The Brakeman beer hall opens Monday with beer pong, tabletop taps and fried chicken
Beer pong, tabletop beer taps and a new fried chicken joint are coming to downtown Detroit Monday with the opening of the Brakeman.
Steel high tops and two bars — one for basic cocktails, frozen drinks and shots and the other for beer — are surrounded by glass doors that open to allow an open-air experience.
The Brakeman is run by NoHo Hospitality Group which oversees all the bars and restaurants inside the Shinola Hotel (the luxury brand has a watch named "the Brakeman"). While this beer hall is down a scrubbed-clean alley from the hotel, it's also run by NoHo. The restaurant group, which has businesses in New York City and Baltimore, made its Detroit debut in in December with the upscale Italian neighborhood spot San Morello.
This is more casual, though. No reservations are needed at The Brakeman, and guests serve themselves. Buy beer tokens ($7 each) from the ticket window and grab a pint, pitcher or a flight of craft suds from the beer-only bar. There are also 16-ounce tallboy cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, High Life and Stroh's. The liquor bar takes sales directly.
"It's an exciting corner right here all of a sudden," said NoHo's Josh Pickard while pointing out the Siren Hotel, Element Hotel, Wright & Company and John Varvatos are all within a few steps if not within eye shot.
On the Farmer street side of the building is the entrance to Penny Red's a fried chicken outlet that has a service window for to-go orders and those drinking in The Brakeman. Like at San Morello, the chef here is James Beard Award-winning Andrew Carmellini.
Penny Red's menu includes three fried chicken sandwiches ($8-$10) or chicken by the bucket. A five, 10 or 20 piece is $13, $24 and $45, respectively. There are also sides like potato salad, tangy slaw, coconut carrots, Brussels sprouts, biscuits, fries and pie from Sister Pie ($3-$5).
There are five custom dipping sauces (good thing the napkins here are big rolls of paper towel on each table): good and tangy, hot and sweet, funk and soul, urban ranch and a sauce called "yacht rock."
All points of purchase at the bar and at Penny Red's will only debit and credit cards only, no cash.
The Brakeman, which will be open to those under 21 until a certain hour, will have beer pong, Foosball, table shuffleboard and outdoor ping pong.
"We're kind of anti-TV in our restaurants because it's a little bit of anitsocial, but here were doing TVs here," says Pickard, a Huntington Woods native. "We'll have 14 TVs here for all the sports, it's the first time we're venturing into having TVs."
While the bar doesn't take reservations, their tabletop tap seating area can be reserved. Charged by the hour for a certain quantity (it's not technically all-you-can-drink), guests can pour their beer right at the table from one of four taps.
"It's meant to be kind of a windows up, pours open, everyone welcome ... I think sports will be a part of it because of where we're located in the city," he said. "I think it will have a very broad appeal ... it's meant to be really fun."
Pickard says when he was growing up in Metro Detroit in the 1960s and '70s, the extent of anyone being excited about food was having a family dinner at Big Boy or a Chinese restaurant once in a while, or hearing about his dad's business dinners at places like Joe Muer.
But things have certainly evolved, and he says Detroit is a great place to open a restaurant.
"There's such a great appetite here and enthusiasm and positivity about new restaurant and think restaurant and hotels are seen as part of the big comeback of downtown Detroit," he said. "I think I got really lucky connecting with Tom Kartsotis from Shinola and they are great partners and it's a great spot."
The street entrance to The Brakeman, opening daily at 4 p.m. starting Monday, is at 22 John R. Visit shinolahotel.com for more information.