Mar 22, 2014

Governor’s Quarters: A basement bar with crafty brews, a name in limbo, knotty pine and tiny bubbles

Governor's Quarters: It's in the basement
The hairy guy’s report:

Bars can be havens for strange snack foods. Pickled eggs, for instance. The only time you’d yearn for a pickled egg would be after some beers, if ever. Same thing for fried stuffed olives, which Esquire magazine declared a few years ago to be the best bar snack ever.  (“Screw truffled popcorn,” the magazine said.)

But we’ve never seen a bar advertise pickled eggs. Presumably, patrons just notice the jar and eventually try one. The hairy guy, who never has, figures a pickled egg sounds like it could quickly end any happy hour (though as a kid, even peas turned out to be OK once he tried them).

So when a west side bar was actually hyping on Facebook (days in advance!) that it would have liver-and-onion sausage on a certain Wednesday – apparently calculating that this was something to draw in customers -- well, that was too good to pass up.

As it turned out, the sausage – and more -- was free. We ate it. And we liked it.

And as it also turned out, the sausage was an anomaly for a place that’s quickly gained a following among local fans of craft beer.

The basement bar and the Arbeitoer Hall it’s in are run by the Owczarzak family, which also runs Meats & Mooore a couple blocks away (and Ole Tyme Broadway across the river in the South End).  The building, which began life as Arbeitoer Hall and later was a Disabled American Veterans hall, got its original name restored when the family bought it as a rental hall. (Arbeitoer is a variant of Arbeiter, which means worker in German.) 

Twenty beers are on tap, thanks to a fancy stainless-steel tap system that the bartender,
"The Cadillac of beer taps," with snazzy handles
Darin, was hyping (“the Cadillac of beer taps,” he called it, with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide for pressure, which is supposedly better because the bubbles are smaller). 

The lineup often changes, but a standard draft is 16 oz. When we were first in, the choices ran from PBR and Bud Light (each $2.50) to an assortment of brews with cuddly names like Mt. Pleasant Hobo’s Breath Brown ($4), Right Brain CEO Stout ($5) and Founders Dirty Bastard ($4.50).  Some other bottled beers also are available. And you can get four “flights” (5-1/2-oz. glasses) of assorted drafts for $7-8, depending on selection, served on a paddle.

A printed list of the drafts has the sort of descriptions you’d expect on a wine list. The blurb for something called Brewery Vivant Big Red Coq (6.25% alcohol by volume, $5) advised: “Expect hints of mango, pineapple and citrus to hit your nose with an assertive hop presence.” So if you wake up the next morning with a black eye and smelling of fruit, you can blame the beer.

If you spend time in one of Bay City’s many bars that sell beers for $1 or $1.25, you might find the prices a bit steep. But at least on that night, we got a whole dinner’s worth of meat with our drinks (which also included a large Manhattan for Harry, made with Knob Creek bourbon, at $6.25).

There was the liver and onion sausage, a.k.a. zwiebelwurst, served sliced on crackers with spicy mustard.  And there was turkey pastrami, some other sort of sausage, and beef tartare. Yes, beef tartare, said to be made an hour earlier. And there was lots of it. All good, all free.

On a return visit, however, the only free snacks (and the only food available) were baskets of pretzels. Work has begun, though, on an on-site kitchen to provide sandwiches and appetizers. Considering the family’s food business, the fare should be good.

And despite Harry’s basic belief that fruit doesn’t belong in beer, he tried Wells Banana Bread Beer  (5.2 ABV, $6), which, to its credit, doesn’t taste too much like banana bread. On the other hand, a sip from Baldo’s glass of Hideout Coconut Almond Brown Ale (5.8 ABV, $6)  was quite enough.  It’s described, accurately, as “pure Almond Joy in a glass” – which might be better served without any beer in the glass.

To each his or her own, of course. Harry can’t help but mention, though, that when he told his wife about these drinks, she said they sounded like “girly beers” (which he wouldn’t have had the nerve to say to her).

So why haven’t we mentioned the name of the place yet?

The owners call it Governor’s Quarters. But so far, if you find it, you might think you walked into the wrong place. The signs still say Owczarzak Lounge, its former life, though co-owner Jeff Owczarzak (pronounced ov-char-zhak, according to Baldo, who knows these things) said new signs are on the way.

This raises a question: Do you just get to declare a bar’s name even if the signs say something else? Until new signs are up, maybe we should meet them halfway and call the place Owczarzak’s Quarters.

Whatever you call it,
The scene inside
it’s currently open 4:30-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and till at least midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.  If there’s business, they stay open till 2 a.m., says Darin, and the place has been packed on some recent weekend nights.

The interior décor is perhaps best described as early basement man cave.  The walls are knotty pine. The tables have an old Formica pattern, and the chairs, interestingly, are on wheels. The walls have tasteful beer signs. A piano sits on a corner stage area, though it had to be moved out of the way for a recent band performance.

But we can’t stop thinking about that liver-and-onion sausage. Will it become a hot trend among hipsters, the latest thing since poutine?  Will we one day be ordering liver-and-onion sliders?

Not likely. Same for pickled eggs.

  The particulars:
  Governor’s Quarters
  1304 S. Wenona


john JohnS said...

A very tasteful and appetizing review of this fine loking establishment. Perhaps one day/night I will venture out with Baldo and Harry to check out the non-alcohol beers the crafted ones and maybe indulge in some veggie all that posssible in your travels through out Bay City. Love the decor of the writing...vsry interesting!

john JohnS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My new favorite bar to enjoy craft brews!

Anonymous said...

What are your qualifications for writing such a blog? I might like to join you. I have over-cooked it and thrown up in such famous nighteries as The Blue Door; the Adams and the Anchor. anonymous.

barsofbaycity said...

No qualifications needed. You're welcome to join us. But we deal in classy Bay City bars, not Detroit dives.