It might be counterintuitive to write about those Ann Arbor bars that fly beneath the radar. Part of their appeal lies in small crowds and the feeling of being in on a secret, but I also want to sip fancy cocktails and call it research, so let’s go out for a nightcap.
Pushing through the unmarked and unassuming red doors at 301 Huron Street, you enter a dimly lit saloon reminiscent of a 1920s speakeasy. The Last Word is a dreamy tapestry of dapper waitstaff, dark wood paneling and erudite novels. The latter are just bindings that have been repurposed to hold lists of fanciful cocktails. Some of the novel ingredients include egg whites, honey and orange peel.
Adam Lowenstein and Robbie Schulz, two of the bar’s four owners, told me they didn’t set out to recreate the Prohibition era. Instead, they wanted to take the best of speakeasy style — the cozy, intimate environment — without going too far with the kitsch. Accordingly, there’s no hidden door or secret password. The owners said the bar’s raison d’être is to serve fantastic craft drinks. Contrast that with a true speakeasy, where you might have swigged bathtub gin, and I’ll take my nostalgia the way The Last Word serves it, even if it is a bit watered down.
The bar’s moniker is a reference to a Prohibition era cocktail of the same name that originated in Detroit. The drink was forgotten for many decades until a resurgence in the popularity of craft cocktails brought it back from obscurity. Today, the cocktail, which is a combination of gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse, is enjoyed in bars around the globe.
On my first visit to the boozy time capsule called The Last Word, I sipped a dainty mint concoction that tasted like distilled happiness. My companion let me sample his grog, a fierce substance that left my throat burning. Cocktails are clearly the bar’s forte, but there was a certain authenticity to the grog, which was historically imbibed by pirates and navy men.
Patrons come to The Last Word for the atmosphere, which is a bit more sophisticated than the typical Ann Arbor bar, and also for the theme nights. On Wednesdays, The Last Word hosts Whiskey Appreciation Nights, which Schulz described as “a secret night in the secret bar.” Whiskey enthusiasts can sample half-off scotch, bourbon and rye, some of which comes from local distilleries. Tuesdays feature craft beer and a live DJ spinning 45s. The music selection ranges from funk and soul to ’80s, making the place even more of an anachronism.
The Last Word was created to fill a void in the Ann Arbor bar scene, and the result is something a little more mature and definitely more resistant to categorization than other local establishments. The owners enforce a maximum occupancy, meaning the bar will maintain its intimate atmosphere as its popularity grows. For those who need a refuge from the noisy pubs of South University, The Last Word offers a welcome retreat to a more refined era.