Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hard Rock Cafe Detroit tips hat to Michigan-born artists

What’s the difference between Hard Rock Café Detroit and, say, Hard Rock Café Chicago? To the unimpressed, about 280 miles
There, we took our shot.

It’s true, the Hard Rock mold was hardly reshaped when the world-famous franchise moved into street-level space in the Compuware World Headquarters building at Campus Martius back in 2003. Hard Rock Detroit stays true to the Hard Rock Anywhere form, from its interesting collection of music memorabilia on display to its menu of meals with rock-inspired names and budget-busting prices. OK, maybe that counts as another shot.

When it comes down to it, though, even the biggest Hard Rock detractors have to admit that Detroit having one is better than Detroit not having one. If nothing else, the company’s willingness to invest in downtown Detroit is a show of confidence that Motown could use more of, if only to show visitors that, yep, there is stuff to do in Detroit. And besides, if Biloxi gets one, dammit, we get one too!

And while the décor at Hard Rock Detroit hardly strays from its corporate blueprint, it does pay obvious homage to Michigan-born artists. Enter the Hard Rock Café Detroit through the Compuware lobby and you get a quick reminder where you are. A pair of powder-blue Shady sweatpants is cased on one wall. Kid Rock paraphernalia hangs on another. The nod to area musicians gives the place at least a hint of originality. It’d be nice to see that uniqueness extended elsewhere, perhaps to the menu. Some Kid Rock Lobster? Or a basket of Glenn Fries? For the kids, a P, B & J Geils sandwich? (Maybe not, but you get the picture.)

This, of course, is all splitting hairs. Hard Rock Café is what it is, and obviously it’s worked for them. If you’ve been to one, you have a pretty good idea what you’ll get at another, including Detroit. The food is good, if a little pricy, and the atmosphere is heavy with loud but not over-bearing music of all genres. Large video screens above the bar play an endless stream of music videos and concert footage.

In the end, it’s a novelty that is a welcome addition to the Detroit bar and restaurant scene, whether for Wednesday afternoon lunch or Saturday night drinks. The anti-corporate crowd might disagree, but honestly, what should we rather see in there? Another coney island?

For more info: Hard Rock Detroit is located in the Compuware Building in downtown Detroit at 45 Monroe St. Visit them online at, or call 313-964-ROCK.

Detroit Beer Co. brings beer-making back to the Motor City

In a town known universe-wide for making cars, music and not-very-good football teams, it’s easy to forget that Detroit was once fairly reputable for manufacturing another of life’s comforts: beer.

The city’s beer-making stature went flat when the Stroh Brewery closed up shop in 1999, so it’s refreshing to learn that in the heart of Detroit’s downtown, just a few blocks from its re-energized entertainment district, taps are once again spewing Detroit-made pilsners, lagers and ales.

The Detroit Beer Co. – the cool bar/restaurant with the factory-type name - never intended to crank out the golden goodness in Stroh-like quantities. What it does, though, is treat customers to a menu of unique, homemade flavors while helping fuel the city’s push to re-establish downtown as a place that’s still worth visiting. Opening in 2003, the DBC is precisely the type of business venture that city officials had in mind when Comerica Park and Ford Field were built nearby a few years earlier. You don’t need to look far to find similar reminders of that effort, such as Small Plates next door.

Even with the stadiums nearby, Greektown Casino an equally short walk, and the Detroit Opera House across the street, the DBC has been quick to build a reputation as a destination in itself. The two-story microbrewery, fashioned into the recently restored Hartz Building where clothing was once sold, is one of the city’s hippest hangouts, whether you’re looking to sample some of the award-winning succulence created by brewmaster Kevin Rodger, feast on something from their full menu of lunch and dinner offerings (you’ve gotta try the battered cod), or just get an earful of conversation from a bartender who’s well-versed in everything from Detroit politics to Detroit sports.

The food and atmosphere are great, but it’s the beer that shapes the Detroit Beer Co.'s identity. Go ahead, order a Miller Lite. Or a Heineken. You won’t find one at the DBC, which only serves Detroit-original flavors, each named to pay homage to the hometown. From the amber Detroit Dwarf to the chocolaty People Mover Porter, the Detroit Beer Co. knows where it lives. There’s even a Broadway Light, for folks who aren’t so adventurous with their beverage intake.

Dark or light, red or brown, the Detroit Beer Co. has its own version, and every drop of it is made right here at home. These days for Detroiters, that alone is worth toasting.

For more info: Visit the Detroit Beer Co. at 1529 Broadway, or check them out online at The DBC is open until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Anchor Bar still a legendary Detroit sports personality

You won’t find a half-dozen flat screens hanging from the ceiling. Nor a team of thin blonde waitresses wearing umpire uniforms. But long before sports bars were conjured in marketing boardrooms, the Anchor Bar in downtown Detroit was meeting the same consumer demand. Give the hometown fans a hometown tavern, a place to gather outside the arena, ballpark or stadium.

Standing in the shadows of Joe Louis Arena, the Anchor is naturally a gathering spot before and after Red Wings’ games. But like many of downtown Detroit’s more popular sports hangouts, the Anchor wears its authenticity proudly. While scanning the dark, high-ceiling bar on West Fort Street, you’re more likely to find a faded, black-and-white 8x10 of Gordie Howe than you are a Henrik Zetterberg Fathead.

Included in the Anchor’s legend are tales of a day when Detroit’s sports heroes were not only celebrated at the bar – they were patrons of the bar. The stories were born when the Anchor lived around the corner from its current location, in the basement of the newly remodeled Fort Shelby Hotel on West Lafayette. The hotel closed during the ‘80s, but the Anchor survived in its original space until 1997, when it moved into its current spot in the Mercier Building. With it came the sports artifacts that helped make it famous, sports photos and memorabilia that to younger patrons now give the place a museum quality.

For that reason alone, the Anchor warrants a look. And for its choice burgers, it warrants a taste. You best arrive early to get near the place when the Wings are playing, especially if they’re playing at home. But for an off-night place to hang, shoot a little pool, and revisit the glory days of Detroit sports, the Anchor is an authentic, unpretentious reminder of what sports bars were before we started calling them sports bars.

For more info: Visit the Anchor Bar at 415 W. Fort St. in downtown Detroit, or call 313-964-9127.

Nick's Gaslight endures changing times in downtown Detroit

Nick's Gaslight Restaurant is quiet on a Wednesday afternoon at lunch these days, but it wasn't always this way. The Gaslight used to buzz during the lunch hour, with office workers from the neighboring skyscrapers popping across the street for a burger, or a bowl of soup, or a slice of liver. It was that kind of place.

Once upon a time, Detroit was that kind of place.

“There used to be more people, but things change,” owner Savvas Kazelas says with a heavy Greek accent and a shrug. He was talking about his lunch crowd. He could have been talking about Detroit’s entire Times Square area.

To stay in business, Nick’s has changed with everything around it, and over the years has transformed from a restaurant hotspot that relied on its daytime traffic, to a quiet neighborhood bar that caters more to the evening crowd. Kazelas, who took ownership of the bar in the mid-1980s after a fire left the place boarded up for more than a year, has added flat-screen and large projection TVs to please Detroit’s sports-crazy crowd. The food’s still good and the drinks still strong, and now more than ever, the Gaslight relies heavily on its regulars. It is, amid the more touristy and trendy bars that have sprung up across town in recent years, just a neighborhood bar. It’s Detroit’s answer to Cheers (with a menu), right down to the four-sided rectangular bar that could have served as the blueprint by which the TV version was created.

What it also is a slice of Detroit history, a hangout that opened for business in 1925 and has ridden the Detroit rollercoaster since. By the time Kazelas got his hands on it in the ‘80s, the evacuation of much of Detroit was already in full swing. And now that the city’s rebirth is gradually getting footing, Nick’s is still serving, changing what it must but remaining as true to its roots as it can. Even in name.

“It’s always been the Gaslight, but not always Nick’s Gaslight,” Kazelas explains. “For a long time it was Eastman’s Gaslight. So we make it Nick’s Gaslight. People know it as the Gaslight, I don’t want to change it completely or they say, ‘What the hell is it?’”

For more info: Visit Nick’s Gaslight Restaurant at 441 W. Grand Boulevard in Detroit (at the corner of Grand River and Bagley), or call 313-963-9191.

Elwood Bar earns its stripes as Detroit baseball landmark

If there were such a thing as the Unofficial Bar of Old Tiger Stadium, few Detroit baseball fans would argue that Nemo’s Bar on Michigan Avenue would top the list. In fact, when the Tigers shuttered the old stadium at the end of the 1999 season and moved across town, it would have been fitting had they found a way to lift Nemo’s from its Corktown roots and plop it somewhere in Foxtown.
Hmm. Moving a bar. Who’d have thought of that?

Turns out, to make room for the Tigers’ new home at Comerica Park, a bar and grill on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Woodward Avenue that’s been serving since 1936 had to be spared. Or did it? Rather than demolish the Elwood Bar & Grill –named for the intersection on which it resided – owner Chuck Forbes decided to lift it up, drop it on a trailer, and drag it down the street. Moving a bar. Clever.

In doing so, Forbes not only salvaged a beloved local hangout, he also – by mere proximity to the stadium – claimed the title that Nemo’s held for so many years: the Unofficial Bar of Tiger Fans. Now located on the corner of Adams and Brush streets, the Elwood sits in the shadows of Comerica’s enormous leftfield scoreboard, “only 56 steps to the ball park”, the website boasts. The menu features a photo of the move, with the Elwood – looking similar to one of those old Carter’s Hamburger joints – sitting atop a trailer waiting to be lowered into place.

Once settled in to its new home, it didn’t take the Elwood long to became a fan-favorite for lunch and drinks before, during and after a Tiger game. And when Ford Field went up across the street, Lions’ fans began flocking to the Elwood on Sunday mornings. From the outside, the Elwood still looks much like it did the day it sat on that trailer; its art-deco stylings, although restored, make it look like something out of ‘American Graffiti’. The interior underwent a complete restoration, and now features impeccably polished booths and hightops fronting a beautifully designed, long wooden bar.

But throughout the baseball season, and even early in the Lions’ schedule, the place to be at the Elwood is out on the patio at the corner of Adams and Brush. For a casual lunch on a wooden picnic table beneath a patio umbrella and baseball pennants, it’s a great place to grab something from the Elwood’s menu of burgers and sandwiches. The Comerica Park public address announcer, the crack of the bat, and all the sounds of the ballpark filter across the street. And that’s something that even Nemo’s could never deliver.
For more info: Visit the Elwood at 300 Adams Ave., or visit them online at Through the summer, the Elwood is open daily, but closed on Sundays unless the Tigers are playing at home.