There are few cities in the Midwest that measure up to Ann Arbor. Aside from Madison, our fair city, compared to any other Big Ten college town, is the best around.

Paul Wong
Michael Grass

Columbus is large, but lacks character. West Lafayette is in the middle of nowhere. Evanston is a Cambridge wannabe. And everyone in East Lansing is grain-fed. Or so the theory goes.

Ann Arbor is simply different. Instead of strip malls lining the main drag, we have an Art Deco theater and used book stores. Instead of going to Taco Bell for late-night munchies, we go to the Fleetwood Diner. Instead of going to an Olive Garden for a romantic Italian dinner, we go to Gratzi or Bella Ciao. Instead of Applebee’s, we have real neighborhood hangouts, like Ashley’s Pub and the Brown Jug.

Bottom-line: We live, work, study and party in a real city. Although Ann Arbor can be very isolating at times, the best thing about this city is that it looks outside its borders for inspiration and self-improvement. We have great architecture, vibrant neighborhoods and establishments that have history and tradition.

And Ann Arbor is a stepping stone to better things in life. Our critics say that we’re stuck-up, arrogant and trapped in six square miles surrounded by reality.

But is that something to be ashamed of? No. We should celebrate it.

One of Ann Arbor’s greatest fans, public radio personality and writer Garrison Keillor aptly described Ann Arbor’s residents – including its students – during a live broadcast of “A Prarie Home Companion” in December:

“People in expensive scruffy clothing, talking like socialists, in expensive restaurants.”

While Keillor’s description may paint Ann Arbor as superficial city, propped up by a pretentious and pompous facade, it is a training ground for the real world – a cross section of society with all of its problems crammed into a city with 110,000 people.

If you’re an in-stater, Ann Arbor is a great training ground for social mobility and provides a large number of options for choosing a path in life. It’s a place where you can learn to enjoy a good single-malt scotch, inventive vegan food or an excellent microbrew. It’s a place that is a stopping-off point for the world’s greatest orchestras and speakers. It’s a nexus for debate, philosophy and issues. It’s a place to hang out and a place to be serious.

Yes, there are better places than Ann Arbor. No doubt. But it is places like Ann Arbor that prepare people to enjoy those better places and the finer things in life. That is what makes Ann Arbor so great.

– Michael Grass is the Daily’s food and drink critic. He can be reached via e-mail at mgrass@umich.edu.

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