Best Rock Club
4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Predictable, maybe, but there are still few better places to watch a rock show in metro Detroit than the Magic Stick. When the place is packed and the crowd is moving, you can practically feel the concern from the people at the Garden Bowl below. Dripping with stories as well as actual sweat, when you consider that the Majestic Theater is connected as well, this complex has all bases covered and it remains a vital part of Detroit’s music scene.
Best Up and Coming Rock ’n’ Roll Hangout
The New Dodge Lounge
8850 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck
Ham-town still has plenty of great music venues but, after the Belmont transformed itself into a sports bar, the city has been crying out for a hipster hangout — the sort of place that you can go to at the weekend without looking at who’s playing, and be in with a good shout of seeing some awesome local bands as well as the occasional decent out-of-towner. The New Dodge is fast becoming that place. There are still a few longtime regulars hanging onto the bar, but that only adds to the charm of the place. There’s a soundman who knows that he’s doing, and the food is great too. What more do you want?
Best Beer Selection in a Venue
The Berkley Front
3087 12 Mile Rd., Berkley
You can’t just go to the Berkley Front to see some indie rock show and ask for a beer. You have to scour through the veritable atlas of taps and bottles in front of you, taking into account the time of year and how much you ate. There’s a science to buying a drink here, but it’s a science worth spending time getting to know (unlike Physics and shit like that). If you can’t decide, work your way down the menu.
Best Place to Feel a Part of Detroit’s Hip-Hop History
St. Andrew’s Hall - The Shelter
431 E. Congress St., Detroit
It’s one of the first questions that music-loving visitors to Detroit of a certain age will ask: where is that place that Eminem battles in 8 Mile. St. Andrew’s Hall and the downstairs Shelter aren’t museums yet, and they host as many punk and metal shows as anything else, but the walls are dripping with stories, not all of them fit for print, and it’s hard not to get caught up in that when entering the building.
Best Venue to Buy a Record Between Bands
PJ’s Lager House
1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit
The Lager House has been putting on consistent and dazzling shows for years now, but you really have to hand it to PJ for knowing how to expand his business. An impressive menu was recently added, and you can climb the stairs down to the basement and browse through a cool little vinyl store. Brilliant! If you don’t want to watch basketball on mute while the middle band is setting up, go buy some old Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Best Place to See Somebody Who Used to Be Famous Play
2105 S. Boulevard, Auburn Hills
Commander Cody, Mitch Ryder, Wishbone Ash, the Look – the stage at Callahan’s has them all fairly regularly. If a band’s name is synonymous with history, heritage and nostalgia, then this place will welcome it with open arms. Not that that is a bad thing at all. On the contrary, Detroit music lovers appreciate the past as much as the present and will always love and respect old heroes. Callahan’s isn’t so much a rest home as that big, final hurrah!
Best Place to Chill Out While Watching Music
The New Way
23130 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-541-9870
With two big rooms, one fitted with a wall of big TVs, plus a cool stage, a pool table and some super-funny DJs, the New Way isn’t really the place to go dance but it’s the perfect venue to watch a band with your feet up on a chair while eating fries and drinking a beer, one eye on the Red Wings. There’s also something refreshingly old-school about the fact that the waitresses will offer table service, even if there are five customers in the whole building.
Best Venue-Slash-Movie Theater
The Magic Bag
22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
This place is immaculate. The very front section offers standing room only for those of us who prefer to get tired feet watching music, but there is plenty of seating for those of a more mature vintage. The Bag hosts everything from veteran rockers to comedians to local music showcases, but it is the Brew and View nights, when you can watch a fairly new movie while enjoying an alcoholic beverage, that makes the place unique.
Best Last-Call Bar in Hamtramck
The Painted Lady
2930 Jacob St., Hamtramck; 313-874-2991
Well, for starters, it’s really the best dive bar in metro Detroit, although owner Andy Dow insists on calling it a “cocktail lounge.” (“It says so on the front of the building in neon!” he protests.) And it does have a pretty darn good booze selection, and a few competent bartenders, such as Evan Bradish, who mix it up. And the locals who populate the place are the salt of the earth. And, sure, it’ll get taken over by metal kids, punks, and the occasional noisy show promoted by Wednesday night bartender and taquerista Timmy Vulgar. But sometimes you’ll sit there all night and it’s quiet. Just you and the jukebox and the bartender, unless somebody puts on a movie. For hours, it will be just like this. And then, at 12:30 a.m., just when the bartender is thinking about closing early, the door will burst open with people rushing in for last call from every other bar in town. For a brief hour, it will be the coolest place in town, until everybody coordinates the afterparty and the crowd drifts off into the night.
Best Local Comedian
Jimmy Doom, a former member of hardcore band the Almighty Lumberjacks of Death, is probably more of a poet than a comedian but let’s not mince words here — the man is fucking hilarious and he deserves his spot in the Best of. Doom has attacked everyone from John Lennon to, well, everyone but he does it with such cack-handed style and drink-addled fury that it’s impossible not to laugh like a buffoon. He’s like Sam Kinison doing the dirty with Allen Ginsberg. Thankfully, we don’t have to see that.
Best Venue Website
10339 Conant St., Hamtramck
The thing about a music venue website is that you really don’t want to have to sift through pages of superfluous fluff, you want the user experience to be easy and enjoyable. Smalls’ site has all of that. It looks great, and the big forthcoming shows are right there on the front page. No surfing required. The brick wallpaper is super-cool but, judging by the Slayer and Ramones-font T-shirts that the venue offers, somebody over there knows a thing or two about design.
Best Bar for Characters
7800 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-581-9777
No, it’s not named for Lewis Cass, or Cass Avenue. It’s named for its cross-street, Casper. The little joint, right next to the coin laundry that ate historic punk venue Graystone Hall, is usually loaded with west side characters that will warm the heart of anybody who truly appreciates a little urban grit. The bartenders are quick with humor too. One time we called and had the temerity to ask if they served cold beer. “No!” the voice on the line yelled, “We only serve hot beer!” If that doesn’t charm your pants off, we can only point you toward Applebee’s and sigh in pity.
Best Bar in Delray
Black Horse Cantina
7844 W. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-849-1495
Some of our friends pointed this place out to us, told us to just take Jefferson west out of downtown and pull into the parking lot after the railroad tracks. We had expected something like Kovac’s or the old Delray Café, but the Black Horse is different. It’s a quiet place that seems to exist outside the law, where men speak Spanish over a table of dominos, or crack balls over a few dusty pool tables. The bartender lady soon had us fumbling through our high school Spanish to order our cervezas, and one old-timer came over to talk in English about the old days of boxing. When a bar starts to feel like the setting of a William Saroyan play, we take note. We’d recommend the place highly, because you’ll feel like a guest, but we would suggest being on your very best behavior while you’re there. Cash only.
Best Bar Worth Saving
10093 W. Seven Mile Rd., Detroit
No bar on the west side is as steeped in history as Tom’s. Founder Tom Lucas bought the building in 1928, back when Prohibition was the law of the land, and when Seven Mile was still a dirt road. The Purples delivered his liquor, machine guns loaded in their cars, asking, “So, Tom, anybody giving you any trouble?” Over the years, the bar has dealt with failed city lighting, break-ins, stolen power hookups, cut gas and water lines, a 1979 fire, a car crash that caved in the front of the tavern and killed a woman on the sidewalk. And then add the onerous fees for city inspections endured by the current management. How does it go on living? It’s because the tavern’s loyal patrons step into the breach whenever the bar is endangered, as volunteers and benefactors. It helps that the tavern has always had a knack for attracting interesting people, and its customers have included celebrity news anchor Bill Bonds and pizza baron Mike Ilitch. Owner Ron Gurdjian, who bought the place from Lucas in 2001, has overseen some radical effort to keep the building preserved. Call on a Friday or Saturday night to see if it’s open, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be buzzed into one of the most unusual drinking environments ever to exist. To see it to best effect, though, attend the big party they throw around Babe Ruth’s birthday (Feb. 6), when they deck out the walls with Ruth-related quotes and history.
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