I’m not from Michigan. But like many University students, my views on Ypsilanti were shaped before I had ever visited it. Degenerate, dirty and scary are just a few of the adjectives my peers have used to describe it. But I figured the home of Eastern Michigan University must have its own college nightlife. I decided to check Ypsi out for myself. So last Saturday, a few of my friends (emphasis on few seeing as many of my friends scoffed at the idea of going to Ypsilanti) set out to experience the city’s bar scene first hand.
We met at the Union to catch a cab and after twenty minutes, a $23 fare and important tips on choosing a cruise ship cabin from our cab driver, we arrived at the first stop on my list, The Corner Brewery. My first thought was “Where the hell are we?” The brightly lit, brick building of The Corner Brewery was surrounded by residential houses and what appeared to be a vacant lot. Putting my qualms aside, I entered the bar to find a warm, inviting space with high ceilings, large wooden booths and leather couches around a fireplace.
After bellying up to the bar, we were immediately greeted by a very friendly bartender who made us feel right at home. The Corner Brewery and Arbor Brewing Company share an owner — and behind the scenes at the Ypsi location ABC’s signature beers are brewed. I ordered a good wheat ale and took in the crowd. Behind us sat two Eastern Michigan students eagerly taking advantage of what I think is the most unique part of The Corner Brewery: it’s BYOF (Bring your own food) policy.
Soon I met the first of what I like to call my “Ypsilanti friends” — Tony Nemetz, a night shift dialysis cleaner at the University of Michigan hospital. Our conversation topics ranged from a cactus at the Botanical Gardens named “the Old General” to Russia- German relations, from smoking pot on the Diag, to being assured I can say anything in Ann Arbor “as long as I don’t get rude or crude.”
Bidding adieu to our fellow patrons, we walked the short distance to the next bar, Sidetrack, located on a much busier road. The first detail to catch my eye was a sign that touted an endorsement from one of my favorite magazines, GQ: “One of the 20 burgers you must eat before you die.” Putting my vegetarianism aside, I ordered a Stoli on the rocks (half priced, by the way. Sidetrack has an incredible happy hour — half off all drinks), and told the waiter to bring me a burger.
As we were finishing the burger, we met our second Ypsilanti friend, who encouraged us to take shots of Jameson and told us not to put on airs here in Ypsilanti like they do in Ann Arbor. Our new friend seemed down on Ann Arbor and the snobbiness they attributed to its residents, but he was happy enough to spend a friendly spell with us. I decided that I liked Sidetrack, which was a bit darker, nosier and more crowded than the last place and reminiscent of my favorite Ann Arbor haunt, The Brown Jug. And the burger was good. Not so good that I am willing to break my vegetarian vows for good, but enough to make me want to come back for the rest of the menu.
With midnight approaching and still two more bars to go, we left Sidetracks to grab the Blue Cab we had called. Our destination was The Tap Room. Since the Tap Room in the Union is my favorite spot and alcohol only makes things better, I had been anxiously awaiting this one. But I was greatly disappointed. Despite a man who looked suspiciously like George Clinton sitting at the bar and $2 well drinks all night, the place sucked. The atmosphere was like Mitch’s on its worst night and the wait staff was slow. Not even finishing the worst whisky coke I had ever tasted, we paid the tab and left for another place next door.
The Elbow Room reminded me of a high school party — one I wasn’t invited to. Everyone seemed to either already know each other or want to know each other because of their respective hipness. There were hipsters and punks, men in American flag bandanas and a man in a fedora who looked straight out of The Sartorialist blog. I have to admit there may have been a bit too much spiked hair, fangs and leather for me. As one patron put it, the clientele were more of a “fringe crowd.” As a girl usually described as smack dab in the middle, I was a little out of my element. Nevertheless, the place was cool. It had remixes of Beastie Boys songs playing and TVs showing TV Carnage, a station that takes “hundreds of hours of exceptionally bad TV” and streams them together. I met a man who called himself “The Chad” who assured me that the best part of the Elbow Room is “the drinking” and another man who told me to “Be real. Be anybody you want. Be unhomogenized.”
I had certainly received a lot of advice from the Ypsilanti folk I met that night, and as I left the Elbow Room reeking of smoke (something I rarely allow except for the Jug), I contemplated my night in Ypsilanti. Was it different? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Maybe. Was it worth $40 in cab fare? Definitely not. Ypsilanti allowed me to escape from my peers at the University for a night. Peers whom my new friends in Ypsi would aptly describe as people who “like to put on airs and wear a uniform when they go out.” I certainly met characters I would never had met on South University Avenue or Main Street.
Ypsilanti has a bar scene Ann Arbor does not offer, but I’m not ready to give up my corner booth at the Jug just yet. For as much flak as University students might get in Ypsilanti, I still enjoy sipping on overpriced Stoli, dressing to the nines and discussing Freudian slips and the nature of evil with them on a Saturday night. And not to mention keeping an extra $40 in cab fare in my wallet.