Back to basics

The Del Rio - Photo / Mariah Cherem
Photo / Mariah Cherem
The Del Rio

Several months ago I walked into the Del Rio and was greeted by women. Not unusual — except that these particular women towered over me — shining stainless steel Amazons.

I had unwittingly stumbled into one of the many art exhibits that rotate through the Del Rio bar every month or so. This particular display adorned the brick walls of the small space with a handful of large and looming cut-outs of Barbarella-looking women, glistening metallically.

The Del Rio has a knack for displaying the type of local art that makes you forget that you’re in a bar, and then, when you remember, makes you enjoy the fact you’re in a bar that’s so casually entwined with the creative types of the town that it just naturally has something good to hang from its walls and ceiling. Creative minds of Ann Arbor know the Del well, not necessarily as an exhibition place, but as a meeting place — somewhere to stop after work, somewhere to take a low-key date, somewhere to enjoy a pint of Bell’s or a no-frills cocktail.

The Del Rio is beyond a “student bar.” Though the clientele has a young feel, there is a range of ages and lifestyles beneath the tin ceiling and dim lights. The majority of students who do come here gravitate from offbeat programs. There are always plenty of writing and art students huddled into the booths. However, though students, artists and writers may find this a favorite spot, that fact in no way creates any sense of pretentiousness.

Monday nights are theme nights. The unsuspecting visitor may enter the Del to find half of the staff decked out in leather for dominatrix night, or perhaps it’ll be “things with wings,” lounge, or '80s night. Still, even in the midst of theme Mondays, visitors will never feel out of place for what they are or aren’t wearing — or for what they are or aren’t drinking. The bar serves up a wide variety of brews, ranging from the ever-popular Pabst Blue Ribbon to the rotating Bell’s varieties on tap. There is also wine — by the glass or the half-liter. A nice variety of standard, straight-up shots and cocktails are also popular.

The Del Rio’s staff are caring in a low-key kind of way. This is not a sports bar. The Del doesn’t have a TV, and it’s a pretty safe bet that they never will. They do, however have well over a thousand tapes stored on the wall behind the bar, and while one night you may be greeted by Johnny Cash, the next you might catch a Billie Holiday tape, or something completely different — rare and unrecognizable.

You won’t see the same eager-to-score crowd you might find at other Ann Arbor bars. There’s a feeling of camaraderie at the Del Rio, and though it’s easy to catch someone’s eye and strike up a genuine conversation, it’s still the type of place you’d feel comfortable going on your own or with a few friends. The Del Rio is not a pick-up joint.

It’s not the place to go looking for standard deep-fried bar fare either. There’s no deep-fryer. There is, however, a fairly extensive menu of munchies — many of them vegetarian. The vegetarian chili is a winter favorite, along with summer’s gazpacho. Other veggie favorites include the ginger stir-fry and the Zapata — a sort of Mexican version of a calzone, chock full of beans, rice, cheese and vegetables.

Of course, for the carnivore, there’s always the choice of a good hearty hamburger — especially good with the Del’s hot sauce.

Even down to the vegetarian cuisine, the Del Rio an Ann Arbor bar. Infused with local students and townies, brimming with their designs and sounds and fervent conversations, casually serving to their tastes, the Del Rio is a spot shaped by its loyal and local clientele.

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