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.

For one thing, the Black Pearl was virtually deserted for an entire Thursday afternoon when we showed up. On a Friday afternoon, a big group of folks showed up, but none of them were
The view from the pool table
shooters. And on a Friday night, business was good but the table remained dark. So no waiting to play pool.

For another, the table is like new. The felt is pristine. There’s even a brush to whisk off any errant crumbs. Everything is level and there’s plenty of space; no worries about shooting too close to a wall. The cues are new and straight. Games are $1.

This is worth knowing because Jake’s, the bar a block away, recently got rid of its pool and shuffleboard tables in a continuing move to crawl upscale from what had been a perfectly good inexpensive corner bar.

But a mystery remained: Why isn’t the Black Pearl more popular?

Reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor are split between great (“Food is amazing.”) and awful (“Absolutely disgusting!”), with some amusement at the theme (“We found it a little odd that our server was dressed up like a pirate.”).

After three visits, we get the picture.

For starters, at a place called a rum bar and rok grille, you expect a place to get rum and a rok grille, whatever that is. And if that isn’t what you want, you’ll likely go elsewhere.

Too bad. Black Pearl must be the best place in town to go for something involving rum. But it has a full bar and an assortment of beers. And very little of the menu –- which includes a wide
A wall of booze (and beers)
assortment of burgers -- has any connection to the rok thing.

The Black Pearl’s building has had various names over the years. It was last called Dockside but earlier had been the Blackhawk, Brass Lantern, Kingfish and Shipyard. Maybe people don’t know what to expect inside. Or maybe the ghost of the collapsed Third Street Bridge, which was next door, is to blame.

The interior is appealing, though the great river view through large windows was obscured by pirate drawings on the glass.

First time out, the background music was so loud it wasn’t in the background at all. On later visits, though, the sound was calmer.

Oddly, the name on the outdoor sign (and on the bar’s Facebook page) says “rum bar & rok grille.” But the menus say “rok grille n’ rum bar.” The bar’s website is, but it shows the name the other way. It doesn’t much matter but seems like a basic thing to get straight. (And an editing suggestion: If you’re open seven days a week, don’t write “Open Sunday-Monday”.)

There is a lot more rum bar than rok grille about the place, so we’d put the rum before the rok. And if you’re wondering about the rok grille, it’s a cook-it-yourself way to make steaks on a high-temp stone. You’ll have to spend a few bucks for it: An 8-ounce sirloin, listed on the menu as a Canon Ball (which we assume is a misspelling and has nothing to do with church doctrine) is $19; a 6-ounce filet mignon is $26.

On a Friday night, Harry decided to pop for the sirloin. It arrived very rare, sizzling on the hot stone. The server suggested cutting it up a bit so it didn’t take so long to cook. The downside to this is that if you’re picky about how well your meat is done, you have to keep an eye on it yourself (“I could have done that at home,” Mrs. Hairy Guy noted), and it’ll keep cooking until you take it off the stone. The upside is that the meat stays hot. And it was a fine steak. It came
All Hands on Deck, one of the burgers
with garlic mashed potatoes (though there was no hint of garlic). Harry had to ask for salt. We’d have stuck around for coffee and dessert, but the server didn’t bother to ask.

Earlier, eyeing the hamburger list on an afternoon visit, Harry took the server’s recommendation and got the All Hands on Deck. (Yes, most of the food has cute names, like Redbeard’s French onion soup.) It includes mashed potatoes, bacon, cheddar and chives -– all of it, potatoes included, piled on a thick bun. This sounds appealing, since it covers all of Harry’s basic food groups. But the whole thing won’t fit in your mouth. And between the potatoes and the bun, it’s all too dry to make a good burger. Even with fries, at $12 it could walk the plank.

Mrs. Hairy Guy got a burger called the Duchess, which (at $11) has mushrooms, onions and Swiss. She loved it.

And on a return visit, Harry got a Bay City Blue, with bleu cheese and bacon. It’s big, juicy and easily one of the best burgers in town.

The menu also includes salads, assorted fish dinners and sandwiches (called “seawiches” on the menu, even though most of them don’t have anything to do with fish) -- among them a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich souped up with bacon for $7. (And since the beer list includes Pabst
Black Pearl's house cocktails, all with rum
Blue Ribbon, you could, just to say you did it, get a PB&J and PBR.)

But let's return to the bar side of things.

Assorted craft beers are on tap. Harry got a pint of Basic Bitch Blonde ($5) from Flint’s Tenacity Brewing, hoping to get a rise out of his wife. She ignored it and got an iced tea ($2).

A separate menu of rum drinks includes a Bloody Gary -– a Bloody Mary but with rum instead of vodka ($5 on Sundays).

A couple others on the list -– Captain’s Rum Punch and the Rum Runner (each $7) -- include nine ingredients, many of them sweet things. Racheal (yes, that’s how she spells it), who works days, says they’re the top sellers. But Harry didn’t want to put anyone through all that work for something he probably wouldn’t like anyway. So he got an Original Dark N Stormy ($6), made of black rum and ginger beer with a lime wedge. It was a surprisingly great yet simple drink.

And by then, it was time to ask for a Manhattan, Harry’s usual drink. (The bar does have a
Racheal at the bar
complete stock of liquids besides rum.) It came with three cherries, but Harry would swear there was no vermouth; it tasted like whiskey and water, which is good but not what he had in mind.

On a Friday night, though, the drinks were quite different. The Manhattan was a typical Manhattan. But the Dark N Stormy, which tasted great the first time out, was more like a medicinal concoction. It was much stronger than the first one, leading Harry to conclude that it was the ginger beer, rather than the rum, that tastes so good. Oh, well.

Mixed drinks, by the way, come in uniquely-designed glasses that sit crooked and may lead you to wonder if you’ve had too many drinks even when you haven’t. And when the time comes, a note of caution about the men’s room: It’s a good-looking room. But the floor was all sticky and the place smelled bad. Second time out, the floor was better.

Out back, on the river side, is a large multilevel wooden deck that leads down to a dock. It was
The large deck out back
too cool to sit outside when we showed up the first time. But on a comfortable Friday night, it was wonderful, with a clear view of action on the river, traffic on the Liberty Bridge and the illuminated fountain in the Waterfall Park next door.

Black Pearl is open noon-9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. There is no happy hour.

Bottom line: Sit outside if you can. Drink a beer. Try a burger. Shoot pool. Or play foosball, but only if you’re feeling nostalgic for your 1970s bachelor pad.


  The particulars:
  Black Pearl
  1019 N. Water


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the visit, look forward to seeing you again!

cowboyzist said...

Black pearl is no longer in business