Raise the bar

A shortlist of better bars, for drinking, music and more

Ashley's 338 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-9191; 5150 Carpenter Rd., Ypsilanti; 734-528-9898: With an award-winning beer selection from the four corners of the earth, made-to-order food using fresh ingredients, and a genuinely hospitable attitude, Ashley's is an excellent bar for beer-lovers. Think you've run out of new beers to explore? Better stop in soon.

The Belmont 10215 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-871-1966: This long, rectangular bar is nestled snugly on Hamtramck's main drag, situated inconspicuously among the oddball dollar stores, ethnic grocers and resale shops. But its glowing red sign serves as a beacon to hardened barflies and rock 'n' rollers alike, who come for cheap beer, generous shots and many of Detroit's best songsters. Keep walking and the walls begin to close in — an abrupt narrowing that ends at the stage. This crank layout means you can avoid the stage without feeling totally separated from the action. Live shows abound, with some terrific punk oldies, such as GBH and Jello Biafra, hitting the stage in the last month alone.

The Berkley Front 3087 12 Mile Rd., Berkley; 248-547-3331: The magic number, it turns out, is 42. That's how many beers you'll find on tap at this neighborhood biergarten. And, unlike most bars, the Berkley Front features an uncarbonated pull, and there are always several local brews to choose from, matched up against a genuine selection of German and Belgian ones. The beer pulls you in, but the juke, live music and conversation keep you there.

Bert's Marketplace 2727 Russell St., Detroit; 313-567-2030: This granddaddy of the current jam scene is into its second decade. You never know what to expect — luminaries, swingin' grade-schoolers brought by doting parents or a waif of a singer from Central America with limited conversational English, fluently belting "Midnight Train to Georgia — for the $3 cover.

Cass Cafe 4620 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1400: As if the vintage bicycles chained up outside weren't a clue. Then the walls tell the story. The music backs it up. Look over the shoulder of any messenger-bag-wielding patron and you're likely to find them — assuming they're not chomping into a turkey burger or sipping a pint— sketching, reading, knitting, writing, perhaps focused on a MacBook. Pretentious? Nah. OK, maybe sometimes, but how can art exist without that? Cass Cafe is the unofficial meeting place for Detroit painters, poets, musicians, etc. The crowd's a boho and blue-collar blend, fairly reflective of the creative community as such. And the place is as much an art gallery as a café; its walls adorned with local fine art — mostly paintings and installation pieces — that's usually engaging.

Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave.; 313-961-2543: Cliff Bell's honcho Paul Howard will tell you jazz is "the best music to see live — especially in small setting." And although there's more than jazz to be seen and heard in this art deco temple — other musical genres, burlesque, poetry and the Moth story-telling sessions, for instance — it has built a stable of top-notch local swinging regulars, semi-regulars and occasionals — including the Hot Club of Detroit, Gerard Gibbs and Wendell Harrison's Swing Ensemble — and such out-of-towners as Dr. Lonnie Smith and France's Moutin Reunion. It can get rather noisy for listening, but it's also got class galore and great small-plates dining.

Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. 120 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-741-7325: Downtown Ann Arbor's burger- and steak-lovers' go-to spot, Grizzly Peak offers several of its award-winning beers on tap. And, as it winds down for the night, its pub, the Den, rolls out the red carpet for cash-strapped beer connoisseurs. Every night after 11 p.m., the space's massive oak bar, high-topped tables and cozy booths fill with friends who prefer chatting over a pint to getting freaked on. But get there early — this little gem fills up fast!

Grand Trunk 612 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-3043: It's Saturday morning — you're looking for good grub and drink that's not OJ. What to do? It's easy: Head to downtown Detroit to the Grand Trunk (formerly Foran's), where brunch and booze ain't no joke. The funky, compact bar sits inside the old Detroit Grand Trunk ticketing station. The House pop is Faygo and the bread's from Avalon Bakery, the produce is from Eastern Market, and the taps boast 14 various Michigan brews.

Goodnite Gracie Jazz & Martini Bar 301 Huron St., Ann Arbor; 734-623-2070; 224 S Sherman Dr., Royal Oak, 248-584-7400: Though the musical flavorings change throughout the week at both of the Goodnite Gracie lounge locations — bringing in jazz, reggaeton, funk, blues, live music and DJs — they consistently serve up myriad martinis metro Detroiters crave. The original location in Royal Oak serves up their magnificent martinis and all other fantastically fermented beverages at a half-off happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Note: You'd be doing yourself a favor to make the attached Italian bistro, D'Amato's, your dinner destination.

Jolly Pumpkin 311 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-913-2730: While pub-like in atmosphere, the food is a bit more up-to-date. Expect tofu cracklings, French fries flavored with rosemary and truffle salt, and a butcher's snack board of cured meats and more. There is no real entrée menu as such. A small list of daily specials are offered, such as broiled walleye and mushroom risotto. The rest of the list consists of salads, sandwiches and pizza. Children are considered with an entire section of their own. And, of course, there is the beer. Diners not yet familiar with Jolly Pumpkin beers might want to ease into the experience with something slightly tamer, like a North Peak Amber Ale. But hardcore fans will likely find the cask ale to be the liquid they want in their glass. Along with a few Michigan wines and spirits, and a list of non-alcoholic cocktails, there's a drink for everyone. Open 11-2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, noon-midnight Sunday.

Kuhnhenn 5919 Chicago Rd., Warren; 586- 979-8361: When it comes to really intense flavor, no place has zoned in on extreme beer geeks like Kuhnhenn, having created such flavorful brews as wild blueberry pancake ales and raspberry eisbocks. If that weren't geeky enough, there's a home brew shop right across the parking lot! So, head inside, enjoy the kick-in-the-face flavors of such brews as Solar Eclipse, then, inspired, head over and buy your own homebrew rig. Sometimes, even on a cool day, you'll see some enthusiasts outside, boiling wort.

The Loving Touch 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3644: Opened in late-'08, Ferndale's new pool hall-lounge was once a massage parlor of the same name. Neat! Whatever the former's business practices, the new version is one of the best bars for last call in the metro Detroit. The Loving Touch is cozy with beautiful woodwork, welcoming atrium and it sports a badass juke, with many local rock stars in rotation. It's lounge-casual, to be sure. What better way to cap a night than with sloppy billiards or in a booth with your pals, glowing from locally brewed beer?

Motor City Brewing Works 470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700: Right across the street from Traffic Jam, this brewpub has a quirky tiled interior, with its concrete bar molded in PVC, its Wednesday-night art shows, and its sturdy menu of pizzas and small plates. For less than $10, you can get a pizza made with ingredients from as local as possible, or a cheese, baguette and salametti plate with your choice of mustard. The beers are excellent. Watch out for the high alcohol content of that Summer Brew, if there's any left. Meads like Blue Sunshine have a sharp, almost astringent crispness to them. And those Wednesday night art shows are a tightwad's dream, offering work from experimental, established and ex nihil artists, often hanging work that goes for as little as $15. Have a pizza, drain a craft brew or two, and invest in a work of art for a little more.

Old Miami 3930 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-3830: This charming dive began as the New Miami back in the hazy Cass Corridor daze. Then, to screw with the heads of Midtown gentrifiers, it changed to its current name. And, like a trusted old friend, the Old Miami comes through in the pinch. It has become home to Detroit's day-rave scene, hosting all-day parties featuring local and international insomniac DJs and dancers, promoted by the Ferndale-based Auxetic group. And then there's the urban oasis they've created out back, with an outdoor stage, rustic seating and, in good weather, a little patch of lawn.

Park Bar 2040 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-962-2933: OK, you know and we know this one was a keeper from day one. Firstly for its location on the increasingly dense Park Avenue bar and club scene, secondly for its round bar and enormous picture windows, thirdly for having the only late-night, cool-as-shit Romanian food source (the Bucharest Grill) in town. But perhaps best of all is the house mix of music. How do they do it? Any employee may nix a song off the playlist. So you only get what people don't object to. What's more, usually a nice selection of pours on tap, including Franziskaner.

Rosie O'Grady's Irish Pub 279 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-591-9163; see rosieogradysirishpub.com for more locations: When you go to the bar to catch the big game with your best bros, there's a good chance there are a few other games, matches, meets, etc., you'd also like to follow, however casually or seriously. Ferndale's recently relocated Rosie O'Grady's Irish Pub, in just one year since being revived, is your favorite bar to do just that. With more than 100 TVs throughout the joint, including a small flat-screen in each booth all broadcasting the game, it's a sensory overload of sports, but that's why some people dig it. Game on!

Seven Brothers 11831 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-365-6576: In a churning sea of jaded hipster joints and seedy old-man dens, it takes something special to get noticed, but the regular patrons of this glorious Hamtramck hovel have no trouble grabbing spotlight. "The Brothers" caters to Detroit's smallish but incredibly vibrant theater community, with every square inch of space coated in head shots, cast posters and press clippings, and with every square foot packed with actors, writers, directors and various backstage types battling for elbow room at the bar. These off-off-off-off-off-Broadway stars-in-the-making lend the place a uniquely spirited and entertaining atmosphere, with spontaneous sing-alongs and dance-offs a distinct possibility at a moment's notice. What's more, the whole bar has gotten a serious makeover, exposing its original tin ceilings.

Slingers Bar & Grill 11791 Farmington Rd., Livonia; 734-421-6070: Though Madonna University and Schoolcraft College are both in city limits, Livonia isn't really some wild college town. It'll never be one of those. But that's not stopping Slingers Bar & Grill (formerly PY Stix) from attempting to tap into campus-approved, liquor-fueled folly, such as beer pong. We're talking cheap drinks, like on their Thirsty Thursdays, which feature beers for a buck from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. You'll also find those white T-shirt graffiti parties; theme nights bring out bleached blondes in sexy costumes, and, for those who threw dignity out the window in their teenage years, you can take a seat in the BJ chair and suck down booze straight from the bottle. Picture this, babe: You're sitting in a dentist chair, there's a hundred people surrounding you, and they can all see your midriff. You like this. The music blares, glasses rattle, your BFF snaps photos with her iPhone to be immediately posted to Facebook, and this dude named Twatch stands over you — a different bottle of booze in each hand. "Open wide," he says, juggling the bottles like they were bowling pins. "Down the hatch." And the crowd goes wild.

The Tap Room 201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-482-5320: We know the cliché, but many regulars here say this bar really is like downtown Ypsi's own version of Cheers. Maybe it's because co-owners Lisa and Brian Brickley and their staff are down-to-earth folks who'll chat with you even after you've tossed down your seventh shot of Jack. Or maybe it's because most of the staff were regulars before they started getting paid to serve. (Hiring from within! Cool.) Either way, it makes for one drunk, happy family down in old Ypsi-town.

Traffic Jam & Snug 511 W. Canfield St.; 313-831-9470: Get a twofer of English-style ales by visiting the little Snug bar, with its backlit nature scenes and dormant fireplace. Or enjoy them with a meal in the restaurant: Traffic Jam makes almost everything in-house, including beer, bread and ice cream.

Ye Olde Tap Room 14915 Charlevoix, Detroit; 313-824-1030: Hands down, this is one of the best beer bars in metro Detroit. More than 280 fine lagers from the world over, a stellar selection of fine Scotch — single-grain, single-malt, vatted (pure) malt or blended, well-aged at 10, 12, 16 or 18 years, on the rocks or straight up — all get served minus the pretension. Adding to the ambience is the bar's notorious history of serving booze before, during and after Prohibition; its surreptitious speakeasy roots suggest the naughty and clandestine revelry of the jazz-baby '20s, a decade for which we were, unfortunately, born too late. There's something sexy — and a bit dirty — about Ye Olde: The aged bar, sleek from years of use, the red brothel lights that glow softly, the midnight-dark corners that summon unclean thoughts make us want to slap on some red lipstick and get downright saucy.

Special thanks to editorial intern Michelle Styczynski for her assistance compiling these listings.

See any inaccuracies? Let us know. E-mail [email protected].

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