, you know you’re somewhere both hip and warm.
It really is a beautiful building: big glass windows inside and out, hardwood floors, bright cream-colored walls, lovely metalwork and candles everywhere. Between the restaurant downstairs and dance floor upstairs with its "chill-out balcony," there’re plenty of places to hang out, dance and spy on all the attractive people (that’s what you meant by best looking club, right?). This is also the closest thing to a full New York or Miami-style night out at a reasonable price you’re going to find in the metro area. Then there are the bar staff and door people, who are actually beautiful and friendly. Geez, would you believe it’s possible?
But, more than just glitz and decor, the Temple fills its walls with top-notch techno and dance music. Thursdays have been a consistent staple, with Transmat and Planet E doing big-name booking and sponsoring. On many a weekend night you can find famous DJs such as Chicago’s Keith Ware working the decks. It’s little wonder that dance-music fans have finally found a home in the suburbs, and the Temple is one pretty place to spend an evening. —Aaron Warshaw
Best Looking Club (Washtenaw)
With the addition of two new clubs, this place just keeps getting more and more, well, cavernous. The Cavern Club is just one part of a full complex: Visitors can choose between the downstairs Cavern Club or the newer Gotham City (NYC-themed) and Millennium Club. Both new upstairs venues have their own appeal, but the jewel of this complex is undoubtedly the Cavern Club, our readers’ choice for Best Looking Club. I had an inkling that the Cavern Club might seem a bit like a true cave. After all, the building is a former brewery and flour mill — windowless and dim. The atmosphere, however, is far from dank, with the low-lighted space creating an intimate feel. With interconnecting tunnels — the remnants from a time when this was still a brewery — set apart from the main room, it is easy to see how this club got its name. These separate areas create quieter spaces for chatting couples, groups, and those who want to take a breather from the band. The true locus of the club is a high-ceilinged main room with a beautiful, antique-adorned bar; a giant bat-shaped kite hovers above it. Off to the side are a stage and dance floor (though the dancing inevitably spills over into the rest of the open area). The club stays true to its famous Liverpool namesake by providing a terrific lineup of live music, mostly local R&B singers and ensembles. The key to the Cavern Club’s charm is its acceptance of the building’s inherent structural quirks. Instead of working against these idiosyncrasies, the Cavern Club incorporates them into its look, creating spaces for whatever mood strikes a particular customer.
Intimate or jumpin’, the Cavern Club lets club-goers choose what their pace for the evening will be. —Mariah Cherem
Out and about
Best Gay Bar/Best Lesbian Bar (Washtenaw)
Nestled within a nook of Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown is this year’s choice for best gay and lesbian bar in Washtenaw county: aut bar. Since August of 1995, this cozy little dive has been a mainstay for Ann Arbor area gays and lesbians (as well as the straight friends who accompany them). aut bar is the perfect place to get away from the loud dance music that stifles the ability to chat with friends. It’s a quaint, vibrant place to relax and enjoy the company of old chums (and possibly meet new ones) over dinner and/or a drink. And unlike the typical dance club, the jukebox upstairs offers a truly eclectic selection of classic and contemporary rock, pop and R&B. Full bars are located both upstairs and downstairs, and they serve up a mean cup of espresso for college students who need a quick caffeine buzz to get studying done in the downstairs dining area. For those who care to dine alone once in a while, aut bar has a small library of magazines and books to read.
Lounging in this brightly-colored atmosphere is like stepping into an abstract minimalist painting (I’m thinking Mondrian here); the yellow, red and blue walls are harmoniously balanced by black-and-white Mapplethorpes hanging on them. For folks who enjoy dining outside in the summer, aut bar features a nicely shaded patio area. And finally, there’s the menu itself — plenty to choose from, including salads, burgers, appetizers and desserts. —David Welper
Best Bar to Find a One-Night Stand (Washtenaw)
Rick’s American Cafe
Ah, Rick’s American Cafe. The bastion of booty music and tight, black, bar pants, a haven for scholarly young college students — the future leaders of our country — to let loose and escape into a wild night of unabashed beer swilling, bumping, grinding, and gratuitous public displays of snogging. Yes, if waking up disoriented and nauseated with a screaming headache and a nasty case of the oh-no’s is your idea of a good time, then slap on some Polo Sport or wiggle into your snakeskin tank top and head on down to Rick’s.
A favorite among U-M students, Rick’s has an expansive bar with dirt-cheap bargain drinks to get you well on your way to leaving those pesky inhibitions behind and succumbing to your inner bacchanalian sex slave. Once the beer goggles are firmly in place, you can initiate your hunt for the disposable love toy of the evening, utilizing such tried and true ice-breakers as "So, what’s your major?" or "Aren’t you in Sig Ep?" Every Friday and Saturday night is spring break at Rick’s.
And remember, as you wake up the next morning and gently try to extract yourself from the embrace of the slumbering body beside you, as you attempt to locate your underwear (it’s across the room, hanging on the lampshade) and don last night’s crumpled clothing, as you quietly slip out so as not to wake the object of last night’s intimate acrobatics before it asks for your phone number, as you stumble bleary-eyed out into to the unbearably bright sunlight, reeking of smoke and Jaeger and sweaty, animalistic, meaningless sex, just remember — you’re only young once. —Sarah Klein