Food & Drink

The 8 Ball Saloon: Ann Arbor's escape from the college crowd

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In Ann Arbor, you don't have to look very hard to find a college bar — in fact you probably couldn't spit without hitting one. As fun as U-M juniors are, though, sometimes you just want an escape from all the preening, primping, and top 40 flavors of the week. The 8 Ball Saloon offers a welcome respite from all that.

Located underneath the Blind Pig music venue, the 8 Ball Saloon is mostly an old-fashioned bar. The decor is decidedly 1980s basement, and the Christmas lights offer a nice informal touch. A posted sign reads, "Love is a dark smelly basement filled with questionable characters and cheap booze: Find love at the 8 Ball Saloon." We're guessing that love is going to be a certain kind of love — slightly alternative, maybe a little goth, with a good taste in music.

The bar is cash only, but one of the bar's more modern amenities includes an ATM. There's also a modest flatscreen and one of those horrible digital jukeboxes. Seriously, it only takes one idiot with $1 and a pedestrian taste in music to totally ruin the whole vibe of a place. The customer isn't always right.

The bar forms a nice acute angle, jutting out into the floor for maximum bar space. It also includes one of those partial bars toward the back where you can sit and enjoy your drink without having to deal with people trying to get the bartender's attention, or without hogging a whole table. There are even booths here — you could actually sit down with your buddies in here and enjoy some seclusion, something missing from many dives.

8 Ball Saloon's a shot-and-a-beer bar, and they do have some cheap drink specials, like $4 High Life pitchers on Wednesdays and $1.75 whiskeys on Sunday-Tuesday. Still, we were shocked when we racked up $17.25 on just a Pabst, an Oberon, and a double shot of whiskey.

Based on the plaques on the wall, one can surmise that there was a smoking hot competitive dart league scene here between approximately 1988 and 1992, further underscored by the chalkboard scoreboards and prominently posted rules of play. In addition to darts, there are also several pool tables, a South Park pinball machine, and board games available for diversions. A vending machine even sells cigarettes — but they're $9 a pack. Don't even think about smoking them in here, though. 8 Ball Saloon may be one of Ann Arbor's diviest of dives, but you're not going to get away with that bit of lawlessness here. An added bonus is the free popcorn — something that can make all the difference at the end of a long night.

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