Award-winning HopCat — a major player in helping transform Grand Rapids into one of the country's best beer cities — is bringing that craft brew razzle dazzle to Detroit with opening of a bar in Midtown on Saturday.
HopCat's arrival marks the beginning of an expansion of Midtown's craft beer pocket, where Motor City Brewing Works and Traffic Jam and Snug have been pouring brew at Cass and Canfield for years. Following HopCat Detroit, look for Dexter's Jolly Pumpkin to open in the spring and Ferndale's 8 Degrees Plato beer store to set up shop along Cass.
"This is a really exciting time in Detroit," says HopCat founder Mark Sellers, who opened his top-rated Grand Rapids restaurant and beer bar in 2008 and an East Lansing locale last year. "We didn't want to be on the tail end of it, we wanted to get in here when all this great stuff was happening."
HopCat will take over the former Agave restaurant building on Woodward, a structure that has been empty for nearly a decade. The $3.3 million renovation includes a complete overhaul of the interior. When completed, HopCat will be unlike the others in the chain and unique to the Motor City.
"What we've tried to do with this entire build out and with the whole vibe of the building is to make it genuine to Detroit," he says. "This HopCat looks completely different."
Besides a full menu and 130 beers on tap, HopCat Detroit will have an all-weather outdoor beer garden and a 400-capacity live music venue upstairs. Decorated with the city's music and automotive history in mind, one area is adorned with concert posters from artist Carl Lundgren. Behind the bar, an old Cadillac from a scrap yard hangs on a brick wall covered by a colorful graffiti mural.
The second floor venue is named the Huma Room after Sellers' favorite beer: Short's Brewing Company's Huma Lupa Licious.
Short's and Sellers have a bond. The beer maker will break its own world record for having the most beers on tap at one venue when HopCat Detroit opens Saturday. Short's will take over 120 of the bar's 130 taps.
"Short's has been brewing for months in anticipation of setting the world record for the most beers on tap at a single (venue)," Sellers says. "The previous record was Sierra Nevada with 72. Short's beat that record last year at HopCat East Lansing; they did 100 beers."
"We like to do crazy stuff together," says Sellers of his relationship with the Bellaire brewery. Once up and running, about half of the bar's 130 taps will host Michigan-made beers. The rest will be craft beer from elsewhere, but "no Bud, no Miller, no Coors," he says.
HopCat serves lunch, dinner and brunch and places an emphasis on cuisine that pairs well with beer, such as soft pretzel nuggets, mussels, Angus burgers, fish and chips and cheese ale soup. There's also a variety of ways to order HopCat's signature item, crack fries.
More craft beer in Midtown in 2015
In the spring, just a five-minute walk from Hopcat Detroit, Jolly Pumpkin will open a brewery, distillery, winery and restaurant within eye shot of long-standing Traffic Jam and Motor City Brewing Works.
Tony Grant, CEO and CFO of Northern United Brewing Company, which operates Jolly Pumpkin and also makes North Peak beer and spirits and Grizzley Peak beer, says he and his partners feel lucky to be joining this beer-centric corner of Detroit.
"Motor City Brewing Works and Traffic Jam, these are pioneers in craft beer and they've been there for a long time and they've built an awareness in that area in Midtown," he says. "Our industry, our customer is one that loves diversity, so being able to thrive in an environment together is going to be a great thing because we all thrive off each other. It creates this destination for people, and they'll come back."
Sue Mosey, president of Midtown Detroit Inc., agrees, calling HopCat and Jolly Pumpkin "big brands" with a strong identity and loyal followings.
"They're very active in all kinds of competitions, and they're involved in a lot of beer festivals and their reach is pretty significant," she says. "In the neighborhood, that will help draw people to the other breweries and shops."
Brooklyn-based Fellow Barber hair salon plans to open in the same block as Jolly Pumpkin and will feature a craft cocktail lounge.
"You'll have a bunch of options for drinking and shopping in that area," Mosey says. "It's still evolving, but there's a lot of that coming in."
Ferndale's 8 Degrees Plato specialty beer store will open a second store at 3409 Cass in the former Chinatown area in early 2015.
The store, which will be on the northern edge of the new Detroit Red Wings stadium and the surrounding development, will stock craft and imported beer and will also have taps so folks can drink beer while they shop, or take a growler home.
Detroit's craft beer pioneers welcome development
As newcomers Jolly Pumpkin and 8 Degrees Plato arrive next year, Traffic Jam and Snug microbrewery will celebrate a milestone: 50 years in business.
The 250-seat restaurant is the state's first brew pub and Traffic Jam was instrumental in getting brewing laws changed in the late 1980s. The company has been brewing since the early 1990s and paved the way for its neighbors across the street, Motor City Brewing Works, the city's oldest brewery.
Motor City opened in 1994 and is the original Midtown destination for craft beer and pizza. An intimate space that also makes mead and apple wine, its flagship product is Ghettoblaster English style ale, which is synonymous with Detroit and craft beer.
Traffic Jam co-owner Carolyn Howard welcomes the new brands to Midtown.
"It's going to be an absolute game-changer in the neighborhood," she says. "With the addition of (HopCat and Jolly Pumpkin), this area will become a destination for craft beer lovers from all over."
Opens 11 a.m. Saturday
441 W. Canfield
Opens in early Spring
8 Degrees Plato Beer Company
Opens in early 2015
Traffic Jam and Snug
511 W. Canfield
Opened in 1965
Motor City Brewing Works
470 W. Canfield
Opened in 1994
The first 200 people in line to get into HopCat Detroit Saturday morning will receive free "crack fries" (the restaurant's famous seasoned French fries), one order per week for a year. Everyone who visits on opening day gets to taste crack fries for free.
PitchBlak Brass Band, a 10-piece hip-hop brass band from New York City, will perform a free show that evening. Detroit band Howling Diablos will also play, kicking off around 8 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now for future Huma Room concerts, which include a burlesque show Sunday, Detroit's own Monica Blaire on Dec. 26, California bluegrass and swing band Dustbowl Revival on Jan. 30 and Thornetta Davis on Feb. 14.
The upstairs venue will host live music or DJs three or four times a week. A Sunday night poetry, comedy and music open mic night will start Jan. 25.