Microbrews get all the glory in Ann Arbor, which was voted 4th in the 2013 “Beer City USA” poll. With hops and barley all the rage, it might be easy to overlook the ever-growing selection of cocktails and wines available in the area’s bars and restaurants.
Here, we review some of Washtenaw County’s top spots for cocktail culture and wine sipping.
The Raven’s Club
Robyn Cleveland, president of the Detroit chapter of the US Bartenders Guild, says, “bartending is simple: be as hospitable as possible, while still being creative. Put the customer before everything.” Cleveland is one of many well-seasoned barmen at The Ravens Club (TRC), and he and his colleagues know their way around the well.
Inside, the solid oak bar, brick walls, damask wallpaper and lamp-post light fixtures emit an old-timey vibe that begs for imbibery. No problem. TRC boasts a pages-long menu of cocktails both innovative and classic. From the Thyme Collins to the Ill Fashioned, locally-sourced and house-made ingredients mingle with liquors from all over the world. But their most popular drink is a standard: the Old Fashioned–Eagle Rare bourbon, simple syrup made from demerara sugar, and a blend of three house-made bitters. The Old Fashioned became so popular at TRC that they actually started to make vats of the stuff, putting it on tap on busy nights. Another popular drink is the Number Two, which consists of Red Arrow vodka, blackberry puree, fresh lemon and St. Germain.
Even teetotalers can enjoy the thought and precision behind every drink served at TRC, as there is a fine selection of non-alcoholic beverages as well. Skip the Diet Coke for a change, and try an Odd Man In—made with grapefruit, club soda, and barrel-aged bitters.
Happy Hour is a great time to visit TRC, running from 5-6pm and featuring a selection of cocktails, draft beers, and gourmet appetizers for only $4 each.
207 S. Main St.
The luxe styling of Mélange applies to both its atmosphere and menu. The bar, made of beige onyx, glows under rope lighting, while the rest of the lounge is dimly lit. Dinner offerings stem from Asian and European influences, with everything from soups to sushi, seafood to steaks, and pasta to pastries.
The bar menu is equally diverse. “One drink we just came out with that’s been really popular is the Skeleton Key,” says manager Jacob Doyal. “It’s made of Maker’s Mark bourbon, St. Germain (an elderflower liqueur), freshly squeezed lemon juice and ginger beer.”
As for pairings, Doyal recommends sushi with white wine. “We have a Sauvignon Blanc called Lobster Reef from Marlborough, New Zealand. It’s nice and crisp, with notes of grapefruit.” Boasting both a bakery menu and a dessert menu, Mélange also has plentiful options for those of us with a sweet tooth. Plus, you can’t beat the location: in the heart of Main Street restaurants, Mélange adds memorable elegance to a night on the town.
312 S. Main St.
In the mood for a little vino? Look no further than Paesano, family owned since 1984 and named one of the best Italian restaurants in America, by restaurant writer Luigi Veronelli. The current Wine Director, Alan Collins, has been on board for only six months, but as a native Ann Arborite, he’s been visiting Paesano for as long as he can remember.
What makes Paesano unique, apart from the fact that they have a Wine Director, is that they focus exclusively on Italian wines. “It may seem limiting, but it’s not,” says Collins. “Italy has more diverse growing conditions for wine grapes than anywhere else in the world, owing to the long, skinny shape of the peninsula.” Furthermore, Paesano curates its seasonally-changing wine lists by growing relationships with family-owned wineries that sell only to restaurants.
For Collins, a focus on quality over quantity is vital to Paesano’s wine program. “We don’t have the biggest wine list out there, but bottle for bottle, it’s very strong. I’d say we have about 95 selections, and I really stand behind every bottle we sell. I’ve seen other places that have more options, but the quality is hit or miss.”
You can experience that Italian-made quality for yourself by attending one of Paesano’s weekly wine tastings on Wednesdays, from 6-7pm. Call or visit their website for more details.
3411 Washtenaw Ave.
Aubree's Pizzeria and Grill
March is here, and for some folks, that only means one thing: college basketball. The selection of food, booze, and wide screen TVs make Aubree’s a choice destination to catch a few games and see how well your bracket fares. Along with their signature pizza, Aubree’s menu also boasts burgers, calzones, sandwiches and salads—something to please any appetite.
And to drink? $2 Bud and Miller Lite happy hour specials are always a hit at Aubree’s, but the restaurant serves much more than draft macrobrews. “Right now, our salted caramel pretzel is one of our more popular cocktails,” says manager Lisa Morben. “It’s got Pinnacle salted caramel vodka, Bailey’s caramel liqueur, a splash of hazelnut liqueur, with a salt and sugar rim and a pretzel and caramel skewer.
House-recipe sangria is another favorite, served with fresh citrus and made of brandy, merlot, ginger ale and orange juice.
Be sure to save room for dessert. With options like rockslide brownie bites and tiramisu cheesecake, you can be sure of a sweet ending, with or without a victory for your team.
8031 Main St. Suite
39 E. Cross St.
Newly opened on Washtenaw Avenue, Zola Bistro is brought to you by the same folks behind Café Zola, which has been a staple of downtown dining for thirteen years. While the Bistro offers a sleeker, more contemporary setting, both Zolas boast upscale Euro-American cuisine and share the same dedication to quality—in food and service.
“Our philosophy is slow food,” says manager Crystal Dussia. “Everything is cooked to order from scratch. We can meet each customer’s preferences, whether it’s vegetarian or vegan.”
And don’t forget the drinks. Crafted with the same attention to detail and quality ingredients, the cocktails at Zola Bistro ought to be high on your to-taste list. “One drink that we have on special now is our kumquat mojito,” says Dussia. “It’s absolutely delightful. It comes with in-season kumquats, muddled to order, and it has a nice sweet twist.” With a menu full of cocktails, martinis, wines and beer, there’s an option to accompany any meal.
3030 Washtenaw Ave.,
Bab’s Underground Lounge
Don’t let the name fool you: Bab’s Underground may be basement-level, but there’s nothing dark or drab about it. And cheers to any establishment who can turn their name into a clever acronym / drink combination: their signature drink is the B.A.B.S: Beer And a Bourbon, Seven dollars. Considering that includes your choice of any of the beers on tap as well as your choice of five bourbons, it’s quite the steal.
Prefer something sweeter? Another popular drink is the Flirtini, made of Absolut vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and champagne. “People order it all the time,” says bartender Jon Green, “even though it’s not always on the menu.”
Comfy seating and pool tables define the laid-back atmosphere of Bab’s. Green explains, “We try to cater to all walks of life in Ann Arbor. From when we open, at 7pm ‘til about 11pm, it’s usually more chill. After that, it gets louder.”
With private rooms available, Bab’s has hosted quite an array of diverse events. “We keep getting calls for speed dating groups,” says owner Babs Corwin. “We also do a lot of fundraisers and we show a lot of local artists.” The lounge is home to Tuesday night movies, with free pool—a great way to add some fun to any mid-week slump.
213 S. Ashley St.
Black Pearl Seafood Martini Bar
Any place downtown with a happy hour is bound to be a hit among the 9 to 5 crowd, Black Pearl Seafood & Martinis is a gem. It’s no wonder, with their exotic selection of martinis and mixed drinks. Manager Michael Hole cites the ‘Freddie Mercury’ as one of Black Pearl’s most popular drinks. “It’s made of muddled cucumbers, Stoli apple vodka and elderflower. It’s won the ‘Artini’ award from the Ann Arbor Art Center and it pairs spectacularly with our fish tacos.”
The lychee martini, garnished with a whole lychee, is another Black Pearl favorite. But if cocktails aren’t really your thing, there’s also plenty of wine to choose from—with half off bottle prices every Monday night.
As for the food, any less-than-avid seafood fans need not be deterred: Black Pearl has a wide-ranging menu, with chicken, steaks, pastas and salads in addition to fish and shellfish. Vegan and gluten-free items are clearly marked, making it easy for anyone to find something good for lunch, dinner, or late night eats.
302 S. Main St.
Knight’s Steakhouse is the place for those who want to avoid the fanfare of craft cocktails and instead, stick to the classics. Martinis, Cosmos and Old Fashioneds top the list of the restaurant’s most popular cocktails. “We keep it simple,” says owner Don Knight. “We’re not trying to be trendy.” Those who prefer their liquor neat will appreciate the bourbon selection at Knight’s: six or seven options at their Dexter St. location and about a dozen at their new place on Liberty St. “Our new location in the old Borders bookstore will be opening mid-March. It’ll be similar to the original Knight’s, but with an added twist.”
A longtime stronghold in Ann Arbor, Knight’s is best known for their meat. “We have hand cut steaks from our meat market in downtown Ann Arbor, it’s family owned. Every piece of meat comes from the market, which is rare these days.” But lately, it’s been their abundant selection of seafood that’s skyrocketing in popularity. And with specials ranging from Italian to Mexican fare, along with ever-changing salads and soups, there’s something on the menu for all palettes—and all budgets.
2324 Dexter Ave.
Our twisted take on the classic Long Island. 7 shots will have you generating more buzz than our headlines!
1 oz. Rum
1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Tequila
1 oz. Peach Schnapps
1 oz. Blue Curacao
Finish with Redbull