For someone like me who has never lived outside the tri-county area, a visit to Ann Arbor is an ever-changing day trip.
I have my favorites that I try to visit regularly — the Bar at 327 Braun Court, Pinball Pete’s, the Michigan Theater, Slurping Turtle, Blind Pig ... even Scorekeepers (Skeeps!) — but I also make a point to go to a new place with every visit.
On my most recent trip, I stopped by for last call at one of the latest spirit-makers to join the craft cocktail game in southeastern Michigan, the Ann Arbor Distilling Co.
The distillery, which opened in December in a rustic-looking building at 220 Felch, has a cozy tasting room where cocktail-lovers can gather at one of a few bar stools, or sit around a wooden barrel used as a table.
From the tasting area, a window gives a view of the much more spacious distilling facility, which starts producing spirits for statewide distribution on April 3.
Until then, Ann Arbor Distilling Co.’s vodka, gin and rum are only available at the Felch street location. There, spirits can be purchased by the bottle to go ($35-$40), or to enjoy on premise in one of a dozen craft cocktails ($8-$10).
Product developer and bar manager Phil Attee said they’ve made bourbon and rye whiskey, too, but they’re still aging in oak barrels. (I guess I can wait.) He’s expecting those to be available in mid- to late summer. Also on the way in time for fall: apple brandy.
Some of the inventive items on the menu in the tasting room include an Old Fashioned made with gin and grapefruit (instead of whiskey and orange) and pomegranate fizz, a bright and bubbly vodka-based drink with juicy pomegranate seeds chilling at the bottom of the champagne coupe glass.
Because of their distillery license, Ann Arbor Distilling can only serve alcohol that they make there. So to get the White Russian correct, they developed a barrel aged coffee liqueur, which is great with vodka and cream, but also very good on its own.
Besides being a place to enjoy an artfully-made cocktail, Ann Arbor Distilling also wants to be a place of education for amateur mixologists. On April 18 and 25 the distillery will host cocktail classes that will teach how to use seasonal ingredients to make unique drinks. The tickets, $50, include the course, five small drinks and light snacks. The April 18 class is sold out, and tickets will go on sale soon for the April 25 event. Details of the class can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/AnnArborDistillingCompany.
U-M alumni revive Pretzel Bell
More is on the way for Ann Arbor’s bar and restaurant scene. A group of University of Michigan alumni will open Pretzel Bell at 226 S. Main on April 14.
The 8,000-square-foot restaurant and sports bar is an homage to the Pretzel Bell restaurant that operated on Liberty from 1934-1985.
Specialty dishes will be grilled flatiron steak, fried chicken sandwich, pork and grits and a “meat & potatoes,” which is shredded short rib with beef gravy and potato tots with Danish blue cheese and roasted parsnips.
The Pretzel Bell also will have a full bar with cocktails and more than a dozen beers on draft. About 110 people can be seated on the main floor, and an additional 100 can fit in a downstairs bar.
The sports-centric bar will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
New plates at Old German
Ann Arbor bierkeller and restaurant Old German, in the basement of Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. at South Ashley and West Washington, has redone its menu to include smaller and more shareable plates. Look for Bavarian-inspired dishes like chicken schnitzel sliders, apple sausage crostini and loaded German potato skins served with horseradish sour cream.
Try the new dishes for half the price during happy hour, which is 4-7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close Sunday through Thursday (“close” being midnight Sunday through Wednesday and 2 a.m. on Thursday). Happy hour also has half-off cocktails and wine.
Like the Pretzel Bell, the Old German also is a nod to the Ann Arbor restaurant scene of days gone by. The original Old German restaurant operated in this space from 1928-1995. The new Old German opened in 2013.