Chillin’ paradise

What do you get when you combine an olive, vermouth, good music and Detroit’s sexy-cool crowd — shaken, not stirred — together? You get Half Past Three, Detroit’s new martini spot.

Open since last July, the martini lounge — not club — is where the beautiful people of Detroit go to chill, as well as being Ivory “Tree” Graves and J. D. Simpson’s concept of sophisticated nightlife.

Decorated with comfy couches and plush chairs, the lounge has two rooms: a blue one for cooling out and a red for those who feel hot and sexy, explains Simpson. The lights, walls, carpets and furniture of the rooms are either indigo or sanguine-tinged. “We thought couches would be sweet, real cool and laid-back,” says Graves.

While chilling in the red room, Greg Bowens, 36 and press secretary for Mayor Dennis Archer, says, “What I like about this place is that I can bring cool people down here and they’ll have a good time. It’s a lounge, not a booty bar. You sit, chill and talk.”

Bowens says when he hangs out he usually visits Half Past Three. But not too often, because “Generally, I’m on lockdown.”

Music plays in both rooms and ranges from Chicago house music to Frank Sinatra to Jill Scott in the blue to an Al Green-Carlos Santana groove in the red. People might bop their heads to the music and break out in a small two-step, but there’s really no dancing and absolutely no hip hop.

“We don’t have a dance floor,” says Graves.

But that doesn’t stop the crowd from pouring in, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when there might be a line outside the door.

“Our vibe is kind of retro,” he explains, when asked to describe the lounge on a weekend. “This is a hip-people place where the cool people come out.”

The lounge serves the traditional martini — James Bond-style — and the fruit flavors that are becoming more popular: watermelon and apple. But for those who don’t like the dry taste of vermouth, the full-service bar is stocked with plenty of other libations. Right now, the Cosmopolitan is the martini of choice, say the co-owners.

Deidrah Thomas, a teacher with Inkster Middle Schools who sometimes drinks Cosmopolitans, describes the lounge as a place where “you hang out with your friends as if you’re in the living room or basement.”

With Half Past Three open five days a week, the crowd varies from the urban professional to the suburban factory worker. But the common ground includes the lure of a good drink, titillating conversation, beautiful people and vibing music.

“Half Past Three is music and martinis,” says Graves. “That’s what we do — drink and kick it. We’re not a ‘throw your hands up’ place. We’re not a disco.”

The fact that you don’t wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care and holler “owww” is exactly what entices 34-year-old Juan Woods to visit the lounge twice a month. “I like the atmosphere and the crowd,” he says. “Plus, there are plenty of women down here.”

Michelle Arnold is one of the women in the red room on Friday night. “Half Past Three attracts my crowd,” says the 33-year-old social worker.

According to Simpson, the Half Past Three crowd is “truly diverse. We’re able to attract people of all races. This is a very hip-minded, cosmopolitan crowd with beautiful women and handsome cats all with varying experiences.”

The search for a sophisticated party scene is actually what birthed Half Past Three.

“As we got older, the type of entertainment we were looking for changed,” says Simpson.

Graves, 37, a hair stylist and salon owner, and Simpson, 36, an entertainment lawyer, have promoted parties on Detroit’s club scene for the past 10 years. After selling out night after night at Club Taboo, Cheeks, Joey’s and several “soul nights,” both realized that the party scene was getting stale.

“As promoters, J.D. and I tried to take our flavor to other places, but some places didn’t have that cool vibe,” says Graves. “The next logical thing was for us to have a nightspot,” adds Simpson.

However, the martini lounge idea wasn’t a Detroit-bred creation. While traveling to Chicago, New York and even Paris, the two saw a new, chilled-out vibe in the form of martini bars — places where you could still step in with the fly gear, have a drink and meet people, but minus the hip-hop music, the radio advertising, the dancing and sweating, the ’gators and the few fights that would break out. In other words, a gig for the settled and mature crowd.

“For a long time, people underestimated Detroit consumers,” says Simpson. “Detroit people like nice things — a good drink, conversation. Other cities had eclectic, beautiful lounges and Detroit people wanted that too, so we gave it to them.”

Graves and Simpson put their heads together and decided to forgo the dance floor in favor of little couches and chairs where people could sit and relax. And, unlike in traditional clubs, there wouldn’t be a cover charge.

The co-owners fleshed out their idea for a year and a half, taking it slow, since neither had ever run a bar. While out together one night, they heard a Sinatra song called “Half Past Three” — or so they thought. They started singing the lyrics and agreed that would be the name of the bar. Later, when they went to find the album, they learned that the song was called “One For my Baby (and One More For the Road)” and that the lyrics actually said: “It’s quarter to three.” But they both still swear they heard “Half Past Three” — and neither remembers what they were drinking that night.

Paying homage to the lounge name are clocks, all set at 3:30. No art, no pictures, just clocks. “Friends brought clocks down,” says Simpson. “We have clocks from my mama’s house, Tree’s mama’s house, grandfather clocks and even clocks from Target.”

Although this is Graves and Simpson’s first attempt at running a bar, they both agree that business is going pretty well, especially since they have been able to garner a crowd with no advertising. “We’re doing pretty good,” says Graves. “A lot of people like us.”

The co-owners are planning to introduce a “Half Past Three” martini in the near future and, starting in March, the lounge has had a live band every Thursday.

Sexy-cool people are welcome at Half Past Three, as long as you don’t wear jeans or Timberlands, says Graves. “But ladies can wear jeans if they’re working it right and their flavor is sweet,” says Graves. “Brothas — no chance.”

Curtrise Garner writes about style and substance for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected]
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