Archive for June, 2011

The restaurant bar as charming as its food

By John Horn

It has earned a stellar reputation as a foodie’s paradise, with a menu devoted to upscale yet unpretentious comfort food. But the bar inside of Town Tavern in downtown Royal Oak is as charming and relaxing as the dining experience on the other side of the room.

Centered with a long, marble slate bar and slightly isolated from the rest of the dining room, Town Tavern’s bar is a testimony to proper drinking. However, if you’re looking for multiple taps and draft beer, you’ll notice something different here.

When the Italian restaurant Lepanto closed and Town Tavern opened in its space, owner Bill Roberts said they discovered something unusual.

“There was no draft beer system in there,” he says. “We felt wine was going to be our thing and because we have all bottled beer, it enables us to have a neat assortment of Michigan microbrews.”

Trust us, you’re not going to miss the kegs. Not when you have your pick of nearly 50 domestic, import and Michigan beers. The Michigan microbrew lineup is outstanding, with a strong representation of some of the best breweries in the state.  From Short’s to Michigan Brewing Company to Dragonmead, Founders, Bell’s, Axl, Arbor Brewing Co. and more, your whistle shall remain properly whetted at the Town Tavern.

Settle in for a cold Keewanaw Widow Maker Black Ale from the Upper Peninsula or maybe a Dark Horse Amber Ale from the fine folks over in Marshall, Mich. You win, and you support state business as well.

“We have a good dozen or so by the bottle,” Roberts says. “That’s an area that is growing, in the city and in the state. It’s great. It keeps the money local.”

Not in the mood for beer? How about any number of their custom martinis, or perhaps a Tavern Lemonade, made with Effen Black Cherry vodka, cranberry and Rose’s Lime? The single-malt Scotch menu will make you do a quiet flip. That lineup includes everything from Johnnie Walker Blue to MacCallan 12-year to the Glenlivet, both 12- and 21-year.

Town Tavern’s wine list offers more than 50 varieties, and includes everything from fresh, summer-y white wines to rich malbecs and pinot noirs.

A special bar menu also puts some excellent small plates in front of you, including jumbo lump crab cakes, short rib tacos, parmesan truffle fries and Buffalo shrimp, to name a few.

It is a classic, understated bar with a very relaxed crowd amid a couple of well-placed plasma TVs. Some bar patrons are waiting for a table; others are there simply for the rich drinking experience. Either way, you’ll never leave disappointed.

116 W. Fourth Street, Royal Oak



This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

Your comfort zone just got wider

By John Horn

Ever walk in to a bar and get the stink eye from its patrons? Or maybe an unpleasant response (if any) from the bartender? Yeah, that’s not going to happen at the Belmont Bar in Hamtramck. Far from it, actually.

Rest assured that after a few minutes, you’re going to be as comfortable in that bar as if it were your own living room.

Co-owner Darren Grow said that entire phenomenon is by design. If the Belmont is anything, it’s comfortable and unpretentious.

“It starts with myself, my partner and the staff in that we are sociable and that we like to make people comfortable,” Grow says. “You can come in and it seems that regardless of what’s going on, after five minutes, you’re going to be pretty comfortable.”

And why wouldn’t you? It’s a neighborhood bar filled with regulars but isn’t exactly clique-y. Grow, co-owner Mark Hausner, and bartenders Chris Tait, Laura Gregory and Heatherley Howard make sure there’s no funny vibe in the Belmont. Instead, they focus on behaving like real people in a real bar, and not pull some fake bullshit trip on you.

Weekends at the Belmont showcase live music on Fridays and Saturdays, with a consistency of mainly rock and punk, in that order. Grow adds that they also see a little metal, a limited amount of hip-hop, folk, funk and even a bit of jazz. For the most part, though, expect a steady diet of rock, garage rock and other iterations of that timeless genre.

If the steady diet of amplified goodness isn’t enough for you, plenty of bar diversions abound at the Belmont, including displays of artwork for sale by local creatives, a pool table, video bowling machine and the always-exalted Mega-Touch.

Drink-wise, the Belmont is assuredly a shot-and-beer type of bar, emblematic of most blue-collar neighborhoods. Grow said that while they sell a lot of PBR and shots of Jameson and Jagermeister, arguably their signature drink is the very icon of most Hamtramck bars: blackberry brandy.

“It’s a staple,” Grow says. “If you walk into a Hamtramck bar and they don’t have that chilled and ready to go, something is wrong.”

You know what’s entirely right? Sunday nights at the Belmont, that’s what. Got the Sunday blues, do you? Dreading that Monday morning? Come, take your mind off all of it on Sunday nights as Tait rolls out his signature Bacon Bloody Marys. Yes, you read that correctly. Bacon.

Grow wouldn’t divulge the entire recipe, but he did mention that the bacon is fried up and blended in with certain seasonings.

“That has become a very big hit,” Grow says.


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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

Forefathers of the Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Party

By John Horn

When the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (3/13) and St. Patrick’s Day itself (3/17) rolls around, if you’re not immersed in the reverie along Michigan Avenue, you better have plans to hit one the biggest, most legendary St. Patty’s Day parties around.

Arguably one of the most recognizable Irish bars in the Detroit, the Old Shillelagh set the bar — or, in this case, the short, heavy wooden club — years ago and continues to be one of the true gems on St. Patrick’s Day. And now, for the first time, that same epic party vibe that is the epicenter of every 3/17, can now be experienced on Parade Day as well.

“We are opening our tents this year for the first time on parade Sunday,” says manager Shellie Lewis. “We will be running our shuttle bus to the parade route, before and after the parade, all day and all night. ”

Party people are going to have their hands full (we’re pretty confident you can handle it) with the bevy of St. Pat’s Day/Parade day-related activity the Old Shillelagh is providing. First, the Saturday prior to 3/17 (that would be 3/12, the day before the parade on Michigan Ave.), the Old Shillelagh hosts a warmup party called St. Practice Day. You won’t sound like Allen Iverson eschewing this type of practice. No, you’ll be throwing down some Guinness in Greektown.

They roll out the tents and live entertainment starts upstairs at 2 p.m. on St. Practice Day. The tents open at 8 p.m., with live Irish music and DJs all night.

Hit reset the next for the 53rd annual Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where you can party in the Shillelagh’s tent all Sunday.

And after that, four days later, the biggest Irish holiday of them all gets down on 3/17. The Shillelagh’s St. Pat’s party leaves guests wanting for nothing. And Shellie sets everything clear right up front about this legendary party.

“There is no green beer,” she says. “Guinness, car bombs, Smithwyck’s, Harp and lots of Jameson,” she says, reeling off the official breakfast of party people everywhere.

And speaking of breakfast, the Old Shillelagh serves it all morning on 3/17. Keep yourself nourished throughout the rest of the day (oh, there’s really no reason to leave) with their authentic corned beef sandwiches and juicy cheeseburgers.

They open at 7 a.m. and get full pretty quickly. The tents open at 8 a.m. And you should probably know something about those tents. The Old Shillelagh was the first Detroit bar to implement the outdoor tent for St. Patrick’s Day, doing so 20 years ago. They did it for five years before anyone else followed suit.

And from within those tents, you’ll hear the fantastic Irish music of Billy Dixon, as well as other traditional music and some top 40 stuff mixed in.

Approximately 5,000-6,000 people come through the Old Shillelagh’s door on 3/17, and you can expect a hearty, fun crowd on the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day as well, including parade day.

That’s a lot of great party-hosting. For Shellie, though her take on it all is rooted in such sublime simplicity, it’s nearly poetic.

“We just throw parties,” she says. “That’s what we do; huge parties in our bar.”

And for that, you should thank them.


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This article previously ran in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

The definitive neighborhood bar

By John Horn

If you like snotty, clique-y, unfriendly bar crowds and the pretentious nonsense that comes with them, then you’ll probably hate the Corktown Tavern.

Now that we’ve established that you’re (somewhat) well-adjusted and prefer your bar crowds to be composed of real, like-minded individuals with the same agenda (catch a buzz; have a good time), then you probably already know about Corktown Tavern. And if you don’t, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with one of the true Detroit neighborhood bars in the city.

“It’s a loose, fun atmosphere,” says Owner Tony Maisano. “Good music, good drinks and good people.” Corktown operates, literally, on two levels. Downstairs, you have the long bar and a smattering of TVs with people hanging out, drinking, comiserating and generally enjoying bar-inspired mirth. The upper level is home to live music, generally Thursdays through Saturdays, and showcases everyone from local bands to national acts. Pick one level or the other; or do both.

“The neat thing about our place is that it has two floors,” Maisano says. “Even if you want to come and have a drink, there is no cover, ever. You pay the cover upstairs. It’s almost a private thing up there.”

That private thing upstairs will usually run you no more than $5 and will afford to you the opportunity to see anyone from Eddie Spaghetti and/or Hugh Cornwell of the Supersuckers to Panama, a Cleveland-based Van Halen tribute band.

“One of the other benefits is that we keep it fair with the bands in that they keep 100 percent of the door,” Maisano says. “We never take out for sound guys and other BS like that. My motto is: ‘You’re the music, you brought the people, you make that money. I’m in the business of selling booze, I keep that money.'”

It must be working, because Corktown Tavern has to it a no-nonsense, relaxed environment. Ownership encourages — and patrons oblige — a fun, upbeat atmosphere. A happy hour typically runs from 8 p.m.- 9 p.m., before bands start to play. There is always some sort of $2 domestic beer special, as well as a shot/drink special, which is usually the call of the bartender working that night.

In addition to live music upstairs toward the end of the week and into the weekend, Scotty from the Amino Acids DJs every Monday night.

Want to support something local? Throw a couple of bucks and couple of hours into helping sustain the unpretentious fun at Corktown Tavern.



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