220 Merrill reopens under Denise Ilitch, it's a classy joint

Aug 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

For the past few weeks, we here at MT have been chronicling some of Detroit's finest dive bars. From Tommy's to Temple Bar, from Comet to the Anchor — we've hit our fair share of casual drinking establishments. So this week, we thought we'd class it up a bit.

Enter 220 Merrill. Formerly something of a tavern, the Birmingham restaurant and drinkery recently got a massive face-lift, thanks to Denise Ilitch.

After the restaurant closed earlier this year, Ilitch, who owns Ambassador magazine and Denise Ilitch Designs, purchased the property and got to work updating the space. A designer was brought in to brighten the interior, and amenities like a phone-charging station were added to the dining room. Where before the place was heavy with dark wood and old-fashioned decor, now walls have been whitewashed and everything within them has gotten a modern, contemporary upgrade. Modern art splashes the walls where old paintings once hung, and enormous, star-shaped chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The bar is made of dark marble, and the patio tables are topped with the same material, only in gray. The chairs are modern, some high and shiny silver and some low and matte white. When we popped in, 220 Merrill was only in the middle of its fourth day since its reopening. It was mid-afternoon and, as usual, Birmingham was looking beautiful. People in linen pants filled the sidewalks. Some Ladies Who Lunch were flirting with the waiter. We sat down at the bar.

A friendly bartender approached as soon as we were seated and asked, "What can I get you, girl?" The casual banter seemed a little out of place, but it was much appreciated. Honestly, we expected it to be a lot more bougie. If you're paying 12 bucks a cocktail, you can usually expect bougie.

And, yes, all the cocktails are $12. Except one. That one's $13.

They're well-made drinks, and that was one thing that impressed us from the get-go.

We got the Woodward to start. Made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, mint, and fresh squeezed lemon juice, it had a good whiskey bite without being overpowered by it. It was refreshing, yet strong. Served up with a mint leaf for garnish, it was pretty, but nothing like the Pierce, which we ordered next.

This tasty beverage, made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, white cranberry juice, muddled grapes, and fresh ginger, was served up in a frosted martini glass with frozen grapes for garnish. When the bartender poured the mixture into the glass, it came with a misting, bubbling effect that those Ladies Who Lunch would just swoon over. Honestly, we felt pretty cool drinking it too.

Call drinks are available, as well, and there's a good selection of liquor on their shelves. We spotted Two James Grass Widow and Hendricks gins among a selection of notable whiskeys. Draft beer is also on the menu, including Griffin Claw's El Rojo, Bell's Oberon, Founder's Dirty Bastard, and Dragonmead's Final Absolution.

220 Merrill's wine menu is also quite extensive and divided into thoughtful categories. Bottles, half bottles, and glasses of wine are available.

Upon our departure, a couple of gentlemen sidled up to the bar. They ordered two Stella Artois and we heard one say, "It's definitely different."