After a busy day last week, I felt like rewarding myself. I changed into a button down shirt, put on my favorite sweater, brushed my teeth and splashed on a little extra cologne. Then I met up with my friend David and headed out for guy’s night out. Our destination: Whole Foods Market.
It’s little known that Whole Foods on Eisenhower Parkway has a by-the-drink liquor license, meaning that the upscale grocery store could operate a down-and-dirty bar scene if it so chooses. Instead of playing it safe and going to the Heidelberg for Wednesday night karaoke, my friend and I looked up the list of local liquor licenses and tried to catch a buzz at some of the least likely watering holes in town.
Like any girl-chasing college guy, my first thought when getting a drink is what the female company might be like. So upon entering Whole Foods and being welcomed by a perky female employee, I got ready to spit my best game.
But in an upsetting turn of events, the bar near the wine section was completely abandoned — we wouldn’t be able to pick up anything other than groceries at this particular establishment.
“It’s usually an older crowd looking to try new wines,” said bartender Mike Byram, who handles an inventory of over 1,000 types of wine. “A lot of younger students come here too who are interested in learning about varieties of wine.”
Byram said that while pickup attempts or obviously drunk customers at his bar aren’t common, he has witnessed both awkward situations since the store opened Sept. 24.
“One guy picked up a cheese knife and said he’d pull an O.J. (Simpson) on me,” Byram said. “Then he started thrusting the knife at me — that’s about the drunkest I’ve ever seen here.”
Toying with the chance to one-up the Simpson protégée, I asked if I could order a vodka cranberry to start off. No dice, Byram said. Due to the lack of regulation in the liquor industry, Whole Foods cannot determine what brands are up to their ingredient standards and therefore is liquor-free.
Fair enough. David and I ordered pint-sized draughts of Bell’s Best Brown ale and Detroit Dwarf lager, respectively. This time we were served, as Whole Foods carries nearly 200 varieties of beer, many of which are from Michigan. With our Whole Foods-standard brew and open tabs, the night’s festivities had officially begun.
Byram (whose official title at the store is Cheese Keeper) treated us to a few delicious cheese samples and chocolate truffles, which only piqued our appetites and encouraged us to take our drinks on a stroll around the store in search of dinner. I settled on two spicy salmon rolls from the sushi bar and David picked up a grilled Portobello mushroom concoction. Not too shabby for bar food.
For those of you like me who get separation anxiety leaving your beer unattended, take solace in the fact that Whole Foods understands. I was free to roam the aisles while savoring my cold glass of beer.
“This totally changes the idea of shopping in my mind,” said David, a 2007 University graduate. “I’ve always viewed it as such a chore. Now I can take my leisurely time eating dinner and drinking a beer.”
I could not agree more. Mom, if you are reading this, I might just be willing to go grocery shopping with you if we can go to Whole Foods.
While perusing the aisles, I spotted a girl from my history class. Determined to be able to tell my friends that I’d been so bold as to buy a drink for a woman at Whole Foods, I suavely asked LSA sophomore Annabelle Harless to come have a drink with me.
Turns out, she was underage and out with her twin sister and her mom celebrating her birthday. She introduced me to her family and after chatting for a minute, I invited her mom to try some wine after they were done shopping.
Harless’s mom, Deborah from nearby Fowlerville, accepted my offer and the whole family came along. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to hear that she found the white wine better than house whites at most restaurants, and she said she and her husband might make a date of their next grocery trip.
Last call came just after 9:30 p.m., which kept me from reaching the point when people sometimes pull out cheese knives and imitate O.J. Simpson. Looking for a place with a better male-to-female ratio to continue the night, we saw that the Ann Arbor Women’s City Club on Washtenaw Avenue was on the city’s liquor license list and decided to check it out.
But sadly, we learned we couldn’t drink there unless we were members. Frustrated and dejected, we saw that Quickie Burger had been granted a liquor license Dec. 17, so off we headed to the corner of State and Hill to finish the night in style.
Unlike the scenic walk from the sliding glass doors to the shiny new bar at Whole Foods, Quickie Burger’s bar was just one quick stride from the door. The cheery owner, Varujan Arman, placed a Bud Light draught in my hand a couple minutes later before I headed downstairs to watch the Duke vs. North Carolina basketball game on the big screen TV in the basement.
I thought I might be forgotten downstairs if I needed another drink, but the wait staff kept a good eye on everything, regularly coming down and asking if customers needed anything.
Arman, a 2006 University alum, clearly knows how to apply the knowledge he picked up while earning a psychology degree to his business plan.
“Summertime, you grab a burger and have a beer, what’s better than that?” Arman said. “Beer and burger, it’s a natural fit.”
It seems a lot of customers are on the same page. Every few minutes the door would swing open and the later it got, the more partygoers trudged in to take advantage of the 2:30 a.m. closing time during the week. (Quickie Burger closes at 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.)
There are twelve beers on tap, ranging from Blue Moon and Stella Artois to Bud Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The burger definitely hit the spot for me. So did the Jager-bomb dispensed by a special machine. I could have also chosen to go with a rum and Coke, strawberry daiquiri or a Long Island iced tea. There was also the blue lemonade, Quickie Burger’s equivalent to the shark bowl at Rick’s.
“I would drink it anytime, to be honest,” Arman said of the blue lemonade. “It’s one of those drinks that tastes like candy. You can’t taste the alcohol, then you drink like four…”
You get the point.
After an exhausting two days of visiting everyday places and violating social norms, I had learned, ate and drank a lot. I had also been laughed at or yelled at for calling businesses with liquor licenses to ask if I could come in for a drink.
My favorite response came from Champion’s Party Store on South Forest Avenue. Because they sell beer and have a laundromat at the back of the store, I asked if I could purchase alcohol and drink it while I did laundry. The cashier, angry and dumbstruck, denied my request. Perhaps you can find a better way to ask, and if you do, let me know.