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Bars + Clubs

Spend the Night - Staff Picks 

BEST LEATHER DADDY BAR
The Eagle
1501 Holden St., Detroit; 313-873-6969
The Eagle, a cavernous two-story building of dark wood and exposed beams, is filled with flags and awards that herald the heady local leather community. It's also headquarters to the Detroit Bondage Club: Members hold monthly trysts upstairs wearing combat boots, facial harnesses, straitjackets and metal collars, and they tie each other up for explicit public demonstrations of torture. For the purpose of promoting their club, men who like their sex with pain come armed with toolboxes and briefcases overflowing with handcuffs, straps, whips, hot wax, paddles and electric shocking devices. Neat! Throughout the dim recesses of the Eagle's expansive digs (there's also a back patio), leather dads unite regularly, while on Sundays the Eagle goes hipster (and much more hetero) with local and foreign dance DJs and a younger crowd there for the disco.

BEST TIME WARP BAR
Cliff Bell's
2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543; cliffbells.com
Nothing speaks of Detroit's past as succinctly as the gloriously art deco splendor of Cliff Bell's. The deep reds and bright golds, the mixture of blond and dark wood, the candlelit tables sitting below vaulted ceilings endowed with rich wood tones all smack of a more sensuous era, when patrons haunted such smoky little cabarets with relish. Even the pendulous, breast-shaped lamps with nipple-shaped finials titillate. The joint is a joyful anachronism, having enjoyed its early heyday back when you could get a grilled prime steer porterhouse for $6. It's not hard to get lost in the illusion of being in the raw, bustling spirit of '40s Detroit, when the Arsenal of Democracy was a crowded factory town churning out armaments. Back then, reformers clucked about Detroit as a city of clip joints, dance halls and cheap cabaret entertainment. Seeing that sort of gritty history capitalized on downtown is an exciting rarity.

BEST CLUB-THEMED BASH
The Bang! at the Blind Pig
208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555
One night a month, Ann Arbor's Blind Pig lets its patrons take the stage with knockout themed parties called The Bang! The club goes pop-cult berserk with mixtape soundtracks, handmade props and costumed dance fanatics. Nerds, hipsters and rock 'n' roll sassafras flock to the checkered floor for a monster set list of indie, Motown, funk, new wave and disco that makes 'em move like maniacs. Previous themes say a lot: Adventure Bang! Daisy Duke Farm Bang! Halloween Horror Bang! Fashion in Action Physical Bang! It's unabashed, energetic and mightily fun.

BEST MUSIC VENUE
The Crofoot
1 S. Saginaw, Pontiac; 248-858-9333; thecrofoot.com
Rock in Pontiac? Who knew? Long the stomping ground of cheese-whiz (some might say nightmarish) dance clubs, Pontiac's main drag now plays host to a live music venue that rivals any one of Detroit's legendary rock 'n' clubs. From the main stage in the Crofoot ballroom to the intimate confines of the second floor Pike room, the place doesn't miss a beat — contemporary black-and-silver barstools, flat screen TVs pimping upcoming shows, balconies, a patio, multiple bars stocked with PBR ... but fuck all that, the shows rock. High-end audio, clear sight-lines and smart, choice line-ups of underground, mainstream and indie acts has made the Crofoot the club of choice for anyone whose night begins when the first band smacks its very first beat.

BEST MOTEL TO RENT ROOMS BY THE HOUR
Economy Inn
2100 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-895-5100
The Economy is one of the most gloriously raunchy places in town to blow 20 bucks. Among a grisly stretch of nothingness, the motel's dilapidated neon sign flickers above a bullet-riddled facade, and the macabre inn appears to be closed down. But alas — the advertised "Canopy Waterbeds" will surely stop your Cutlass in its tracks. That the place seems forever deserted lends an apocalyptic feel; and yes, the gentleman guzzling a 40 outside is the concierge. Take his advice: "Channel 6, y'all!" Inside barred windows, on a mildewed mattress peppered with cigarette burns, pop on the tube for extremely sleazy porn (the smut's included in the price of the room — a steal!). By the lecherous glow of a single, shade-free lamp, (no overhead lighting), one may enjoy salacious, very amateur images. Hand sanitizer advised. And sorry, kids — the single canopy waterbed went kaput years ago. Highly recommended!

BEST PORN STAR FROM THE MOTOR CITY
Dani Woodward
We don't like to repeat ourselves two years in a row, preferring to spread the, uh, wealth a bit, so to speak. But far as we can tell, Ms. Woodward remains the current champ when it comes to XXX stars from our fair city — well, Livonia, to be exact, where she was born in '84 and graduated from Livonia Stevenson High in '02. After graduating from Livonia Career Technical School as a medical assistant, she was fired from her job a year later and moved to L.A., where she entered the jizz-biz ... and skin flicks were all the better as a result. She, of course, took her stage name from Woodward Avenue. According to her MySpace page, Ms. Woodward retired from the industry late last year ("which is something i know im going to miss, a lot"), and is now living in San Diego, but the beauty of video is that all her flicks are still available and probably will be for eternity.

BEST PLACE TO NAB A 40 ... EVEN ON THE LORD'S DAY
New Center Liquor
7400 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-875-7523
This is heaven for 40-ouncer fans, for those who demand max beer bang for minimal buck. Through the tunnel-like, late-night one-stop party spot called New Center Liquor, a copious selection glows behind cold glass. There are such frat-house classics as PBR, Natty Ice, High Life and Black Label, as well as an extensive variety of far headier malt liquor, including Olde English, Schlitz, Camo, Steel Reserve, Colt 45 Double Malt, Magnum 40, King Cobra and Mickey's. In fact, New Center sells nearly a whopping 40 types of 40-ounce beers (most are two for five!), and about half as many deuces. Speaking of cheap booze, if Edward Forty Hands ain't your thing, there's Wild Irish Rose, Thunderbird, Cisco, and every fruity combination of Boone's Farm ever imagined. A mere 99 cents will get you an array of delectable goodies: bagged chimichangas, pork rinds, sliced ham, even panty hose! Note the knee-length Obama T-shirts for 10 bucks. The Youthville from across the street have their afternoon snack-time made — all the high-fructose drinks you could shake a corn cob at. You know you're in the D when there are 16 different Faygo flavors from which to choose.

BEST PLACE TO TOAST THE ROUGE RIVER
Brian's Bridge Café
130 S. Fort St., Detroit; 313-406-5325
"I've got more seniority around here than just about anyone," says proprietor Brian, whose father purchased this green-and-white brick saloon back in '80s. Running a close second, however, has got to be Gil (first names are a tradition in this informal bar room), the 74-year-old Hamtramck neon craftsman who coined the bar's memorable slogan (and no doubt made the sign that proclaims it from the front window): "Fresh Booze on the Rouge." Indeed, the bar sits beside the Rouge-spanning Fort Street Bridge, which was once crossed by streetcars when Brian's was a car barn for local railways. In 1902, the bar became a firehouse and, finally — just after Prohibition — it found its true calling: It has served booze ever since.

BEST DANCE CLUB
Luna
1815 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-589-3344
Yes, Luna again. After cleaning up in the readers' choice, it may seem gratuitous to bestow another honor upon this suburban dance club, but Luna's got a special allure. Sure, it attracts the usual suspects you can find at any club — scantily clad college chicks, scantily clad chicks who wish they were still in college, older guys trying to pick up college chicks, and the rare person who actually discovered a move and needs a place to bust it. But it's also the one club that people who boast "I never go to clubs" will actually shimmy their ass in. Maybe it's the famed '80s nights? Maybe it's the prospect of dancing to Rhythm Nation along with the Luna Dancers? Or maybe there's no secret at all — except the timely and right combo of get-you-drunk specials, danceable tunage and sexed-up folk.

BEST GAY BAR
Menjo's
928 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit; 313-863-3934
The thirtysomething-year-old Menjo's caters to all walks of the gay community, from punks and queens to glow-stick toting club kids. A slightly more leathered crowd camps out at the huge center bar, while strapping young bucks swarm the periphery. It's part sports bar, part rave atmo, with an undeniably erotic undercurrent. There are pool tables, darts, video games and plenty of mirrors, as well as a dance floor bathed in silver strobe. The highlight is the adult-playground patio, in the center of which is an iconic, massive gilded statue of a penis. Where better to slurp one of the 30-plus martini flavors than straddling Menjo's mega-cock?

BEST GREASE TRAP TO CURB DRUNKEN MUNCHIES
Lafayette Coney Island
118 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-964-8198
There's something comforting about having to only specify how many and "with everything" when you order. Your dog is served literally seconds after the waiter belts out the order to the kitchen. Over the Formica countertop — which is beautifully worn down with age — the coney arrives overflowing onto the plate, dressed with chili, chopped raw onions, and slosh of yellow mustard. The place is tiny and strangers eat elbow to elbow. There's an old-fashioned Coke machine, hospital-y blue-green walls, and burnt orange retro stools that stand barely a foot off the ground. The waitstaff, grinning proudly in white aprons and matching shirts that read "The Spot for Coneys," hone their entertainment skills during the wee hours of weeknight lulls, regaling customers by balancing sculptures of salt shakers, toothpicks and forks, along with disappearing coin tricks on the corner of the bar! It's open 24/7. Another major plus: Lafayette also serves cans of beer.

BEST DETROIT AFTER-HOURS PARTY
Funk Night
Various Detroit-area venues
In smoky, minimalist venues throughout Detroit, People's record shop owner Brad Hales rattles the walls, spinning rare vinyl on the final Friday of each month. No CDs, no 12-inchers — just Hale's own exemplary collection of heavyweight funk, soul and R&B 45s from the late '60s and early '70s, with a special affinity for hard-hitting 7-inchers off Detroit labels. A stratospheric sound system and a few hundred bodies pumping in a mass of sweaty limbs fuel the beast. Dark, gritty, and dripping with energy, the original Detroit Funk Night goes till sunrise.

BEST BACK-ALLEY ACTION
The alley behind Elements Gallery
2125 Michigan Ave., Detroit
Many have never set foot in Elements Gallery in daylight. Known for its late-night parties — from funk to disco to hip hop — its back alley gets the real traffic. On weekends it's teeming with an assortment of nighttime characters, from drunken dance freaks to local DJs, rappers and "Ratso" Rizzo doppelgängers. Tunes from inside layer with the subwoofer bass booming in the nearby lot, and there's always a stranger's car hood to sprawl across, as well as plenty a dark corner to piss in. It's actually a T-shaped intersection of two alleys — hence twice the action. It's an excellent stop for not-so-inconspicuous graffiti tagging, moonlit make-out sessions and, of course, the D-Town tradition of tire-dumping.

BEST BAR AIR CONDITIONING
Whiskey-in-the-Jar
2741 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-873-4154
As soon as you step in, you sense this has got to be a man's bar. After a few minutes in this frosty, dark den, women are apt to start complaining of cold extremities. Like a classic Hamtown bar, it's shrouded in permanent darkness, harking back to the old factory days, when third-shifters would line up for their "happy hour" cloaked in artificial darkness at the crack of dawn. And not only is the environment eternally nocturnal, it's always positively ice-cold. The extreme climate control will have you shivering in your flip-flops in the middle of an August day, and you'll likely need a few restoring shots of blackberry brandy to stoke some internal fire before you've even warmed your barstool. God bless air-conditioning.

BEST WAY TO BOOZE AND GAZE AT BURLESQUE MODELS WHILE PERFECTING ART CHOPS
Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School
Various locations; drsketchydetroit.blogspot.com
Being an artist can be tough. You sit at home, doodling in your notebook, pecking at your ramen noodles and wondering why art is such a lonely pursuit. Enter the saucy gals and muscle-bound men (sometimes) of Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. Started in 2005 by artist Molly Crabapple as a way to make life-drawing classes sexy, aspiring and accomplished artists alike show up at these events — usually at bars or coffeehouses — to sketch beautiful burlesque dancers, circus freaks and ripped hunks for several hours. The drawing is broken up with bits of fun performance like stripping or comedy, and the evening is enlivened with prizes and contests. Now a going concern in more than 50 cities worldwide, Metro Times' own design director Sean Bieri oversees the Detroit chapter, where boozers doodle, doodlers booze and exhibitionists let it all hang out.

BEST SURVIVING NEIGHBORHOOD MOVIEHOUSE
Redford Theatre
17360 Lahser Rd., Detroit; 313-537-2560
When it opened 80 years ago, the Redford Theatre was billed as "America's most unique suburban playhouse." The theatre, with its three-story grand foyer and full-size stage, has been in continuous operation ever since, allowing the theater and its glorious, Barton Pipe Organ to escape the neglect that has destroyed so many of Detroit's neighborhood theaters. Thanks to the efforts of the Motor City Theatre Organ Society, the theater and its organ have been refurbished. Since the society purchased the 1,661-seat theater, it has replaced the furnaces, fixed the roof, brought the electrical system into compliance, recarpeted the theater and resurfaced the parking lot. In the booth, two Norelco projectors can show 35mm and 70mm films. As for the organ, the society has tended to it lovingly, proud that the original pneumatic relay system is fully functional. On this mechanical treasure, organists play overture and intermission music for the theater's classic movie series, and full accompaniment for silent films. All told, it's the perfect place to feel the warmth of a past era, even if you're only coming for an evening program of Three Stooges featurettes. Nyuck, nyuck!

BEST WAY TO FIND A POETRY READING
springfed.org
Over in Community Chest, we wrote about M.L. Liebler, the director of Metro Detroit Writers. The organization's newsletter, posted at springfed.org, includes detailed info on one-off events and ongoing series from bars, to coffeehouses, to libraries and churches. You shouldn't feel you need to stay at home with your metaphors.

BEST LITTLE JAZZ SERIES THAT CAN
Jazz Forum
17150 Maumee Ave, Grosse Pointe; 313-885-0232
"I'm a bebopper with fond remembrances of swing. That's the sort of stuff I program," says Jim Ruffner, whose small but focused jazz series is wrapping up it's 19th year. Typically Ruffner sponsors three fall concerts and three spring concerts of Detroit artists, first Wednesday of the month, at Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church. He fills most of the 160 or so seats, except for the annual spring appearance from singer Kate Patterson, who always sells out. For that one, Ruffner says, "I have to beat the people away." Like the music he presents, the organization is a little old school. Call Jim at the number above or get on his mailing list (U.S., not e-). Next up is Alvin Waddles and the Fats Waller Review, featuring saxophonist Charlie Gabriel, Nov. 5. Drummer Jerry McKenzie leads his Just Jazz combo on Dec. 3. $15 at the door, call Jim for pre-pay and package prices.

BEST PLACE TO SEE A JAZZ STAR FOR $3
SBH Jazz Jam at Bert's Marketplace
Bert's Marketplace, 2727 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-2030
The indefatigable James Carter is often here when he's not on the road. The cream of Detroit's resident musicians stop by from time, likewise touring musicians passing through town anxious to mix it up with the locals. A major showcase for area singers, the sessions was begun by former Detroiter Dee Dee McNeil. SBH, by the way, stands for drummer Spider Webb (who's here when he's not touring with his Motown sessionmates in the Funk Brothers), the songbook encyclopedia and pianist Bill Meyer and Hubie Crawford, the much-missed bassist who passed away last year. Crawford's been replaced by the great Ralph Armstrong, whose résumé includes stints with Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, James Carter and myriad others. (BTW, of late, there's been no cover for arrivals before 8:30 p.m. and during the last hour — after 11 Wednesdays, after 12:30 Thursdays).

BEST TAXIDERMY IN A DIVE
Rustic Cabins
15209 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-821-6480
Stuffed buffalo, moose and other, um, fetching creatures stare down at you creepily while you slam it up in this Bukowskian east side den. And it's easy to find, to boot: Just look for anomalous tan log exterior.

BEST 'DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK' COMEBACK
Fisher Theatre Reopening
3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit; 313-872-1000
After a long remodeling hiatus, the grand theater is finally reopening next month with the terrific Tony-winning (for Best Musical 2004) Avenue Q (aka "Sesame Street for adults and perverts"). What's more, Jersey Boys is finally on tap for Detroit but, alas, not until November 2009 ... but better late than never. The Fisher Theatre remains a wonderful venue, featuring scores of wonderful memories, for many of us who grew up in Michigan. Even if you were raised in the state's rural areas, it was always a special family outing when mom and pop would load the kids into the car and drive to Detroit to see a real, honest-to-goodness Broadway production.

BEST PIMP PAD
The VIP Room at Grand Central Lounge
311 E. Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-963-1300
For the second year in a row we've got to say that at the Grand Central Lounge, "VIP" ain't some sucky acronym for Very Important People, it's an apt descriptor for this: Very Impressive Pimpin'. GCL's VIP area, also christened the Chocolate Room for its downy russet decor, comes equipped with a bed draped in rich linens (think the Playboy Mansion's storied spinning bed), your own private bar stocked with liquors of your choice, a fetching bartender, plasma screens and beefcake security to keep average folk away.

BEST PLACE FOR A PEACEFUL, CIVILIZED DRINK IN DETROIT
Stempien's Sidestreet Lounge
4153 Martin St., Detroit; 313-842-4530
Stempien's has one problem, but it's a good one: It's such a friendly, atmospheric place that's not only hard to leave once seated at the U-shaped bar (or at a table with the red-and-white checked tablecloths), it'd be mighty rude to do so. See, buying rounds is a time-honored tradition in this well-kept, neon-lit den, and chances are it'll be sooner rather than later that someone buys you one. When an upside-down shot glass is placed behind your nearly-finished drink with the words, "Have a drink with Freddie?" you'll know the true meaning of that old saying, "There are no strangers here, only friends we haven't met." Order a Stump Burger, buy a round for the house yourself and cancel all further appointments.

BEST PLACE FOR A RAUCOUS, UNCIVILIZED DRINK IN DETROIT
The Cass Bar
7800 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-581-9777
Of all tumbledown taverns on South Michigan Avenue, the Cas Bar has undoubtedly seen it all, and still does, on a regular basis. There are evenings when this weathered watering hole must hold the record for the most swear words that could possibly ring out in a single setting, whether they're coming from soused patrons demanding to borrow money from the tough-as-nails bartenders, or the lightning-fast verbal lashing they're guaranteed in return.

BEST LOCAL MUSIC BLOG
motorcityrocks.com
It was a tighter competition this year, what with nearly every local music fan having his own music blog. Upstarts like Deep Cutz (just the music facts, jack; no filler) and the two-year-old It Came From Culture City certainly rate — but we're giving the nod to this venerable site by default and to honor its almost six years of service. Its quality and consistency went down this past year when the site's (now mostly out-of-town) originators devoted less time to the endeavor, leaving it in the hands of Big Wave Dave, who finally purchased the operation several months ago. Since then, he's been attempting to correct the factual and spelling errors on a regular basis, as well as recruiting new blood, such as Lee DeVito and Andrew Hecker, to contribute. There's little of the smarminess and spite found on other local blogs (despite the one totally unfair potshot MCR took at us last winter) and the Daily Dish page remains an invaluable tool for finding local shows, etc. A little more coverage of black music might be nice and a little less of the "just because it's from Detroit, it must be good" philosophy. But this is the one MT readers chose as well, so we're not gonna argue.

BEST IRISH BAR FOR BREAKFAST
Kennedy's
1055 W. Huron St., Waterford; 248-681-1050
With an 8 a.m. opening, Kennedy's serves up specialty Irish coffee that can jump-start your day with aplomb. It also offers hearty eggs-and-bacon to soak up your previous night's regrets. There's plenty of parking too, scads of beer selections and walls of eclectic decorations to help with old red eyes. And wait, we can't forget that there are many lovely Irish whiskeys on hand.

BEST BAR FOR THOSE BURDENED WITH A DUI
Woodbridge Pub
5169 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-833-2701
The very recent opening of Woodbridge's newest (er, only) bar provides a welcome watering hole for several adjacent neighborhoods. It's barely miles from Wayne State University, the Cultural Center, the Cass Corridor and Corktown — thus making a bike ride to Woodbridge ideal for the environmentally conscious and libation-happy "on probation" drivers. The pub, (which also serves decent bar food) has large windows, a tin-stamped ceiling, a big, beautiful lacquered wood bar and cheap Pabst. The sexy young bar staff is enticing, as is the Ghettoblaster beer on tap. May those bike racks out back be put to good use.

BEST MICHIGAN AVENUE HOLDOUT BAR
Leroy's U.S. Star Bar
3415 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-894-7320
"It Don't Exist," screams the cryptic, spray-painted message that dots nearly every structure on this desolate stretch of Michigan Avenue. Indeed, after the sun goes down, it's pitch-black for nearly 10 blocks, but two businesses glow in the darkness — a coin laundry and the U.S. Star Bar. The neon letters behind the bar glow "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," a phrase that rings a little more true than the tagger's, because, ever so thankfully, the Star Bar still exists. Named for two factories whose workers once packed the place, the 8-foot-high copper beer cooler — modeled after the earliest bottle-shaped, "cone top" beer cans — still keeps the brew cold. Though well-loved owner Leroy passed away, the place's kept alive by his widow Margie and barman Nate, who always welcome new faces among the familiar.

BEST LONG-SHUTTERED CLUB TO MAKE A COMEBACK
Blondies
2281 W. Fort St., Detroit; 313-964-1000
Old metal-heads, hair-metal enthusiasts and punks alike can recall the Motor City club that hosted killer national and local bands up on Seven Mile between Evergreen and Lahser roads. It had hosted punk acts as early as 1982 before going mostly metal (hair) for several years. But in the mid- to late-'80s, Blondies presented a heckuva lot of big punk shows — in 1988 alone it hosted the Exploited, the Mentors, Agnostic Front, UK Subs, Social Distortion and GBH. Things fell off over time, though, and by the mid-1990s, the venue's name was but a memory. Surprisingly, it's back. As "Blondies of Detroit," the venue's under the old club's management, which vows to keep up the rep it made for promoting local bands and big names in the city — only this time it'll be in the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge down on Fort Street.

BEST SMALL VENUE FOR HIP HOP AND TECHNO
Northern Lights Lounge
660 W. Baltimore St., Detroit; 313-873-1739
In the looming shadow of the glorious Fisher Building, on an otherwise darkened stretch of Baltimore Street, sits an anomaly: a music venue free of tired flat-black walls, wallet-shrinking libations and 'tude-rich barkeeps. It's Northern Lights, and if it weren't for the skilled bands, emcees and star DJs looming huge on its small stage — if you stand on the dancefloor you'll likely get hit with performer sweat — you might think you were in some well-appointed jazz club. The wood-themed decor, ample booths, muted lighting and luxurious (yes, luxurious) restrooms might be too good to be true, or at least otherworldly to the scrappy music fan. So's the entertainment.

BEST INDOOR DETROIT PLACE TO HEAR REAL BLUES
The Raven Lounge
5145 Chene St., Detroit; 313-924-7133
Rising, almost phoenix-like, from an otherwise shattered section of Chene Street is one of the Midwest's finest, real-deal down-home blues bars. Since the Checkerboard Lounge closed, even Chicago no longer boasts anything like the Raven. Meticulously maintained decor that has hardly changed since the '40s, well-dressed patrons who favor Bobby "Blue" Bland over Stevie Ray Vaughan, owners who greet patrons personally, killer soul food and, of course, the finest in live entertainment, from Cody Black to Cash McCall. McCall, by the way, plays Thursday nights; music continues throughout the weekend.

BEST OUTDOOR DETROIT PLACE TO HEAR REAL BLUES
John's Carpet House
Corner of St. Aubin and Frederick, Detroit
If you've ever mourned the loss of down-and-dirty gut-bucket blues — the way such Detroiters as John Lee Hooker, Eddie Kirkland and Bobo Jenkins once played it — head straight to the Carpet House on Sunday afternoons in spring, summer and fall, weather permitting. Once a charred juke joint, it burned so many times that its proprietor gave up the idea of walls and a roof altogether and moved to the adjacent lot across the street. The only smoke nowadays rises from grills brought by Detroit's motorcycle and van clubs. They're just one segment of the incredibly diverse audience that comes together on Sundays, never knowing who might show up to perform, from local soul legend Nelson Sanders to Chitlin' Circuit favorite Bobby Rush.

BEST SOUND IN A LARGE VENUE
The Fillmore
2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451
We preferred when it was called the State Theatre, since we seriously doubt Bill Graham ever set foot in Michigan ... but it's still the same sweet venue — that is, a beautiful, vintage theater, complete with chandeliers and all the regal glory of days past. What's more, though, the sound's great, regardless of whether you're watching Neil Young or the Raconteurs. The real proof, however, was the recent Cheech & Chong show at the venue, where the audience could hear every word uttered by the comedy duo. That's fairly important at a comedy show, for gosh sakes. Last year, we saw a performance by another comedian at an unnamed local venue ... and we couldn't understand one single word during the entire performance. Definitely not what you want at a comedy showcase!

BEST SOUND IN A CLUB
Magic Bag
22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-544-3030
Dig this: The live sound at the perpetually underrated Magic Bag will not fry insects 100 yards down Woodward Avenue with ear-spearing treble and obscenely overwrought bass. It's as if the tech dude manning the Bag's mixing board sports ears of gold, or the P.A. is such that it's tempered perfectly for the room — either way, it's rare for any venue, anywhere in the country, to capture such musical resonance from a live performance, whether it's rock 'n' roll classicist Ian Hunter, crooner Rickie Lee Jones, or the Muggs' tumbledown riffage. There's balance. There's dynamics. There's a reason to take a bit of pleasure at a loud rock show. Go figure.

BEST REBORN NIGHT CLUB
The Lager House
1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668
When word got around that former record store owner P.J. Ryder had purchased one of Detroit's favorite live music dives, the cries of suspicion went up that the place would never be the same. In fact, if anyone had bothered to ask Ryder his intentions, they'd have found that he didn't want to change the Lager House so much as bring it back to some semblance of its original dignity. This he did in a most unobtrusive manner: The disgusting carpet was ripped up to reveal a beautiful wood floor; the ancient electric fan that hangs from the ceiling was restored to its original elegance; the walls were painted a nice two-tone green. The place isn't slick, it's just no longer totally trashed. With no change in the booking policy (other than a little open-minded expansion) the Hentchmen and the Muldoons still play there. And now the bartenders are friendly!

BEST MOST IDYLLIC PATIO
The Bosco
22930 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-541-8818
Blink twice and you'll miss the sign-free, frosted-glass facade of the Bosco, which, you'll note, means "forest" in Italian. The bar's back patio is a natural appendage of the inside venue, which is a deep, dimly lit bar with lots of translucent glass, long, velvety Scandinavian couches, and soft greens and silvers. Extending from the back glass wall, the candlelit courtyard provides a sophisticated spot for sipping mojitos. Underground lighting, a custom engineered waterfall, and a sleek ipe (Brazilian walnut) wood bench give an intimate, organic feel. There are geometrically sound triads of petite honey locust trees and white furniture. The brick wall of next door's Magic Bag gives way to an uninterrupted slice of sky, and even the lantern-lit parking lot behind speaks ambience.

BEST BACKSEAT SCHTUPP SPOT WHERE YOU CAN TAKE IN POP CULTURE EPHEMERA
Ford Wyoming Drive-In Theater
10400 Ford Rd., Dearborn; 313-846-6910
There ain't many drive-in theaters left, but the Detroit area boasts the world's largest: The Ford-Wyoming is nine screens strong, including the original Art Deco concrete tower, which showed its first film in 1951. The place has been going strong since, and as other area theaters like the Wayne and Algiers went dark, the Ford-Wyoming began using salvaged equipment to expand — it's an informal museum of sorts, saluting local drive-in culture with aluminum car speakers that bear the names of such long gone as the Bel-Air, the Gratiot and the Grand River. All films are pre-empted with vintage reels of dancing hot dogs, popcorn and popsicles telling viewers one thing: The snack bar is open. The box office opens at 7 p.m, credit cards now accepted!

BEST APPROPRIATE BAR NAME
Hard Luck Lounge
15412 Mack Ave., Grosse Pointe Park; 313-884-5825
What's in a name? Plenty. In fact, there are myriad ill fortunes associated with the moniker of this strangely lovely, crimson-hued lounge. What springs to mind? The auto industry? Check. Getting dumped? Yup. Our last poker game? Natch. That booze habit that's getting a bit out of control? Yessir. Missing the phone call from some hottie who got our number? Of course. Getting the boot from work? How'd you guess? The list is endless. Ain't it so that this bar name is the sign o' the times?

BEST LOUNGE TO DOWN ONE BEFORE HISTORY GETS PAVED OVER
Kovacs Bar
6986 W. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-842-9774
Located on the site slated to become the plaza area of the proposed new bridge project, this ancient watering hole sticks out as you enter Delray, a neighborhood that's now almost completely abandoned, its trademark plywood angels standing guard over the once-thriving Hungarian community. But Kovacs remains, its knotty pine walls, high ceilings and breathtakingly elegant mahogany bar dating back to 1935 — and the building to 1889. Business ain't what it used to be, says owner Bob Evans, who served his last homemade lunch two years ago, after companies on adjacent Zug Island began forbidding workers to leave the plants. Although he'll retire within a couple of years, Evans would like to see Kovacs survive, even if the bridge comes through: "If somebody wanted to buy it and move it, there's grant money available," he says. Prospective bar owners, take note!

BEST CIRCUS SIDESHOW VAUDEVILLE BURLESQUE VARIETY REVUE
Torch with a Twist

In fall of 2006, Cliff Bell's general manager Andrew Gyorke was looking for something different to bring people in on Sunday nights. Chanteuse Grace Detroit, whose jazz combo Grace and the Guys had played a few gigs at the plush haunt, sold Gyorke on trying a burlesque- vaudeville-circus-sideshow she called Torch with a Twist. The one-of-a-kind event took off, with its combination of jugglers, vaudeville comedy, jazz and R&B numbers, a fullfigured belly dancer who walks on broken glass, a sinuous dancer whose routines include live snakes — and that's not to mention the talented troupe of gorgeous burlesque dancers doing fan dances, balloon striptease and risqué shadowplay. "Torch Night" snowballed into a smash hit that packs the mid-sized club once a month, except when they take the show to other venues, such as the creepy carnival midway of Theatre Bizarre, where the show includes fire-dancers amid an atmosphere of outdoor revelry.

BEST ZINE
Stupor

stevestupor@yahoo.com
For years and years, Hamtramck's Steve Hughes has been collecting the stories he's heardand overheard in bars, restaurants and other hangouts, transforming these boozy remembrances into short narratives that pack a literary punch. Even though the "zine scene" has supposedly died off, Hughes keeps cranking out more issues, and is even teaming up with such local artists and designers as Chris Riddell, Mitch Cope and Teresa Peterson to take the cut-and-paste zine ethic to new artistic levels. How artistic? Hundreds of copies of Stupor will appear as part of a special art show at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, way out in the Netherlands, as part of an exhibit Cope has helped put together. Bravo!

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