Dining out on a regular basis is about finding places that satisfy in an oddly specific set of dimensions. There's something about the right crowd of people — familiar faces from the neighborhood are a necessity — combined with the right menu, housed in the right place. It's the elusive formula all restaurateurs strive to find, and it's different in every place you can possibly open. Grosse Pointe presents, as everywhere, a unique set of challenges and needs, and in its own ways, the Whiskey Six has provided some good answers.
You might know of the Whiskey Six. Maybe you saw its name in this publication earlier this year, a piece about the experience of the bar; maybe you've driven by if you're in the Grosse Pointe area, if you've dined at Marais, or travel the Kercheval corridor. They sit back off the main corner a bit, their frontage on St. Clair Avenue. During the summer, there's a little patio seating area with five or six tables; during the winter, the bright lights and live music from inside spill out onto the pavement through floor-to-ceiling windows. The restaurant extends farther back than you expect, wood paneling and open ceiling exuding a manufactured warmth, but a warmth nonetheless. There's a private dining room in the far back, with large rolling doors in that same wood paneling, and a large number of tables under bright lighting and the ominous figure of the restaurant's namesake, a stoic Studebaker 6-cylinder set on steel overhead beams, as though an oil change was paused for dinner service.
The bar is large, and the best place to sit. The beer selection here is formidable, with a whole side of the bar taken up by taps. We drank our way through a budding relationship's stages one afternoon, from Bell's Smitten Rye to Atwater's Going Steady IPA, and a whole mess of beers from Michigan, from the Great Lakes area, and bottles and cans of almost anything you could want. The cocktail menu is designed to please the palates of the regular crowd, and veers far more toward good renditions of classic standards rather than craftiness. Whiskey obviously dominates the liquor offerings, but the bar isn't badly appointed in the other categories by any means. After all, we're in Grosse Pointe, so the price point can be a bit higher for a well gin and tonic.
Casual fare is the best option at the Whiskey Six, and in an area where dining seems to lean toward a long evening of drinking and snacking rather than a short meal, it's important to have a good offering of what's currently popular to call "small plates." The Whiskey Six advises on its menu that you can order one or two to snack on, or make a meal out of several plates. It's not the worst approach, and probably makes you eat less than you might if you coursed out with entrees and appetizers. The lamb sliders drew attention from early visits, and are perennially tasty. It's the familiar flavors: pickled onions and tzatziki sauce on a little bun. The rice balls are a good choice with light and hoppy beers, and the poutine and loaded chips are perfect for that late night, several-beers-in starchy craving. There's not a lot of revolutionary food on the menu — the Brussels sprouts dish is the same dish you find all over the Detroit area these days, for example, but it's solid food for what amounts to a big neighborhood bar.
We wish we could thank the Italian and Polish immigrant communities in Detroit for the popularity of the fried bologna sandwich in menu planning these days, but — alas — the jump from lunchbox nightmare to bar food delight has been happening across the country. Here it's on grilled sourdough, with grilled onions, and a lot of names dropped: Kowalski bologna, Better Made potato chips, and Red Pelican mustard. Local flavors, local brand identity, a direct appeal to trends and a great rendition of this sandwich. This is, perhaps, the bologna sandwich that sells people on them as something more than just their childhood unjustly thrust upon them.
The salads at the Whiskey Six are surprisingly good for a place that's otherwise a bar; there's only three, and they're fairly standard in their composition, but the greens are of good quality and the dressings are well-made. The Cobb Sort Of with grilled chicken is a good meal unto itself, and a fairly simple composition that still satisfies with any vinaigrette.
There are some weak points in the Whiskey Six, but they're far from fatal flaws. There's a lot of space in the dining room, and the servers often seem overwhelmed by their responsibilities. It's hard to be attentive to everyone in a big dining room, but the whole place is served much like a bar overall rather than a restaurant: It's a little too informal, and a little too relaxed for a place that isn't covered in merchandise mirrors. Similarly, the kitchen needs to focus on getting that last piece of consistency in place, so that every bite of food eaten at their bar is as good as the food we've had. The addition of live music earlier this year has been good for business, as locals come to listen to their friends play and a regular crowd builds, but it's a little daunting in the bar when the music is so loud that you can't think to enjoy your meal.
End your stay at the Whiskey Six with the bottle of Vernors and the tall glass of vanilla ice cream, because a Boston cooler is the perfect end to a dinner in or around Detroit.