2501 Jackson Ave. www.zingermansroadhouse.com
Years before the latest “Artisan Cocktail” trend, the Roadhouse was the pacesetter, featuring classic cocktails like the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Sazerac, hand crafted spirits like Tito’s Vodka, and bartenders who make you feel welcome. Bypass the Roadhouse’s fearsome long dinner waits by taking your dinner at the bar, and don’t be shy about asking for a free sample of pimiento cheese.
401 Depot St. www.muer.com/gandy-dancer
It’s too late this year for the courtyard summer jazz program, and decades too late for the secret bar upstairs furnished solely with couches, but the Gandy bar somehow manages an “old money,” country club feel, but without the pretension. The place to go for clandestine meetings, whether planning espionage or Cayman Island business deals.
118 W. Liberty St.
The upstairs bar at this stellar downtown Ann Arbor eatery is a quiet escape from the craziness in the dining room below. No worries if you’re alone; it’s easy to chat up staff or even Chef Brandon Johns himself, pouring an end of night libation. As for my own drink, when bartender Eric Jones sees me coming, he has my Makers Mark Manhattan, old school ice cubes, and no straw sitting in front of me before I even take off my hat.
7954 Ann Arbor St., Dexter. www.terrybs.com
This Dexter mainstay is high class but comfortable, with a stylish bar that manages to be in the center of the restaurant but away from the noise. A great place to enjoy charcuterie or heirloom tomatoes, from their Michigan-sourced traditional menu, while washing things down with a Michigan craft brew.
The Bar At 327 Braun Court
327 Braun Ct.
I put this on the tail end of the expensive section, straddling the workaday joints’ category. With its reclaimed wood tables and curved walls, “327” or the Bar at Braun Court feels like a custom made airplane from the pre-TSA era, where Don Draper might disappear during the work day. Have a custom made cocktail with a single giant ice cube, a Genny Cream Ale in a can, or one of the finest White Russians around.
207 S. Main St. www.theravensclub.com
Another place for “artisan cocktails” in a well-fortified bar. Look for upcoming events with mixology teacher Tammy Coxen, featuring 1/3 education, 1/3 fun, and 100% alcohol. Wednesday night is the time to catch the Ron Brooks Trio, smoking hot jazz in a 20’s speakeasy atmosphere, and TRC’s delicious, locally-sourced late night snack menu.
720 Norris St.
The outdoor “beer garden” is the place to enjoy the waning moments of Indian summer, quaffing one of Matt and Rene Greff’s award winning brews. Nosh on one of the healthier and more vegetarian-friendly bar menus around, including stone-baked pizzas like spinach and feta and Hawaiian-themed “Surfer Dude.” Mingle with hard core beer geeks, a more casual bar crowd, and even families in what has already become an Ypsilanti institution.
216 S. State St.
This is the place to see, and be seen, before and after shows at the Power Center or Hill Auditorium. Students mingle with more “well-seasoned” guests, enjoying a finely tuned cocktail with an eclectic menu that is sure to please omnivores and vegetarians alike. And if you’re lucky, the evening’s performers will come for the after party.
315 Braun Ct.
One thing puts the Aut Bar on this list: their patio. The brick courtyard at Braun Court, festooned with ornamental trees and colored lights, is like being on a movie set. The drinks and food? Workaday. But damn, that patio. I swear, Clooney’s going to show up there someday.
705 W. Cross St., Ypsilanti.
Named after its varied homemade sausages, the Wurst Bar has been open less than a year and has already won local awards. “Beer and sausages?” wrote one reviewer. “What can be better?” But they’re light years ahead of mere brats and dogs, featuring rattlesnake, rabbit, and bison among more traditional offerings – not to mention terrific vegetarian choices. And did I mention the tater tots?
Wolverine Brewing CO.
2019 W. Stadium Blvd. www.wolverinebeer.com
This feel good, unpretentious neighborhood brew pub not only produces worthy beer, but is simply a comfortable place to hang out. Come by on trivia night and see all the familiar teams compete, and feel free to form your own. Hungry? No kitchen – but carry-in or delivery is welcome. I’m partial to Anthony’s Stuffed Chicago Style with one of the Wolverine’s satisfying lagers.
Dam Site Inn
4095 Patterson Lake Rd., Hell.
You’ve got to go all the way to Hell for this classic biker bar. Yet the Dam Site has a curious schizophrenia about it. The proprietary Bloody Mary mix is superb, the menu is surprisingly good, and it’s not uncommon to see a kids’ birthday party with the Dam Site’s good pizza. But come late nights, when the band is cooking and the bikers are well lubricated, it’s an even bet that a fight will break out.
4420 Jackson Rd. www.elks.org
Ann Arbor’s Elks Lodge features hot jazz and smokin’ dance parties into the wee hours, the coolest hangout porch with an amazing view of the city, and what Current’s “Barbecue Odyssey” called the best spareribs in Washtenaw County. What gives it dive status? The club’s décor is still a bit … shall we say … vintage? Members and guests only.
56 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti.
Ypsi’s mainstay has several things going for it: a great corner location in Depot Town, two patios, an up close and personal relationship with the passing trains, and some of the best burgers anywhere (meat and vegetarian). Even better: it’s about the only place around you can get late-night hot food from someplace not called the Fleetwood
112 W. Liberty St.
The Alley Bar qualifies as a dive simply because of the way it looks, which is a dimly lit hole in the wall. But peer closely, and you’ll see a neat and well-maintained tavern that takes pride in what it offers, with (dare I say it) artisan cocktails and special events like the Produce Station’s regular wine tastings. But look once again – it’s merely a pickup dive bar. The lesson: don’t try to stereotype this joint.
2045 Packard Rd. www.fraserspubaa.com
The granddaddy of all sports bars, Frasers is the place to watch the big game if you don’t have tickets. The beer is cold, the burgers tasty, and the servers appropriately sassy. What makes Frasers such a unique institution is the most diverse clientele around, all mingling together like family. What makes it a dive is a bit harder to define, but I mean that solely as a compliment.
11 S. Fletcher Rd., Chelsea
Chelsea’s Stivers is the picture in the dictionary next to the words “dive bar.” Its never-remodeled fraternity ambience is rivaled only by its desolate movie-set décor, which in fact earned it a cameo in the recently filmed “Conviction: the Betty Anne Waters story.” The heavy pours are legendary, leading to the familiar lament, “I’ve Been Stiverized.” Take the back roads on your way home.