Mar 24, 2015

After 2 years of blogging, we take a retrospective tour of the beer, food, games and great people we've met

It's been two years since we began touring local bars. We've seen beers for $8 and beers for 75 cents. We've seen free popcorn and free steak tartare. We've consumed drinks with names like Big Ass and Grapes of Wrath (actually, we tried but just couldn't drink that one). And we have yet to find a place we'd never go back to.

Life marches on, of course. The Bell Bar on Columbus (which we never got to write about) has closed. So has Malickey's Pub on South Farragut. And the downtown Empire Room has closed again. But Tavern 101 plans to open this summer in the new Mill End building downtown, according to signs there, with 50 beers on tap; sounds confusing, but we'll see. And the Public House, expected to specialize in craft cocktails, is in the works at the north end of downtown.

We decided it was a good time to revisit all the places we've been to see what's changed and what hasn't. It took us three grueling afternoons. Here's what we found, starting with the first place we wrote about.

BISHOP'S, Farragut at 19th (visited in March 2013): Traditions are safe at Bishop's, where large front windows look out over the street. Two years ago, a mug of beer was $1; a glass was 75 cents; Bud Light, Busch Light, Miller Lite and Bud were on tap, and the bartender sprinkled salt on the napkin before putting down the mug. This time, the prices were the same, the beers on tap were the same and Debra the bartender put salt on the napkin. The day we came in, a half-dozen guys were at the bar. It was all as we remembered it -- until a young woman walked in shortly before we left, took a window table and began busily working on her laptop computer. Last time, there may or may not have been a young woman in the bar but surely nobody was working on a computer.  

JAKE'S CORNER BAR, 114 Third (visited in March 2013): Still one of our favorite places in town -- and one of the rare places that has stayed exactly the same. "Same place, same customers," says Joni, the day bartender. Same good shuffleboard table. Same good pool table. Same Bud Light and Miller Lite on draft for the same prices ($1.25 for a frosted mug, or $1 during happy hour). Nancy takes over in the evenings. No food (except bagged snacks) but carryouts from G's around the corner or Zef's coney island across the street (or from anywhere else, for that matter) are welcome. 

WHYTE GOOSE INN, 108 State St. (visited in March 2013): The shuffleboard table, pool table, dartboard, TVs, jukebox, ATM, display cases of sports trophies and memorabilia and NASCAR hoods hanging from the ceiling all remain. The table of free used books was empty, however. The place had a big crowd at 4 p.m. Cans of beer are still $1. The pickled bologna with crackers, which was $2.50, is now $3; we ordered it and got a plateful. And now there is wi-fi, though we don't know why. 

BAILEY'S, 304 Salzburg (visited in April 2013): Late on a weekday afternoon, the place was almost full with a friendly crowd. Two years ago, the ceiling and wall around the bar were a mess of taped-on dollar bills; they're gone in favor of clean paint. Stefenie the bartender is also gone.
Staff at Bailey's: Tiffany, Michelle and Krista
Michelle, the new manager (and a fan of this blog, so we think she's great), says Bailey's will have some sort of free food on Thursday afternoons, monthly events (a scavenger hunt is planned for May), live music on the outdoor patio on summer weekend nights and new horseshoe pits. Meanwhile, the men's room, which looks like the inside of an old Quonset hut and plastered with license plates, is as cool as ever (and some quarters had been tossed into the urinal, maybe for good luck, though that's just a guess). The tap beers and prices -- Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Labatt's Blue for $1.50, Killian's and Sam Adams for $2 -- are the same, except that Sam Adams Cherry Wheat has replaced Leinenkugel. Jello shots are $1. There's a pool table and darts. Bailey's opens seven days a week at noon. 

BAY CITY BILL'S, Michigan at 31st (visited in May 2013): It was almost two years since we'd last been here, but it was like yesterday. Amandia (who has one of our favorite bartender names) was still behind the bar, and she instantly (and warmly) recognized us. The same beers are on tap, with the same prices. The model of the Mackinac Bridge is still on display. Dollar bills folded into little bow-ties are still next to the register. Last time, we talked to a friendly guy with a notable beard; this time, he walked back in, looking unchanged (well, he changed his clothes but he looks the same). If we lived closer to Bill's, we'd be in much more often. 

O'HARE'S, 608 E. Midland St. (visited in June 2013): The elaborate dress code is still posted in the front window, and once more we got in despite a violation (Janet the bartender, who has lots of tattoos and plans to get more) said the rules sometimes are invoked on weekends). Heather the bartender is gone, but the tin ceiling, painting of a nude behind the bar and the upside down Christmas tree hanging from the ceiling all remain. Now on tap: Miller Lite, Bud Light (it was green, left over from St. Patrick's Day) and Busch ($2 a pint); Killian's ($2.75); Angry Orchard hard cider ($4) and Bell's Two Hearted Ale ($4.50). There's lots of food, with daily specials, though only two people were in the place when we showed up one day at 12:30 p.m.

TRIX'S PUB, Broadway near 36th (visited in July 2013): All the signs, inside and out, remain, though some might be a bit more faded. Danielle the bartender, who had an
Sign in Trix's parking lot
impressive cherry blossom tattoo on her right shoulder two years ago, is gone. The $1 shells are now $1.10. The bar opens at 7 a.m., and happy hour runs from opening until 6 p.m. (shouldn't they really call it happy day at that point?), so a 12-oz. can for $1 actually costs less than a shell. Go figure.

MORT'S NORTHERN BAR, 353 State Park Drive (visited in August 2013): A couple summers back, we found a friendly afternoon group here. Same scene this time. An old shotgun remains mounted on the wall. Various canned beers are still $1 until 6 p.m. Bud Light and Killian's are on tap; last time, it was just Bud Light. This isn't much of a cocktail place but in 2013 we asked Holly, a new bartender at the time, for a manhattan; "No problem," she said -- and was quickly surprised to discover there was no sweet vermouth, no bitters and no cherries. Holly is gone, but this time Patti the bartender (who used to work at Mulligan's downtown) really did have no problem producing one (it was very light on the vermouth -- she said some people prefer it that way -- but had three cherries). A shot of Fireball is $2.75 till 6. Dancing and karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights.

MALICKEY'S PUB, Madison at 16th (visited in August 2013): Every bar is unique in some way. Malickey's served drafts in canning jars. The house version of a manhattan was made with Southern Comfort and grenadine ("a bit different but good," we reported). When we showed up one afternoon in 2013, the owner was the only person in the place. That didn't bode well. The bar is now out of business and the name has been removed from the building. Too bad.

EMPIRE ROOM, 1295 Washington (visited in Sept. 2013): This was the lounge space adjoining what once was the Empire Steak House. In 2013, both were being run by Steve and Tammy Seige of Rusty Saw Smokehouse fame. The Empire Room was emphasizing blues ("Booze, blues & BBQ," read a sign). But last fall, the Seiges moved right across the river to take over food and drink at Lumber Barons brewery on Midland Street. The food is better than ever, if that's possible. But the Empire Room and the adjoining dining room, which looks like it's frozen in time from 1960, are dark and empty.

STRETCH'S CURVE, 618 S. Henry (visited in Nov. 2013): Our last visit had two highlights -- great food (mostly sandwiches and salads) and a rust spot in the men's room urinal that looks clearly like a human foot. The food is still great and the foot is even clearer than we remembered it. Just a rough guess, it's a size 9. Jeff is still bartending; Dawn, who we also met, now fills in. Bud Light, Miller Lite and Labatt Blue Light (replacing Coors Light) are on tap ($1 for happy hour, up from 75 cents last time), along with Killian's and Leinenkugel Summer Shandy. Assorted cans and bottles are $2 to $3.50. The pool tables (two, but one was out of commission) are still only 50 cents a game. Patronage was slim when we went in. The food is really worth a try; the kitchen is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. And the urinal is really worth a look. Try to ignore the curtains, which look like Confederate flags.

"R" BAR (MADAME SHELLEY'S), 400 Washington (visited in Jan. 2014): This longtime place (the 1893 city directory lists a saloon at this address) had been called
What's up at Madame Shelley's
Madame Shelley's for years, then became Kook's, and, when we last visited, had returned to the family that ran it as Shelley's. But they had renamed it "R" Bar (as in "our" bar) to represent their family. Now it's back to Madame Shelley's. Owner Greg Hayward said that's what everybody called it anyway. Becky the bartender has moved on. The unique sunken backbar still intrigues us. The full printed menu of good food is the same as last time (and still has the "R" Bar name). Unfortunately, when we showed up at lunchtime, the joint was empty. Greg says the bar is "paying the bills." 

GOVERNOR'S QUARTERS, 1304 S. Wenona (visited in March 2014): The 20 taps of a year ago have grown to 25 (including one with draft root beer). The occasional snacks have grown to a full bar-food menu of appetizers, sandwiches and burgers. (The giant basket of waffle fries is a good deal.) Co-owner Jeff Owczarzak says plans are to add more Michigan-based spirits and Michigan wines. "It's been an evolution," he says. The beer list, as before, includes a varying array of craft brews and a standard or two. That's everything from a 16-oz. PBR for $2.75 to a 10.5-oz. Lindemans Framboise for $9.50 -- which we can only hope is the most expensive draft in town. (We tried a Counterculture Common from Short's Brewing Co., mainly because of the name but also because it was $1 off. "The nose is yeasty/grainy with sweet roasted notes," according to the printed menu; apparently that's supposed to sound good.) The back room is now set up for parties. GQ opens at 4:30 p.m. five days a week; it's closed Sundays and Mondays.

CIRCLE BAR. 100 Woodside (visited in May 2014): Marci, the day bartender, standing inside the unique (and old) sort-of-oval-shaped bar, recognized us when we walked in. And
Detail on bar at the Circle Bar
we had a friendly conversation, just like a year earlier. Bud Light, Coors Light, Busch Light and Busch are still on tap. There's food, but still not much. Pool table and dartboard. Karaoke still starts around 9 every night. The derivation of the bar's name remains uncertain; the story is that streetcars once upon a time turned around out in front, at Woodside and Johnson. But we've investigated. Old maps don't show a streetcar turnaround at that corner. And the tavern wasn't named the Circle Bar until decades after the streetcars stopped running. Our theory is that someone didn't know the difference between an oval and a circle. No matter. The Circle opens at noon seven days a week. Laura, the night bartender, is just as friendly as Marci.

CHET'S CORNER BAR, Madison at 21st (visited in June 2014): Down the street from the now-departed Malickey's, the place was hopping on a late Thursday afternoon (a few hours before Trivia Night was to begin). The shuffleboard table still isn't quite level, allowing for artful curving shots once you figure it out. Some beer prices have inched up, but Bud and Bud Light remain $1 a shell and $1.50 a pint, and a can of Hamm's is still 75 cents. Last summer, proprietor Matt Czerwinski said he planned to add food options beyond bagged snacks and popcorn. So far, that hasn't happened. But a guy walked in selling the best-tasting beef jerky we've ever had. And maybe it was different last summer, but we noticed now that the bar has two back doors; one leads to steps, the other to a ramp, and it all converges in some sort of complicated engineering feat that we can't explain.

SHOT & SHELL, 201 Woodside, Essexville (visited in August 2014): Our first time in, we felt obligated to try a house drink called Grapes of Wrath. Tasting it objectively, we found it not just bad but undrinkably awful. Angie the bartender then admitted that we'd been the first one to ever order it. On our return visit, Tim, the upbeat manager, said a few others did try it. But it's no longer a house drink. The world is a better place. And this is still a good bar. The three pool tables remain 50 cents a game. Live bands are now playing on Friday nights. The beer offerings are complicated, but shells of PBR, Keystone Light and Hamm's are $1. 

PADDY'S GREEN HUT, 1301 Columbus (visited in Sept. 2014): When we checked in last year, Janelle the bartender was engrossed in a euchre game with guys at the bar. This time,
Mary, the manager, at the Green Hut
Mary the manager was still recovering from St. Patrick's Day (this is, of course, the city's traditional Irish bar) and left the euchre group to talk. She offered green beer, but we declined. Still no food except bagged snacks and free popcorn. Still four beers on tap: Bud Light and Miller Lite shells are now $1 every day, Killian's is $1.50 (or $2 a pint) and Guinness is $4 a pint. The Green Hut started opening at 7 a.m. after the Bell Bar across the street closed up. Mary said some of the Bell's customers have been showing up. Others, she said, "look lost." 

BARNEY'S, Michigan at 28th (visited Oct. 2014): The effervescent bartender Kristie Podleski recognized us when we walked in. Members of the Bay City Muskrat Club still gather there on Mondays and Tuesdays, she says (we've been meaning to meet up with them again but muskrats aren't going away anytime soon). Beer prices and offerings are the same (including a $1 shell and the 22-ounce Big Ass for $1.75). We did notice this time a sign on the side door warning "No profanity allowed." That led to a spirited debate on whether it means profanity is banned outside the building (since that's where the sign is) or whether it was intended to cover the bar inside. Kristie and our group arrived at no conclusion. Damn.

G'S PIZZERIA, 1005 Saginaw St. (visited in Nov. 2014): Last time, the side barroom had 13 seats; this time, there were only 12. This is still a fine place to sit, drink, get good food and watch TV. If another war starts anytime soon, you could watch CNN and drown your sorrows in style here. The drink options are interesting: It's an Italian restaurant, so there are wines. There also are things usually considered "top-shelf" liquors but the actual top shelf is reserved for drinks like Hot Damn and Watermelon Pucker. We'd eaten earlier, but we got some wings; they're notably crispier than elsewhere. Shawn wasn't working on the recent Monday we popped in, but Mia took care of things. On draft are Bud Light, Killian's and a seasonal Leinenkugel (now Summer Shandy).

DUSO'S, 604 E. Midland St. (visited in Dec. 2014): The colorful collection of bras hanging behind the bar appears to have grown. The sign from the old Bon Ton bar down the street is
On the wall at Duso's
still on the wall. Leda is still happily bartending in the afternoon. The pints of PBR are still $1. And the popcorn (the only food available in-house -- there aren't even any potato chips -- though food from elsewhere is welcome) is still free. Also on tap are Rochester Mills Milkshake Stout, Dead Kettle IPA and Leinenkugel Cranberry Ginger Shandy. A cooler holds a wide assortment of bottles. So really nothing has changed -- and that's just fine. Open seven days a week at 2 p.m.

OLE TYME BROADWAY, Broadway at 30th (visited in Jan. 2015): Still one of our favorite places, both for a good meal and to talk with owners Ambrose and Mary Owczarzak. Pool table, shuffleboard self-serve lottery machine. A full home-style restaurant menu (including breakfast). Bud and Coors Light on tap. Each is $2 for a 16-ounce glass, $1.50 for a 9-ouncer, $5 a pitcher.

BAY VIEW, 3008 Patterson (visited in Feb. 2015): We'd been here only a month earlier. Frank Rutledge, who owns the place with his wife, Kathy, said nothing has changed at the Bay View (which is right near the bay) except that he's "just a little bit older." And ice fishermen, still at it despite the warming weather, have been coming in all wet. The draft beers are the same -- Bud and Bud Light ($1.50), Killian's ($2), Michelob Amber Bock (which replaced the usual Coors Light) and Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat ($3.25). Pool table and darts. The daily food specials, we should mention, include a half-pound burger with fries for $3 on Tuesdays (you have to buy a drink, too, though you probably would anyway).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your research contribution to the academic record of Bay city nightlife is commendable. Bless you for your dedication to your craft, or at least craft beers.....