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.

Audrey, who was tending bar that afternoon, said the drink "looks like Saginaw Bay, murky." Maybe. It's yellowish, more like the Saginaw River from more-polluted days. But it was refreshing, in a (very) sweet sort of way.

A friend suggested that the Saginaw Bay Refresher likely was also available at other Doubletree bars around the country, each one giving it a local-sounding name. A Doubletree hotel in
The Saginaw Bay Refresher
Memphis might call it the Elvis Refresher. Audrey said the same recipe might turn up elsewhere but that the Bay City hotel's bar/restaurant staff came up with it. So there.

You might not think of a hotel if you're heading to a bar. But there's no need to book a room; anybody can walk in off the street and into the bar -- which is usually an inviting space with dark wood, subdued lighting and good drinks, a place for conversation or some peace and quiet.

And that describes the Riverfront Lounge, which is the only real hotel bar in town.

The new Marriott in Uptown has a snack counter of sorts in the front lobby with bottled beers and some booze. But it doesn't open till 5 p.m. and looks more like a spot to grab a coffee to go. Of course, that hotel is a few steps from the Real Seafood Co., which does have a very full bar and keeps normal hours.

A cult has developed around hotel bars, at least among travel writers, who see them in reverential terms.

According to a writer in Travel & Leisure magazine:

It should be intimate in scale, yet capacious enough that you can always find a seat. The television -- if we must -- should loom no larger than the choking instructions. The loudest sound shall be the shaking of ice. An excess of staff is actually a minus; hotel bars are not hotels. And for God’s sake, no bouncers. A bartender should be the only thing standing between you and a perfect Manhattan.

The Riverfront Lounge pretty much fits the bill. No bouncers. And Audrey made a fine Manhattan.

So who shows up there? Lots of different people, including a lot of business people, she says.
Audrey on the job
"What I like about working here is you don't know who's going to come in."

One day, it's itinerant bloggers. Another day, it might be dentists, gym teachers, or whoever is meeting in the hotel -- assorted business people during the week, weddings on weekends.

On one weekday afternoon, we had the joint to ourselves. No functions appeared to be going on in the hotel, and the parking lot was mostly empty.

On a return visit, the lot was mostly full and a lobby sign cryptically welcomed Global DBS and NEMCSA. (Turns out that DBS is Dow Building Solutions, the folks who bring you Styrofoam, among other things. NEMSCA is the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency, which sounds like it might make for much more interesting bar talk than Styrofoam. But both groups were presumably busy elsewhere in the building, so we never got to find out.)

The bar (just walk in the lobby, and turn right like you know where you're going) is aptly named, with a wide view of the downtown riverfront and Veterans Memorial Bridge -- through large
Inside the Riverfront Lounge
windows during the winter and from the outdoor patio during the summer.

But if you're looking for a $1 draft and a shuffleboard game, look elsewhere.

The lounge has no pool table or anything like that. We asked if there were any games kept behind the bar -- a backgammon set, perhaps. Nope. Two modest-sized TVs show sports.

Domestic beers (Bud, Michelob, etc.) are $3.95. some others (Corona, Labatt's Blue, etc.) are $4.50, and assorted bottled craft beers range from $4.75 to $6.50. Drafts (there are six) are $6 each; perhaps intending to appeal to corporate types who might frequent a hotel bar, among them is one called CEO Stout.

The menu includes various fancy house drinks, including martinis. The hairy guy isn't finicky about drinks but he's never figured out how it is that all sorts of mixtures can be called martinis
The strange martinis on the menu
just because they're served in a martini glass. Gin and dry vermouth is a martini. A vodka martini? OK. A fancy olive is good.

(Harry has a soft spot in his heart for martinis, from a period some years back when he had one at home after work every night. All was well until he took a midnight shift for a bit and went home to morning oatmeal and a martini. He slept well afterwards.)  

Here, for example, we have one called the Doubletree Cookie Martini (providing another use for the chocolate chip cookies left for guests at Doubletree hotels). It includes cookie dough vodka, Frangelico, cream and a cookie garnish, for $7.95. We passed on that one.

Just to be clear, this is a full-service bar. Along with top-shelf booze (we noticed Chivas Regal and Hendrick's Gin) are bottles of Hot Damn, Watermelon Pucker and the like, intended (we
Bartenders Andrew ...
hope) for those strange mixed drinks. And there is wine, lots of wine, presumably for folks having dinner in the hotel's Riverfront Grille next door; glasses are half off 5-8:30 p.m. Fridays.

For food, the entire restaurant menu is available in the bar -- er, lounge. Being appropriately upscale, what would be a steak and fries in most places is listed as coming instead with pommes frites. Salads are labeled as "Roughage."

The house hamburger ($11) has a patty that combines beef brisket, pork shoulder and veal, which turns out to make particularly moist meat. It's a great burger -- a large one -- easily among the best in town. According to the menu, it comes with fries, not pommes frites. We suspected that the menu authors were just
... and Rachel
trying to make the steaks sound classier than the burgers. Turns out, though, that the fries and the pommes frites aren't quite the same thing: The fries are a heavily-seasoned (and quite salty) sort of standard fries; the frites are thicker potato wedges.

The lounge opens at 11 a.m. daily, closing at 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday (a sign says midnight, but it's wrong, according to two bartenders), and 10 p.m. Sunday.

By the way, about that hotel name: Why is the place called Doubletree?

Some minor online sleuthing turned up info that the first Doubletree hotel opened in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1969. After some corporate buyouts and a slight rebranding (a term that evokes visions of an unpleasant experience for cattle), Doubletree hotels became "DoubleTree by Hilton," with a capital T in the middle. Being traditionalists, we're sticking with a lower-case t.

But why was that first place called Doubletree? Two trees out front? We have no idea.

See Doc’s report on the Riverfront Lounge: It fits the bill for a hotel bar

  The particulars:
  Riverfront Lounge
  (in the Doubletree hotel)
  One Wenonah Park Place

  (Water at 6th) 

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