Ask most any University student about a good place to get food and hear music in Ann Arbor and you will most likely be told to check out The Ark, The Bird of Paradise or The Blind Pig. Unbeknownest to most students, Ann Arbor is home to a wide range of restaurants and bars that feature music on a regular basis. The music scenes at these venues vary from jazz to folk and everything in between. We’ve done the hard work for you and reviewed some of the lesser known off-campus bars and restaurants that feature music.

Paul Wong
The Old Town Tavern is located at 122 W. Liberty St.
Paul Wong
John Harris-Behling, a University Music grad student, plays at The Kerrytown Bistro.

Del Rio

The atmosphere of the Del Rio is best described as eclectic. At first glance the Del Rio appears to be decorated in the fashion of a local old-style tavern – with dim lighting, raw brick walls and a bar that stretches the length of the small restaurant. However, upon further examination, one sees the little idiosyncrasies that make this place unique; church pews that serve as benches, artwork that seems to have no relevance at all and a menu that ranges from typical offerings such as nachos and pizza (according to a waitress, the “best-kept secret in town”) to homemade tempeh chili. Even the ethnic name, the “Del Rio” seems to have been chosen at random, as the most Mexican aspect of the whole place is perhaps the nachos.

The Del Rio offers evening music on Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. There is never any cover for the featured Sunday night jazz or the Tuesday night “acoustic” sets. Located at 122 West Washington St., the Del Rio offers a wide range of music. While jazz is usually featured on Sundays (with a fairly regular set of rotating bands), the Tuesday-night acoustic features have ranged in the past from folk to classical to flamenco.

The wide range in the menu and music offerings are, if anything, representative of the wide range of customers that come to enjoy themselves and the music at the Del Rio. The customers are usually an eclectic mix of townies and students. No matter who you are, and what kind of music you may enjoy, there is “something for everyone at least one time a month,” a waitress at the restaurant said.

The Del Rio is a great option for those seeking to hear live music in a comfortable atmosphere, and who appreciate good drinks and very affordable food. Be forewarned, however, the music is loud and is not conducive to conversation. This is a great place to come with friends if you are just looking to kick-back on a Sunday or Tuesday and hear some tunes. Music listings are available in The Current, a free local event listing available in campus buildings and coffee shops.

Old Town Tavern

For the past 15 years, local folk musicians have made their way to the family-owned Old Town Tavern every Sunday night to play music of the folk and bluegrass genre. Starting at 8 p.m. and often lasting well-beyond the designated 10 p.m. ending time, the Old Town Tavern plays host to folk and acoustic music offerings. Performers have been known to include Charlie Weaver, Jay Steiltra, Jim Roll, Chris Buhalis and Rollie Tussing III – all well-known in Ann Arbor’s local folk scene. While the Old Town has a rotating list of local bands, new bands also play here. Often times after playing at the Ark, musicians are sent to the Old Town on a Sunday evening to play a couple of sets, said Liz Davis, the self-described “manager for 1,000 years.”

A Tavern since 1867, thus making the it one of the oldest bars still running in the area, the Old Town offers a neighborhood feel where “most of the staff, just like the regulars, haven’t changed much,” Davis said. The Sunday night crowd of regulars is a mix of musicians and locals, most of whom know each other from years past. The student faction is small, and you are more likely to find grad students here than undergrads. Although the Old Town certainly plays host to a number of regulars, newcomers alike are welcomed, “I fight to maintain an atmosphere where lots of people feel welcome,” says Davis.

Favorite dishes in the Tavern include the quesadillas, burgers and ribs. The beers on tap are Michigan beers, with the favorite being Bells, brewed out of Kalamazoo. However, Davis is quick to point out that “good old-fashioned American Beers are holding their-own against Bell’s.” The Old Town has been compared in the past to the closest place to Cheers you can find in Ann Arbor. This is a place where after playing a set, band members will often walk around and chat with the audience.

If you enjoy folk music and the feel of a well-established neighborhood bar, the Old Town is the place to go. The Old Town is located at 122 West Liberty St. Prices are affordable and music listings are available in The Current.

Kerrytown Bistro

The evening music available at the Kerrytown Bistro is not meant to be the main feature for diners. This is strikingly apparent when you walk into the Bistro to find the musical talent set up directly in front of you, looking rather crammed in next to the host’s booth. Aesthetic appeal of the music set-up aside, (or rather, lack-there-of) the mix of quiet jazz and romantic guitar playing is quite effective as what it is meant to be – background music for customers who seek a quiet, romantic evening. A romantic evening at the Kerrytown Bistro is almost unavoidable; with luscious meals that appeal to taste, smell and sight, as well as a warm, picturesque atmosphere with dim lighting, intimate candle-lit tables, open-brick walls and beautiful hardwood floors. The Kerrytown Bistro boasts both aesthetic and saporific appeal. On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, it delightfully appeals to the auditory senses as well.

Though the manager, Stephen Kasle, claims that the Kerrytown Bistro attracts an “eclectic” crowd, this is a place where you can imagine finding your Romantic Literature prof. out to an anniversary dinner with his or her spouse (not that we did or anything). The crowd here is older and well, richer. Unless your budget allows for entrees on up from $17 (for the stuffed squash) to $32 (for the rack of lamb, which, incidentally is supposed to be fantastic) you had better plan on sticking to the salads and appetizers. Plates may, however, be split at no extra charge.

The music featured is that of guitarists John Harris-Behling and Jake Reichbart. Harris-Behling, a School of Music grad student, usually covers Tuesday evenings while Jake Reichbart, a professional musician, covers Wednesdays. The music was originally started to attract more customers on the slowest nights of the week. While manager Stephen Kasle claims that sometimes there are so many people you can hardly hear the music, last Tuesday there were only about four tables occupied in the entire restaurant (out of an estimated twenty or so). Whether a full-house appeals to you or not, if you are looking for mood-setting music to accompany a quiet, romantic evening (and want to impress your date… a lot) the Kerrytown Bistro on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening is the place.

Conor O’Neill’s

Those interested in experiencing a truly authentic Irish pub need go no further than Main Street to get a real taste of the emerald isle. Conor O’Neill’s brings the distinct feel of an Irish pub right to downtown Ann Arbor, from its traditional decor to its friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

One of the standout characteristics of O’Neill’s is its live music. On Sunday evenings the bar holds its Traditional Irish Session – a chance for local musicians to bring along a fiddle or an accordion and participate in an open and informal acoustic Celtic jam. This is a fun event for participants and spectators alike, and happens every Sunday at about 6 p.m. In addition to the weekly jam session, Conor O’Neill’s also features live Irish music by artists such as Mossy Moran and Bill Long at 9:30 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

For sports fans who want to check out the Irish jam on Sundays but don’t want to miss watching the Lions get pummeled, O’Neill’s has a solution – grab a pint of stout and take in the music while watching the game on their big screen.

Bar patrons who bring an appetite to O’Neill’s are also welcome to take a look at the menu, which is filled with traditional Irish selections from shepherd’s pie to corned beef and cabbage.

Conor O’Neill’s is a great place to get together with friends for a carefree, good time. While it features the atmosphere, food and, of course, beer that is expected from Irish pub, O’Neill’s live music really sets it apart, and shouldn’t be missed.

Goodnite Gracie

For a classy night out on the town, there’s no better place to be than Goodnite Gracie. This contemporary martini bar features live jazz all week long and has a comfortable, sophisticated atmosphere. Located just below D’Amato’s, Gracie makes an excellent cap for a romantic date or dinner with close friends or family.

The simple, clean decor of Goodnite Gracie gives the small bar a very stylish look. The stage up front features jazz acts nightly, and there is never a cover charge. Manager Terry Martin said the vision for Gracie was to create a relaxing place to enjoy a mix of Ann Arbor and Detroit jazz.

“I insist that we provide a place where people can check out some really cool music without having to pay just to get in,” said Martin. “We keep a well-controlled volume, so it’s at a good level for really listening to the music or just talking with friends.”

While live jazz is one of Goodnite Gracie’s main entertainment draws, the bar also features DJ R. Elliot spinning house on Tuesday nights, as well as events like comedy nights. Since there is no cover charge, there is really no drawback to stopping in and trying out some new music.

For anybody who wants to feel like a high roller, an evening at Goodnite Gracie is a great way to indulge your fantasies. At the same time, stepping through the doors won’t make anyone feel awkward – like they should be wearing a tuxedo or evening gown. Gracie seamlessly blends classy with casual, creating a perfect place to spark a romance or just mellow out.

The Earle

One of the best places to go in Ann Arbor to really get the royal treatment is The Earle. This upscale restauarant and bar is dark and cozy – a great place to go to impress a date.

The Earle’s cuisine is described on their menu as “country cooking from the provinces of France and Italy.” You definitely do get what you pay for – entrees are priced at about $20 each and are worth every penny.

In addition to an excellent meal, The Earle also provides a magnificent atmosphere. The walls of the restaurant are lined with wine bottles and the lighting is dark and intimate. The whole place emanates a feeling of wealth and elegance.

Contributing to the mood of the restaurant is the live music which is featured nightly at The Earle. Solo pianists or guitar players are featured Monday through Wednesday and the Rick Burgess Trio plays Friday and Saturday nights. The soft jazz acts that play at The Earle serve as a perfect backdrop for a delicious meal or a night out at the bar, and there is no cover charge to check it out.

The Earle is a wonderful place to go for a celebration or a big date. It is an intimate setting with excellent food and entertainment. While it is certainly not a casual bar for just hanging out, The Earle is an unbeatable place for special occasions.

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