My last visit to The Heidelberg ended a few minutes after a man threw himself onto a row of tables. He lay supine for a moment and rolled off, taking a few hundred dollars of glassware with him.

The kicks and punches that followed were the second brawl I saw that night, and the puddle of red liquid in the mess of broken glass was blood, not wine, as I learned from a girl who’d been sitting at one of the overturned tables — her shirt boasted a bloody handprint.

On normal nights, The Heidelberg’s whitewashed basement is full of young professionals and graduate students who go there for unfiltered German ale served in liter-sized boots. Meredith Blank, a University graduate student, explained that the restaurant is a “fun, surprising” mess. The place graduate students go to when they want to get wasted.

Years ago, Ann Arbor native Bob Seger wrote a song about Ann Arbor’s Main Street, aptly titled “Mainstreet.” Listening to that song, you’ll quickly realize that Main Street used to be quite seedy in the late 70s. You can still find traces of that era in places like the bleach-scented basement at The Heidelberg, which my friend compared to the hallway leading to a motel pool and the dingy Embassy Hotel on Fourth Street.

In the 70s, a plate of spaetzle at The Heidelberg was the late-night snack for hungry undergrads. These days, the cheap burritos and beer available on every block of South University Avenue have taken its place, and Main Street serves a different crowd.

If you walk down Main Street on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ll find expensive restaurants, bars, unusual shops and interesting people, most of whom won’t be students. At the corner of East Liberty Street and Main, you may find Ann Arbor local Tom Bartlett on his gleaming red, seven-person bicycle. Ride it.

On the new Main Street, the food is sophisticated and the beer, artisanal, and the décor seems picked from every variety of upscale. By midnight, when most of the restaurants have closed, the crowd at Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub & Restaurant is still feasting, and people are dancing at Rush Street, sipping on martinis at the Black Pearl and relaxing at the Ravens Club. Outside, it’s quiet. Whereas on South University Avenue, groups of students in liquor blankets and not much else strut quickly to the next party.

Everyone’s got somewhere else to be. But on Main, they’re content to stay where they are.

Most people I talked to said Main was quieter and a nice place to talk while having a drink. LSA junior Carmine Riviera, who was dining at the Black Pearl last week, said she finds the drinking environment to be classier, “and you don’t have to hang out with the unwashed masses.”

That last line was not a slur on the South University crowd so much as an acknowledgment that Main Street attracts a different clientele. Riviera’s friend Gautam Muthusamy, an LSA junior, said he loves the Black Pearl because “a lot of pseudo-intellectuals hang out here, like us, and the martinis are good.”

Maybe the martinis are good because they’re expensive. The going rate on Main Street for a cocktail — judging by the prices at Rush Street, the Black Pearl and the Ravens Club — is about $9. A pitcher of beer at the Jolly Pumpkin costs at least $18, even on nights when Good Time Charley’s sells them for $3 and the Blue Tractor, just a block away on East Washington Street, has them for $7.

Though students didn’t mention prices often, it’s clear that as a whole, they’re very price-sensitive.

Melanie, a waitress at the Black Pearl, told me that she sees far more students during happy hour, when the price of a martini drops by half. For the most part, the Main Street crowd seems to be young professionals, not-so-young professionals and graduate students — the kind of people who can pay $9 for a martini.

With so many places competing for those martini dollars, new restaurants on Main are trying to differentiate themselves with unique drinks and memorable interiors. One of the best complete examples of this trend is The Ravens Club, a new bar that calls itself a speakeasy.

Outside, a hanging wooden sign painted with a raven takes the place of a nameplate. Inside, it’s a dark place with an eclectic collection of lampshades and heavy curtains on the front window to hide the goings-on from snooping prohibition bureau agents. Comfy leather padding gives bar patrons a soft place to rest their elbows. Pitch-perfect prohibition chic is about half of The Ravens Club’s appeal. The other half is its drinks. I can’t imagine that many other places use pumpkin puree and carrot juice as mixers.

Jeff Paquin, a managing partner of The Ravens Club, has researched the history of 207 South Main, the club’s address. His interest in the building’s history is reflected in The Ravens Club’s menu, which notes that the lot was once home to the workshop of a cabinet-maker-turned undertaker.

Not all the bars on Main Street draw inspiration from history like The Ravens Club, but most use their unusual ambience as a key selling point. The new Main Street style begins with the desire to create a unique space.

Sitting in The Black Pearl, I can see how the desire for uniqueness shapes this bar too. Once again, the place is dark. A black padded bench runs the length of the restaurant, mirrors are held up by jet-black Corinthian columns and above the bar, an entrancing device, rows of leaf-shaped fan blades silently spins. Perched up high at a black granite table, you want to lean in as you talk. It’s a good place to have a conversation.

Next to The Black Pearl is Rush Street, the closest thing Main Street has to a night club. Rush Street takes its name from a street in Chicago, and while the space and style make it quite different from its neighbors, the bar is like a derivative of the sleek bars that pop up in any big city.

There’s a dress code at Rush Street, enforced by an impeccably dressed bouncer. When I asked the bartender, Chris Parow, who he sees in a typical night, he described a crowd a little younger than the one I saw at other Main Street locations: almost exclusively young professionals ranging in age from 21 to 30. The dress code is meant to keep out “the wrong crowd.”

On a normal night, he said Rush Street is “wall-to-wall dancing.” When I visited, it was empty until a 26th birthday party appeared, danced, drank and then left.

With 11 years of experience as a bartender, Parow added that Ann Arbor has “a more educated drinking crowd” whose members constantly ask for drinks he hasn’t “made in a while,” which suggests that Rush Street’s patrons aren’t always drawn from the Long Island-swilling youth of South University.

Other bars in the Main Street orbit have less-defined styles, relying more on drink specials and events to keep ahead. Café Habana on East Liberty has two happy hours most weeknights and hosts salsa dancing each week, which can be fun if you like sweaty bodies rubbing up against you in a hot basement.

I met with some friends at Ashley’s on State Street, and asked why they had decided to meet there, rather than someplace on South University or Main Street.

One friend said she goes to Ashley’s because “it’s here, on Central Campus. There’s more beer, and I like the guy at the door.”

Another told an interesting story, “When I didn’t know better, I went to Charley’s and the Blue Lep. Then I discovered Main Street, and it changed my life.”

She told me the next day that she suggests Main Street “if you want to avoid drunk, crying girls.”

You see fewer undergraduates at the bars on Main Street because the carefully thought-out ambiance and high-quality ingredients that give Main Street its reputation also let restaurants charge high prices. For students looking to have a good time on Friday night, a cheap pitcher on South University gets the job done without leaving the wallet light. Of course, there’s one other reason students go to South University more than to Main Street — South University is closer to where they live.

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