Ashley’s Restaurant and Pub on State Street – self-touted as “Michigan’s premier multi-tap” – has always maintained a veneer of exclusivity, and at least on this campus, it’s hard to argue. Even with other homegrown breweries like Grizzly Peak and Arbor Brewing Company, even with prices that can send a tab above $200 that would be in double digits anywhere else, Ashley’s has come to encompass the essential Ann Arbor bar experience.
This is not least of all because, since it opened in 1983, there literally has been nothing else like it in the area. As a standalone venue with 80 beers on tap and more than 100 bottles, the bar has attracted national attention. It was a name, not a brand.
Late last year, that changed. Two new Ashley’s locations opened in suburbs of Detroit, one in Westland and another in Woodhaven, blue-collar cities one wouldn’t exactly associate with the bar’s character. The new restaurants, with menus that still offer more than 100 beers (though, only 20 are on tap at the new locations), are bizarre spaces for anyone who has ever been to the original bar. Think a cross between the dank, cramped Ann Arbor Ashley’s and major sports-bar chains like T.G.I. Fridays.
Jeff More, president of Ashley’s Restaurants, said he already owned both locations but that the corporate restaurant that formerly filled the spaces, the Uno Chicago Grill, wanted to adopt a new “upscale” identity that didn’t fit the areas. And so reproductions of Ashley’s, a vaunted specialty bar with expensive bottles and a steady hipster crowd, seemed to be the solution.
“It’s a lot about comfort level for what we knew, and the menu is accessible,” More said. “There are actually a lot of people in those areas who like good beer. A lot more than I thought.”
Walking into the Westland location, a building standing tellingly alone in a far corner of the parking lot of a mall, the smooth surfaces and modern fixtures immediately smother the sense of déj