2011 Current Dining Guide: Nightlife

. May 18, 2012.

Sometimes you have to get out on the town, whether it's for cocktails and dancing or a beer and a ballgame. There is an endless array of hot spots to choose from — we’ve picked some of the best.

Best craft brew:

Michael Faricy Stout, @ Corner Brewery
720 Norris St., Ypsilanti St. 734-480-2739
www.cornerbrewery.com

This luscious beverage was named for a friend who was killed in an auto accident. The stout is a worthy tribute – it once beat Guinness and Murphy’s in a 1998 contest. It has a stout’s classic roasted chocolate/coffee aroma, and goes down creamy with a hint of a chocolate truffle in the finish.

Most unique craft brew:

“Bam Biere”
@ Jolly Pumpkin’s
311 S. Main St. 734-913-2730
www.jollypumpkin.com

In 2009, Wine Enthusiast magazine ranked this brew as #17 in the world. Brewmaster Ron Jeffries describes this as “an artisan farmhouse ale that is golden, naturally cloudy, bottle conditioned and dry hopped for a perfectly refreshing balance of spicy malts, hops and yeast.” Our tasters noted its citrusy nose, cloudy yellow color, and called it a creamy, luscious, and eminently quaffable brew, with a lingering, hoppy finish.

Best new bar:

The Ravens Club
207 S. Main St. 734-214-0400 
www.theravensclub.com

Handcrafted cocktails by bar consultant extraordinaire Ari Sussman; fabulous Michigan-sourced food by expert chef Dan Vernia; and on Wednesdays, the servers dress as 20’s flappers for a speakeasy vibe, anchored by the smokin’ Ron Brooks Trio. If you haven’t yet been, go put on a dunce cap and sit in the corner.

Most underrated bar:

Aut Bar
315 Braun Court. 734-994-3677 
www.autbar.com

Perhaps coined as the “gay bar” (wrong, it’s as diverse as any place in Ann Arbor), or dismissed because it’s on the wrong side of Huron, it features amazing food, generous cocktails, and arguably the best summer patio in the county.

Honorable mention: Quarter Bistro,  Thriving despite being in the shadow of that “Z” place next door. The “Q” boasts live music on weekends and one of the best happy hours around, with great food courtesy of long time executive chef Ernie Prokos.

Best happy hour specials:

The Earle
121 W. Washington St. 734-994-0211
www.theearle.com

Staying at the top with live jazz, the best wine list in the county, and an impressive lineup of food and drink specials, led by its $2.75 steamed mussels. A tip of the cap to another venerable contender, The Gandy Dancer, with a huge selection of food and drink specials between $3 and $5.

Honorable Mention: Carlyle’s, for its drink specials and $2 small plates

Best dive bar:

The Eightball Saloon
208 S. 1st St. 734-996-8555

Two blocks away from Main Street might as well be two hundred miles, as it is so NOT Ann Arbor. Walk in and you’re transported to a honkytonk in Anywhere, USA that hasn’t been remodeled in 50 years, featuring $1.50 PBR longnecks – only a dollar Monday  through Wednesday – and the coolest, most eclectic crowd that indifferently welcomes everyone, with the real action around the pool tables. But the Eightball wouldn’t truly earn its recognition if it weren’t for that trademark smell that permeates the premises and truly seals the deal on its dive status.

Honorable mention: Elbow Room, Ypsilanti, with a long, venerable history of dive-i-ness.

Best place to watch a Wolverines’ game:

Fraser’s Pub
2045 Packard St. 734-665-1955
www.fraserspubaa.com

The granddaddy of all sports bars, where every seat has a great view of a high quality TV screen, in a neighborhood bar atmosphere, with a solid bar food menu delivered by a hard-working staff. The Arena, Ann Arbor, garners second place, with small TV’s in every booth to supplement the big ones.

Best original mixed drink:

GKB Manhattan @ Grange
118 W. Liberty St. 734-995-2107

Vegetarians beware of this one, featuring bacon-infused Bulleit Bourbon, maple syrup, orange bitters, and brandied cherries. But what else would you expect from chef-co-owner Brandon Johns, who has a tattoo on his forearm of a butcher’s diagram of a pig?

Best beer selection:

Ashley’s
338 S. State St. 734-996-0439
www.ashleys.com

For sheer numbers, I know of no place with more selection than Ashley’s, numbering 74 draft beers alone on their web site, and having been recently recognized as one of the “100 best beer bars in America” by Draft Magazine.

Neighborhood bar that feels like "home":

Fraser’s Pub
2045 Packard St. 734-665-1955
www.fraserspubaa.com

It features a strong corps of regulars, but makes others feel more than welcome — where young and old, students and retirees. All are part of the same family.

Honorable Mention: Banfield’s Just as comfortable, with a blue collar vibe.

Friendliest bartenders:

Zingerman’s Roadhouse
2501 Jackson Ave. 734-663-3663
www.zingermansroadhouse.com

A living testament to Zingerman’s relentless dedication to service. A good bartender treats you warmly. A great one remembers your name and drink. Zingerman’s go above and beyond, and make you feel like King Tut or the Queen of Sheba. I’m not quite sure how – maybe because they’ll give you a sample from the kitchen even if you don’t ask for it, and they really care if you’re taken care of – but they get it done. The commitment to top-notch bar stock and classic cocktails also goes a long way.

Best place to play pool:

Aubree’s/Sticks
39 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti. 734-483-1873
www.aubrees.com

Everything you want in a “best place to play pool”: spiffy pool tables, a nice variety of cold beer, and good pizza, all packaged in a friendly neighborhood bar. ‘Nuff said.

Best bar for a casual date:

Sava’s
216 S. State St. 734-623-2233
www.savasrestaurant.com

Sava's has staked its claim with a foot in both of Ann Arbor’s worlds – the student/academic and the townie sides. It's not too fancy, and allows conversation, but also offers enough distractions for those inevitable lulls. It’s great before a show, has a creative bar, and half off all drinks at happy hour.

Honorable Mention: Terry B’s, Dexter, a top-notch restaurant in its own right, but with a bar side just comfortable enough for blue jeans, a shared dish, and a
good date.

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