Aug 30, 2019

At Castaways: A blue Hawaiian, a Cranium Crush and an appetizer to wrestle with along the Kawkawlin River

Castaways Bay City
Castaways, a large place on the water
The hairy guy's report:

On a recent sunny afternoon visit to Castaways, up on the Kawkawlin River, we reflexively asked for a Manhattan, our favorite drink.

Can't do it, said Julie the bartender. No sweet vermouth.

Undaunted and feeling adventurous, we asked Julie to suggest a summer drink. She recommended a blue Hawaiian, which is on the menu's list of specialty drinks. Bring it on, we said, casting abandon to the river. Turns out it's not overly sweet and was a fine choice.

An afternoon at Castaways: Trivial thoughts, bad jokes

Doc’s report:

Driving the 5.5 miles from my launch site at Coonan’s to my port at Castaways, I sailed past the Bier Garten at the 3.4-mile marker. I think it speaks to my credibility that I measure trips as the distances between bars.

Passing the Bier Garten, I thought of a recent trivia category I aced there: beer history. (The category prompted a question: “When is trivia no longer trivial?”)

Here are the questions. No Googling or scrolling. The answers are at the end:
  1. When someone asks you to mind your “p’s and q’s,” what reference to a British bartender’s request are they making?
  2. Pilsner beer originated in what country?
  3. During fermentation, what two ingredients of beer are produced?
  4. A beer becomes “skunked” as a result of the introduction of what element?
Good luck.

Jun 12, 2019

The Rathskeller: Plenty of beer, burgers and TVs (even outdoors). Call it the Rat, but don't expect to find one

The Rat: TVs out front
The hairy guy's report:

The printed bills at the Rathskeller, a stalwart presence on Midland Street, have a note at the bottom: "Thanks for being part of our Rat family." The menu includes a Rat Dog for $4.25. And for dessert ("desert," the menu calls it), there are Rat Tails, described as "warm breadsticks sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar drizzled with chocolate caramel."

This is all in good humor, though it raises an ominous question. But we're happy to report that county Health Department inspections of the Rathskeller as far back as 2012 include no mention of actual rodents or other vermin or critters there.

They also fail to mention that this is a friendly place. Many bars on a Monday afternoon are all but deserted. This one is abuzz.

An afternoon of street-level fun and games at the Rat

Doc’s report:

Sing along with me, gentle reader, to the tune of “Ode to Billy Joe”:

"It was the third of June, in our historic city by the bay.
Well, I met Harry at the Rat, and the G-Man was on his way."
OK, you’re right. This is a bar blog, not karaoke night. Let’s get on with it.

Since last we three met, Harry’s daughter has married; as a result, a young man has asked to call Harry “Grandpa.” It was the G-man’s 62nd birthday; he’s 31 pounds lighter and his Social Security has kicked in. So I treated the G-man to a shot of Hot Damn, a red cinnamon schnapps; our bartender toasted him with another.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather: Our bartender was Breanna, whom the loyal and attentive reader will remember from our April 2015 review of Hooligan’s.

Mar 23, 2019

At Old City Hall: A katsu sando (?), imported cherries and more wines than beers. (Nope, this isn't a dive bar)

Old City Hall front
Old City Hall: It really was

This is our 50th bar report. We're not done yet!

The hairy guy’s report:

Merriam-Webster, our favorite dictionary, defines a dive as “a shabby and disreputable establishment (such as a bar or nightclub).” It also lists “divekeeper,” a sadly underused term for “a keeper of a dive.”

But some places consider it hip to be considered a dive. One bar that opened in an up north town not long back described itself as “an upscale dive bar” – an unwelcome oxymoron if ever there was one. If you’re going for shabby and disreputable, you at least expect cheap drinks. That place didn’t stay in business long.

Old City Hall is charming, polished and professional

Doc’s report:

A few observations on the importance of old halls:

  • When tourists returning home highlight their trips, it’s surprising how often, in my experience, their touchstones are halls: Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, Carnegie Hall, Faneuil Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and the like.
  • My own college experience was punctuated by the building of Wickes Hall at SVSU in 1969 and my first class in Angell Hall at U of M in 1971.
  • The Vikings’ version of heaven is Valhalla, literally “the hall of the slain” warriors.
  • I don’t have a bucket list; but, if I did, #1 would be a certain hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., my version of heaven.
  • And I’ve been to my share of halls of both the pool and the dance varieties.

Feb 6, 2019

At the Oasis: Perch for sure, but also liver and onions, gray walls, porch chops (but no porch) and breakfast

Oasis bar in Bay City
Oasis sign, with wrong phone number
The hairy guy's report:

On a biting-cold day, with much of the city huddled indoors, we figured a bar would be the perfect oasis. So what better than one called the Oasis?

It turns out, according to recent sad research, that among the expected effects of climate change is a worldwide shortage (and doubling in cost) of beer. Heat and drought, it seems, will heavily cut into production of barley, and things spiral downhill from there. Talk about wanting to cry in your beer ...

Excess heat, though, wasn't on our mind on this day. Beer was. And in contrast with bars where the many options on tap require time to make a studied decision, the Oasis made it simple.

Back from the ashes, the Oasis serves up memories (along with its food and drinks) in the South End

Roxy at the Oasis
Roxy behind the bar at the Oasis
Doc’s report:

I used to have the $3.99 breakfast at the Oasis Lounge at 8:30 on Wednesday with Dan, who co-founded this blog under the name Baldo. Dan was my best friend; he passed away in April 2014. The $3.99 breakfast is the same today as it was then: two eggs any style, and a choice of potato, meat and toast.

Twenty or so people are there on any morning during the week for breakfast: retirees or people on their way to work.

The Oasis is at Kosciuszko and Lincoln, where Lincoln jogs between two stoplights. Dan grew up four blocks north and a block east at 18th and Birney, I grew up 10 blocks south on 32nd and Lincoln, and we both went to school at St. Stan’s, four blocks west at 22nd and Grant, the heart of the South End.

Nov 20, 2018

The Wanigan: Whiskey and oatmeal at 7:30 a.m. (if you want it), named sandwiches and a river view till 10 p.m.

The Wanigan Deli
Wanigan: Now with a full bar
The hairy guy's report:

One of the perks of being human is that we get to name things -- pets, kids, sandwiches -- though not always appropriately. Consider the famous song "A Boy Named Sue."

A boy I know (not named Sue) got a kitten when he was 5 and named it Nibbles. Cute name for a cat. Now he's 7 and into video games; when a new cat recently showed up, he wanted to name it Iron Fist. (His dad luckily exercised a veto.)

Then there's the list of sandwiches with cute names at the Wanigan Eatery & Deli, which has been open for years on South Wenona near Salzburg but recently added a bar and expanded its hours. For instance, #17 is called Adam & Eve on a Raft. You expect maybe a slice of apple, some rib meat, a deviled egg, a snake -- something that hints at the biblical tale.

Wanigan adds a bar, and we examine sandwich names

Sign outside Wanigan Deli
Sign outside the Wanigan
Doc’s report:

Near the northwest foot of the Lafayette Street bridge and a stone’s throw from Putz’s Hardware, the Wanigan Eatery has had a latent liquor license for many years.

But when it put in a few stools around an L-shaped bar and started serving alcohol two months ago, it tied G’s for fewest bar stools in Bay City, and raised the bar, so to speak, for its main competitor, Intermission Deli.

Of course, Bay City has other establishments that serve prepared sandwiches, soups, salads and specialty foods. Subway is a deli. The 3rd and Johnson Market and Eatery combines a deli with local produce. And Kroger and Meijer have large deli sections.

Oct 3, 2018

Tri-City Brewing: Beer, more beer, popcorn (usually), crayons (!), well-behaved dogs and canning on the fly

Tri-City Brewing: Beer made here
The hairy guy's report:

Fashioning himself a reverse beer snob in minor protest of all the strange beers flooding the market, the hairy guy often asks for Bud Light.

But he's been rethinking that since reading a book he found at the library downtown. It's the story of Big Beer (Anheuser-Busch and Miller, themselves part of even bigger corporations which have since merged) vs. craft brewers, of mass-produced cheap beers vs. pricier brews that are described like fine wines. The big players eventually bought up some craft brewers -- forcing beer aficionados to declare loyalty either to still-independent brewers or to the beer itself, regardless of ownership.

And during a week when a Supreme Court nominee's longtime love of cold beer played an undisputed role in an otherwise heated and disputed Senate hearing, we sensed a visit was in order to Tri-City Brewing Co., the local craft brewer.

Tri-City Brewing: One of the cleanest places in town

Behind the bar at Tri-City Brewing
Doc’s report:

The two words that come up time after time in descriptions of beer and breweries are “clean” and “water.”

Tap the Rockies, From the Land of Sky Blue Waters, Brewed with Pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water, and so forth. There’s a movement toward listing the ingredients in so-called “clean beers,” meaning they're free of additives.

They say there are two things people should never see made: laws and sausages. But you should see beer made. You’ll be impressed with the craft and the commitment to cleanliness.

Jul 26, 2018

The Crowne Pub: Cheap beer, a bear to be named later, free games and a deep-fried Ding Dong (till 1:30 a.m.)

Crowne Pub, despite what the sign says
The hairy guy's report:

When someone asks which bar is our favorite, we say there really isn't one. But Duso's, on Midland Street, always gets a mention for its $1 pints of PBR anytime. That's tough to beat.

Or was.

Now the Crowne Pub has opened directly across the street from Duso's, throwing down a beery gauntlet with $1 pints of Hamm's anytime and free bar games to boot.

Perhaps it all boils down to whether you prefer PBR or Hamm's (though it might be tough to tell the difference) and whether you care about the looming presence of a large stuffed bear in the Crowne Pub.

A day at the new West Side free-game wildlife preserve

Doc’s report:

I met Harry and the G-man recently at the new Crowne Pub on Midland Street and settled into the late mid-summer afternoon. As I often do in a new place, I tried something I’ve never had before. In this case, it was a beer-battered, deep-fried zucchini.

Not a plate of sliced half-dollar zucchini fried in olive oil with minced garlic like I do at home; it was a whole zucchini. It was perfect: crunchy on the outside but yielding to the bite and moist in the middle, with two side sauces: ranch and an eye-opening sriracha.

Jun 1, 2018

Hooters: Wings in bacon, salt on a napkin, a great view, a Big Daddy and a Royal Flush. But sorry, no vermouth.

Hooters at the end of Midland Street: Lots of orange
The hairy guy's report:

Reading an occasional western helps keep things in perspective.

For instance, in one of his many novels, "The Lonely Men," Louis L'Amour describes a rough bar in Tucson: "The men who hung out there were hard cases, men with the bark on, men who had been born with the bark on. There were men came into that place so rough they wore their clothes out from the inside first."

Now that's a rough bar.

The hairy guy thought of that on the year's first truly summerlike day, when he strolled into the Hooters at the end of Midland Street and noticed a balding guy at a table near the door glaring, scowling at him. 

Branding at Hooters: An owl and orange (lots of it)

Doc's report:

Hooters, a “breastaurant” where Midland Street meets the Saginaw River as you drive or amble east from the west side of town, is not, in the conventional sense, an “unsung bar of Bay City.” It’s one in a chain of some 430.

But my pleasant midweek mid-afternoon there with Harry recently affirmed my conviction that, in our historic city by the bay, all is pleasant, civil and, above all else, even in the face of the oppressive forces of conformity, authentic. 

The panorama east from Hooters’ pristine windows or capacious deck presents a view of  downtown, including St. Laurent Brothers and Jennison Place not available from any other perspective. The Saginaw River flowing north to the bay is affirming in its constancy; and Megan, our waitress, was as competent and pleasant as the late-May afternoon breeze.

Apr 11, 2018

At J&R's (or is it JR’s?): Farmers in the morning, Road Burgers at lunch and fine (maybe) art on Center Road

J&R's, despite what the awning says
The hairy guy's report:

The only problem with being retired is that even if you like to stay busy, you get to sit around and eat more. And you gain weight. So occasionally, you think about living healthier, drinking less and all that.

The urge usually passes. But for those moments, someone has come up with allegedly healthy cocktails -- things such as a Grape-Kombucha Sipper, which sounds as appealing as a shot of Old Tennis Shoe on the rocks.

When you tire of kale smoothies and you can again fit into your pants, a celebratory stop is in order at J&R's Center Road Bar. There, you can make up for lost time with one item.

Thoughts on life (and a victorious pool game) at J&R’s

Kelly, the bar manager at J&R's
Doc’s Report:

I pass by J&R’s on Center Road twice a day, five days a week, on my way to and from work. You have to be careful on that stretch of Center, just east of Essexville, in Hampton Township. I’ve had a lot of close calls; you have to drive defensively.

Last month, I was coming home from work and saw the police cleaning up a horrendous car crash.  I read in the paper that a driver blew through the stop sign at Jones and Center and was struck by a Metro bus. The bus driver and the five passengers were uninjured; but from the looks of the car, I was surprised its driver survived.

Feb 28, 2018

JT's Pub: An old place with a new name, a great burger, fancy fries, a nameless drink and a useful ladies' room

JT's: Around the corner from Midland Street
The hairy guy's report:

Midland Street isn't as hopping as it once was. 

O'Hare's, one of the stalwart bars of the entertainment strip, has closed, with little notice as best we could tell. (We peeked in the front window and found the upside-down Christmas tree still on the ceiling, fully decorated.) The River Rock is open but actively for sale. A couple of recent stops at VNO down the street (including a Saturday night) found it far from packed.

Maybe nighttime rowdiness has led people to look elsewhere, such as newer restaurant/bars across the river. A serious street reconstruction project last year likely didn't help.

The street work did widen the sidewalks, cutting parking but adding space for outdoor tables -- though we wonder how many there'll be. (Maybe Unclaimed Freight, the big hardware store, could set up nice seating to serve nuts and bolts. At Cops and Doughnuts, where workers wear "inmate" shirts, those considered low flight risks could serve coffee and doughnuts out front.) 

So it was a surprise to notice last fall that a new place, JT's Pub, had opened around the corner.

10 things (mostly) about JT's: Inventive drinks, great food, college football history, good hosts and more

Holly behind the bar at JT's
Doc's report:

A recent question at bar trivia asked: "Which of these drinks does not belong with the others?":
    a. Tanqueray and tonic
    b. Jack and Coke
    c. Cranberry juice and vodka
    d. 7 and 7

The answer is "c," a cosmopolitan. The other three are call drinks, so named because the waitress "calls" a specific brand of spirits, like Jack Daniel's. One of the 7s in a 7 and 7 is Seagram's 7 Crown.

Holly, our bartender on a recent trip to JT's Pub, knew that. Like Harry and me, Holly is an alum of SVSU, and, like my mother, of Reese High School. With that pedigree, you'd expect her to have the competence and personality that will serve her well in a coming job in sales.

Dec 29, 2017

The Sabre Room, a cocktail lounge with all you'll need (fried cheesecake, anyone?) to stay out of the gutter

Sabre Room: A place to play
The hairy guy’s report:

Everybody likes to act like a big wheel once in a while, doing things like buying a round for the bar. So one afternoon, after a profitable night of poker, the hairy guy, feeling (pardon the pun) flush, turned on his barstool in the Sabre Room and, with a flourish, shouted: “A round on me!”

Of course, the bar, a large space inside Bay Lanes on North Euclid, was empty – which shows the importance of timing. The magnanimous gesture cost not a cent.

If he’d have waited longer, the evening bowling league – filling 30 of the alley’s 32 lanes, the bartender said – would have turned up, and Harry the Big Wheel might have been stuck buying pitchers of craft beer for hordes of strike-bound keglers.

Shakespeare and Sisyphus turn up at the Sabre Room, helping us uncover the true meaning of shuffleboard

Doc’s report:

On a table in Tap Alley, a new craft bar complementing the larger Sabre Room at Bay Lanes, stands a 30-inch-high, 48-piece Jenga game. Players take turns removing one wooden piece at a time until the entire structure collapses. Then the tower is rebuilt, one piece at a time, until the structure rises again, only to be destroyed again. The game goes on, as in most games, as long as two people are willing to play.

Seems like a modern version of the myth of Sisyphus, cursed forever to roll a boulder up a steep hill in Hades, only to watch it roll back down again.

“It’s like bowling,” I thought, on a recent visit to Bay Lanes with Harry and the G-man. “You knock down the pins, set them back up, and knock them down again. What’s the point?” 

Nov 3, 2017

Tubby’s: A longtime South End joint for beer, burgers and games galore, including Schmier (just for mom)

Tubby's: Drab on the outside, warmer inside
The hairy guy’s report:

A posting from earlier this year on Tubby’s Facebook page shows a nice note received by the owner: “We were in Tubby’s last Thursday as it’s our night out with my 80 yr old mother. We have been trying different places each week. Just wanted you to know that so far Tubby’s was voted mom’s favorite.”

Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised, then, to walk in on a Wednesday afternoon and find the place packed with retirees playing cards.

If they’d been playing poker, Harry would have thought he’d walked into a dream. But no such luck. They were playing Schmier.

Tubby’s: Friendship and poetry (!?) on Kosciuszko

Doc’s report:

To paraphrase Woody Allen: Now that I’m 68, I know that my life is easily a third over.

Indeed, it is the autumn of my life. And it is autumn here in our beautiful and historic city by the bay. Keats nailed that combination of ripening maturity and nostalgic wistfulness, in our lives and in the season, when he addressed autumn as the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”      

So it was with a certain sense of urgency to share the latest products of my maturing imagination that I met Harry and the G-man on a recent Wednesday afternoon at Tubby’s. But before you could say “Watch this,” a bear, a monkey, and a platypus walked in.

Sep 19, 2017

At the Black Pearl: It was a Dark N Stormy afternoon, when even non-pirates can shoot pool, drink and eat

Black Pearl: More than what the sign says

UPDATE: This place has gone out of business.

The hairy guy’s report: 

The world is full of bar lists -- 10 this, 10 that -- but the ultimate must be one from -- The 263 Bars That Matter Most. Among them is Black Pearl, which might be the one on Water Street downtown across the street from the antique mall and the St. Laurent nut house.

But it's not. The one on the list is in Fitzroy, Australia, a Melbourne suburb, and it's said to have "a vibe that feels like a 1970s bachelor pad in the best possible way."

The Black Pearl in Bay City does have touches of bachelor pad. A foosball table, for instance, which might be out of place at a rum bar with a pirate motif. But even old pirates must have liked to relax with a friendly game after a tough day of plundering on the high seas.

Even better, there’s a pool table (along with a pinball machine, a dartboard and a bar-top electronic console). You might not think of a rum bar if you’re looking for a good place to shoot pool downtown. But you should.

Black Pearl has it all (and maybe even a bit too much)

Racheal (yes, that's her name) at the bar
Doc's report:

I took my senior prom date to dinner at the Blackhawk restaurant at Third Street and Water after the dance. Several owners, name changes, and a half-century later, the eponymous black hawk is still there, stuffed and encased in glass above the hostess stand, as you enter the venue’s current iteration, the Black Pearl.

The year-old Caribbean-themed “Rok Grille and Rum Bar” shares its name, of course, with the pirate ship in the Disney franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I’ll watch any movie in which the father of the sex symbol hero (Johnny Depp) is played by Keith Richards. Indeed, as Harry and I entered the cavernous and otherwise deserted restaurant on a recent Thursday mid-afternoon, "Gimme Shelter," the lead track on the Stones’ “Let It Bleed” album, was playing on the excellent sound system -- but so loud as to inhibit conversation.

Jun 22, 2017

At the Public House, the walls are white, the eggs are bright, the ice is cool and you can feel like a socialite

Public House: Minimalist
The hairy guy's report:

Harry has a 91-year-old neighbor who is prone to insightful homespun observations. The weather, he said the other day, was "hotter than a two-peckered billy goat."

Nobody would call Bob trendy, which is surely fine with him.

In contrast, the new Public House, in a downtown storefront on Adams, is as trendy as all get-out, with a clean white interior, craft cocktails, designer ice cubes and lots of buzz.

About a week after it opened to a packed house, the Public House debuted its also-trendy food menu, with kale salad, mushroom tartine and the like. But one item caught our eye, a treat that Bob might enjoy: pickled eggs.

The Public House: So simple, clean, new and just fine

Emily behind the bar
Doc’s Report:

I grew up in dark, loud, crowded, hot smoky bars like the Four Aces and Bishop’s, where tired and happy factory workers swilled Stroh’s and ate cheeseburgers after bowling or softball with their neighbors, making racist jokes and sexual puns.

The Public House isn’t like those bars. It’s as bright, still, quiet, clean and cool as its logo: a white square with a pencil-thin black border displaying an all-caps “P” in sans serifs bold and a lower case script italic “h” separated by a simple forward slash.

May 10, 2017

Bier Garten: Not much of Germany, but a brick from a break-in, a burger with olives and a bell with a past

Bier Garten
The hairy guy’s report:

The hairy guy, who lived in Germany for a time, once walked into a biergarten with an American friend. We sat at a long table filled with people and laughter amid a buzz of friendly, animated conversation. It was truly like being in a movie scene. But neither of us could figure out how to get a beer (or bier, in this case) and we eventually left.

Heading to the Bier Garten, on State Park Drive just north of Wilder, Harry tried to curtail his anticipation. After all, it was a Monday afternoon, not the likeliest time to find a boisterous crowd even at an Oktoberfest. And inside, the place was deserted, except for a couple of employees.

But we did find a healthy dose of gemütlichkeit in the form of the owner’s mother, a delightful woman who lit the place up all by herself, even as she was polishing brass handrails.

An evening at the Bier Garten, the latest stop on the city's bar trivia circuit: Foiled (again) by millennials

Doc’s report:

In the year and a half since our report on Coonan’s Irish Hub, in which we noted the growing trend of bar trivia, I’ve played trivia on every night of the week, at Coonan’s, the Rathskeller, Bell Bar, Jake’s Corner Lounge, the Spinning Wheel, Tri-City Brewing, Scotty’s Sandbar, Tavern 101, Bottomz Up and Chet’s Corner Bar.

I’ve won often enough to keep me in business, and I’ve lost often enough to keep me humble.

In the process, I’ve learned a lot about bars, their patrons and games -- and, as usual, absolutely nothing about myself.

Mar 14, 2017

Riverfront Lounge: A barroom with a view, a murky drink and a fine burger (but not with pommes frites!)

Riverfront Lounge is inside to the right
The hairy guy's report:

Walking into the downtown Doubletree hotel, it's as if we'd entered a bubble. Hotels are like that. You leave your surroundings behind and enter a warm place that, except for maybe the view out a window, could be anywhere.

Looking over a list of house drinks in the hotel bar, which is called the Riverfront Lounge, one caught our eye to remind us where we really were.

The $8.95 drink, called the Saginaw Bay Refresher, consists of Chambord, Midori, Malibu coconut rum, Bacardi rum, orange juice and pineapple juice. Because nothing says Saginaw Bay like Chambord and Midori.

Lounge in the Doubletree fits the bill for a hotel bar

Audrey behind the bar at the Riverfront Lounge
Doc's report:

One of the funniest scenes in the movie “The Graduate” comes near the beginning, when Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) agrees to meet Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) at a hotel bar to begin their affair. Hilarity ensues as Benjamin’s incompetence in getting a room and ordering drinks foreshadows a greater incompetence when they get up to the room.

The hotel bar is one of the most romantic settings imaginable, as it combines two essential elements of romance: drinking and bedrooms, both under one roof. Indeed, some of my favorite hotel bars are nearly as famous as the hotel: the Top of the Mark at San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins, the Algonquin Room with its famous Round Table at Manhattan’s Algonquin, the Pump Room at Chicago’s Ambassador East.

Jan 21, 2017

River Rock: Beer, food, pool and rock-and-roll history starting at 7 a.m., complete with a car bomb anytime

River Rock: A cozy corner bar
The hairy guy's report:

It's the middle of winter. The hairy guy is doing his best to look ahead to warmer days.

Mrs. Hairy Guy has been lobbying for a trip to Florida. Harry has been studying the Burpee plant catalog that came in the mail, with its flowery prose. A hardy fig tree, for instance, is said to "bestow a luscious cavalcade of golf ball-sized deep-purple figs." Figs and golf, together at last.

on a snowy weekday afternoon, everything was going well at the welcoming River Rock Cafe on Midland Street -- until those warm thoughts were blown away by an Irish Car Bomb.

Harry has to admit that he asked for it. But it was staring out at him from the menu. And after some beer, it sounded, well, intriguing.

At River Rock Cafe, the history of rock is on the walls (with thoughts of a Virgin Mary and Marilyn Monroe)

Henry at the bar
Doc’s report:

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who owns the Kwik-E-Mart on “The Simpsons,” venerates an icon of Ganesh, which he keeps on the store’s roof. He shows Bart Simpson the secret passage to the roof through the beer cooler, behind the non-alcoholic beer.

Bart: “But what if someone wants a non-alcoholic beer?”

Apu: “You know, it never comes up.”

Indeed, if, whether by responsible choice or medical necessity, you say goodbye to a half-century of alcohol abuse, the frigid and seductive mistress of non-alcoholic beer may well be your first stop. And your last.

Dec 2, 2016

Jimmy's Four Aces: A none-dare-call-it-trendy bar with pool, shuffleboard and Blatz but nada on draft

Jimmy's Four Aces: Craft beer? Not here
The hairy guy's report:

You walk into a bar these days and there's no telling what you'll find.

In San Francisco, it might be a crowd reading books in silence. In London, it could be people sipping cocktails in the nude. And due west across Michigan, in Hesperia, a cathouse gets heavy use behind a bar called Angelo's and Riccardo's; you wouldn't expect such a thing, but there it is.

Meanwhile, someone is always figuring out another beer gimmick.

There's Chocolate Fudge Bumpy Cake Double Brown Ale. Beer made from water that was sucked from a cloud. And Mr. Twit's Odious Ale, which includes yeast swabbed from the wood of Roald Dahl's writing chair. Which makes peanut-flavored beers (and there are plenty of them) sound almost normal. 

Where does it all end? At the corner of Farragut and 15th, it turns out -- at Jimmy's Four Aces, a no-frills corner bar that stands as a humble bulwark against the insidious forces of progress.

There, you'll find almost everything you need and not much else. "You can get Bud Light in a real pretty glass," explains Jessica, who tends bar by day.

Spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs: Ah, the good old days

Jessica on the job at Jimmy's Four Aces
Doc's report:

The memory of happiness brings its own kind of redoubled and nostalgic happiness.

Forty-six years ago, I used to go to the Four Aces, at Farragut and 15th, after my third-shift work at Bay City Chevrolet ended, on Friday morning, when the UAW’s weekend began. 

A burger with fried onions, Stroh’s, and a game of schmier at 7 a.m. About 40 of us. All honest, tired, hard-working, dirty Polish men.

Can you imagine? Drunk, dirty, and laughing at 7 a.m. on a frigid Michigan February morning? It was a blast. I was as happy as I’ve ever been.

Oct 6, 2016

American Kitchen: A burger with egg, absinthe with laughter (but no hallucinations) and malts with booze

American Kitchen, downtown on Center
The hairy guy's report:

Among the 24 taps at American Kitchen downtown on Center is one for Stella Artois, the Belgian pilsner. Harry decided to skip it, like almost everyone in Belgium does ("Belgians Have a Term for People Who Drink Stella Artois — Tourists," the Wall Street Journal reported recently).

He also skipped Vander Mill Totally Roasted, a hard cider. "The medley of cinnamon, pecan and vanilla will dance on your palate," the description says. Harry got a bad mental image from that one.

He settled on Arcadia Jaw-Jacker, described as a celebration of autumn that doesn't include pumpkin. That sounded good on an autumnal afternoon. And it was.

But what finally caught the hairy guy's eye was a squat bottle of absinthe beckoning from the end of the bar.

At American Kitchen, a bartender with the right stuff

Pete on the job at American Kitchen
Doc's report:

I see on the newswire that one Jennifer Le Nechet has been crowned the world's best bartender at a competition in Miami. In a hopeful preview of our national election, Jennifer is the first woman to claim the title.

Nearly 10,000 bartenders from around the world entered the competition, with an elite group of six making it to the final round, where they were judged on technique, personality, spirits knowledge and how well they perform under pressure.

Based on those criteria, Pete, our bartender at a recent visit to American Kitchen, would have won by a furlong. His personality is sweeter than the cargo on sugar beet trucks struggling down Kosciuszko in autumn. Like every young person I meet, Pete wants to make movies.

Aug 24, 2016

Bemo’s by day: A quiet corner bar with game shows, Liquid Marijuana and a reminder that disco still sucks

Bemo's: Live music at night, quietude by day
The hairy guy’s report:

A few weeks back, Harry found himself in the Old Miami, a bar in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. By day, it’s a mild-mannered place long known as a hangout for Vietnam vets. At night, the music brings a different crowd.

Harry, showing up for an old friend’s evening retirement party, asked for a PBR and got a curt lecture about hipsters. He ended up instead with a can of Carling Black Label (once brewed in Frankenmuth), which he’d have happily asked for if he’d known it was available.

Back in Bay City on a Friday night soon afterward, Mrs. Hairy Guy wanted to see a poet who was reading at Bemo’s on south Madison. In the interest of marital bliss, Harry agreed.

The poet, Marc Beaudin, is a local guy now living in Montana who was in town for a high school reunion. He talked of “trout and transcendence” and “the erotic pull of gravity,” among other things. The mostly full house listened without talking, applauded at appropriate moments, and nobody left when the music started. It was good, though not Bemo’s usual nightly music fare.

And it got Harry to wondering about Bemo’s by day.

Bemo’s: It's where the bands come to play (but later)

Judy at home behind the bar at Bemo's
Doc’s report:

It was Harry’s idea, not mine, to visit Bay City’s premier music venue on an enervatingly humid mid-August Wednesday afternoon. And a good idea it was, because it gave us the time, space and the quiet to reflect on bars, music, the impending election, the Bay City Cooperative Market, and so forth with our only companion, Bemo’s delightful daytime bartender Judy.

You don’t have to ask Judy twice what her customers like:

  • “PBR has made a comeback. Kids drink it like water.”
  • Throw-back drinks called tooters. Judy shared her encyclopedic knowledge of such concoctions as the delightfully-named Slippery Nipple (butterscotch schnapps and Bailey’s), Johnny Vegas, the Superman (amaretto, Blue Curacao and Irish cream), Liquid Marijuana (melon schnapps, pineapple juice, triple sec, and -- you could knock me over with a feather -- Blue Curacao); and -- brace yourself, Bridget ... 
  • Jameson’s Irish Whiskey with a pickleback, or pickle juice chaser, for which Judy always keeps a jar of pickles handy. (I have already adopted this practice in my cuisine.)

Jun 30, 2016

Scotty's Sandbar on the Middlegrounds: A sunny spot along the river; no sand or Manhattan, but who cares?

Scotty's Sandbar from the parking lot
The hairy guy's report:

Three summers ago, we set out to find a beach bar in town. The closest we got was Malickey's Pub on south Madison, which has since closed but was rumored to have the best Sex on the Beach -- not what we had in mind.

This year, on a nice summer afternoon, we did much better. One hump over the Lafayette Bridge, onto the Middlegrounds, past the new Michigan Sugar Trails and down a driveway across the road from a Superfund landfill site, we found it: the old Sand Bar, all cleaned up and recently reincarnated as Scotty's Sandbar.

We even found Scotty, who seems like such an easygoing, sensible guy that you wonder why he went through all the hassle of fixing up a long-abandoned bar that had smashed-in windows and a caved-in roof.

"It gives me something to do other than going up and down the river," he said.

You won’t stumble upon Scotty’s Sandbar by accident

Nancy, behind the bar before she flees the country
Doc’s report:

Every bar we’ve covered in the three-plus years of this blog is within a block or two of a Metro bus route -- until now.

Exactly 0.79 miles south on the twisting and narrow Evergreen Drive on Middlegrounds Island you’ll find Scotty’s Sandbar. Or maybe you won’t. I didn’t, until I backtracked, which is why that 0.79 miles will come in handy. It’s right across from the landfill. And well worth the trip. 

May 17, 2016

At the Spinning Wheel, the pool tables are clean and the clientele isn't square but - aha! - it's a T-square!

Spinning Wheel: the sign, we're told, doesn't spin
The hairy guy's report:

On a trip up north awhile back, the hairy guy found himself turkey hunting with a shotgun-toting friend. Harry's job was to pretend to be a female turkey, the goal being to lure a horny tom out of the woods to his doom. This is not done by dancing provocatively in a short skirt but by making squeaky sounds with a small wooden box. Some guys apparently like that.

Harry was a failure. No gobbles. You might say he was acting like a total turkey, but evidently the real turkeys didn't think so. And you can only imagine what a blow to the ego it is when even a turkey doesn't find you appealing.

Of course, we humans have more civilized places to handle the mating dance. We have bars.

Like the Spinning Wheel, which might be a good place on a weekend night to see if you can arouse any interest from a hen or tom. Or sometimes both, it turns out.