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Best Of

Steppin’ out

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Published 9/29/2004

Best place for tattoos and suits
Mephisto’s
2764 Florian St., Hamtramck

If you’re a club-hopper on the lookout for a live music joint that offers a bit more than just the standard live band and cheap drinks, the kind of club that works a little harder to ensure that its patrons are fully entertained, then you might want to check out Mephisto’s in Hamtramck. Located on Florian St., just one block north of Holbrook Avenue and about 100 feet west of Joseph Campau, Mephisto’s is a comfy, cozy kind of place where you’re likely to hear head-banging industrial/hard rock pulsing through the crowd on the first floor, then catch the beat of funk/ blues/ jazz/ whatever else upstairs. Wandering through it all is an extremely diverse crowd ranging from the heavily tattooed and painfully pierced to the black-leathered and insanely high-heeled to the smoothly suited and debonair. Great snacks — ranging from sushi to pizza — are served by a roaming waitress. Topping it all off are greatly appreciated weekly burlesque shows that take place during band breaks.

Best place to hear blues in the city where John Lee Hooker got his start
Nancy Whiskey
2644 Harrison, Detroit
313-962-4247

Located in Detroit’s historic Corktown area, not far from the old Tiger Stadium just two blocks west of Trumbull on Harrison at Spruce, Nancy’s is the city of Detroit’s last joint where little but the blues is tolerated. Unlike some clubs that have abandoned the blues, and others that have tried either to pretty up the atmosphere to attract a different type of clientele, Nancy’s always has been and always will be Nancy’s. It’s not for everybody, particularly if you’re accustomed to a wide selection of beers and wines and other fine and exotic alcoholic beverages, or if you don’t like to inhale your cigarette smoke secondhand. However, if you dig the real, raw deal, then you ought to give Nancy’s a go. The live music hits every Friday and Saturday around 10 p.m. and goes to 2 a.m.

Best dump to see high-end techno
The 2500 Club
2506 Park St. (corner of Henry), Detroit
313-962-9077

Located in a once-forgotten South Cass Corridor hood that’s now experiencing a modest recovery (The Comet Bar and Harry’s Detroit are neighboring destinations), the 2500 Club is about the most unlikely place you’d expect to find some of the most beautiful techno kids in the Midwest. But there they were for a recent DJ performance by San Franciso’s Broker/Dealer, a minimal space-funk production duo with street cred in Berlin and Cologne. The two rooms are old, moldy and ornamented with a Budweiser mirror, baseball posters and glass-block windows. An open door leads to a patio, providing the perfect chill factor on warm Detroit nights.

Best Ital-Discoteque/sushi bar
Oslo
1456 Woodward Ave., Detroit
313-963-0300

Hurry, suck down your yellowtail sashimi, spicy crawfish roll, salty river eel and marinated octopus, wash it down with what’s left of your sake martini and head downstairs for Alexander Robotnick or Juan Atkins or any of the other splendid electronic performers rotating through this downtown foodie hangout, Euro-style nightclub and design marvel that has no peers. At Oslo, you can dance to the architecture.

Best roaming monthly dance party with attitude
Les Infants Terribles

Calling their free pseudo-club experience dorkwave, this loose collective of DJs, producers, promoters and new-media oddballs is really just a bunch of talented music geeks who enjoy behaving badly. And, yes, that self-destructive behavior you might witness is unchoreographed. Some of the players: Jon Ozias, who co-produced Untitled with Ghostly International; Rob Theakston of the micro-tech production team ThinkBox and Michael Doyle, the Web prankster who powers Burnlab.net, an online zine with attitude read by intellectuals and anti-intellectuals alike. Check www.burnlab.net for locations.

Best art gallery to bask in your thought crime
Pr1mary Space
2750 Yemans St., Hamtramck
313-870-9470
pr1maryspace.com

Behind this unassuming side street storefront, pressed between a pizzeria and a Hamtramck alley, behold the gentle musings of next-generation pop-art painters with names like Dalek, Deth P. Sun and Bask — a Czech who uses snowboards as canvases and indeed seems to have a soft spot for thought criminals. Check this Pr1mary Space for fresh shows, with wall-to-wall crowds for opening receptions, the first Saturday of each month.

Best 21st century schizoid performance bar
The Belmont
10215 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck
313-871-1966

Diversity is the word. One night it’s punk, the next it’s heavy metal, and on the weekend it could be a dance night. John Olson of Wolf Eyes played here; so has his former Universal Indians mate Gretchen Gonzales’ band Terror at the Opera. Most of the time The Belmont is a relaxed Hamtramck lounge with high-end vodkas, Bell’s on tap, Pabst for a buck and a crowd of neighborhood folk and fresh-faced poseurs who come to talk, dance and have fun to the max.

Best 5 a.m chili burger
Duly’s Place
5458 W. Vernor Highway, Detroit
313-554-3076

In the geographic heart of Mexicantown, near the corner of Vernor and Junction, is this unwashed gem of a Coney Island that never closes. Go for the atmosphere and the combined smells of raw and cooked onions, chili and grease. Linger in front of the stained picture of Donald Sutherland in a publicity still from The Rosary Murders, which was filmed across the street at Holy Redeemer Church. Eat your meal, pay your four bucks, go home and crash. Come back and do it again.

Best gay-friendly eatery that doubles as a bar hot spot
Pronto
608 S. Washington, Royal Oak
248-544-7900

By day it is one of the best lunch stops in downtown Royal Oak, with delicious gourmet sandwiches, soups, salads and deserts, including some awesome baked goods. And at the stroke of midnight — Wednesday through Sunday — they transform into one of hottest bars on the gay party circuit with a newly renovated back room, which features another bar facility and a billiards space. People can keep their hips shakin’ as videos play on seven different monitors throughout the bar, and every Saturday and Sunday, requests can be made with the resident video jockey.

Best wet jockey contest hosted by a drag queen
The Male Box
3537 E. 7 Mile Road, Detroit
313-892-5420

It’s Friday night and you are looking for one hell of a party. Well, look no further folks, because the party never stops with the fabulous Miss Serena Escavelle — arguably Detroit’s premier drag personality — as she pumps her heels and flaunts the beautiful bodies of young gay boys on the dance floor, who compete for the coveted crown of best wet jockey. Open from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., the Box also makes a variety of yummy alcoholic beverages, including its signature Long Island Iced Tea in a mug-style glass. There is no cover before 10 p.m.

Best gay bar for dollar drinks
Menjos
928 W. McNichols Road, Detroit
313-863-3934

So you’ve heard of it, you might’ve even passed it once or twice, so stop in, damnit. Every Thursday night it’s dollar drinks, and you know what that means — more liquor to get drunk quicker. A billiards table, video games and pinball, a cozy outdoor patio and a steam-filled dance floor offer a choice for everyone’s tastes. The cover is $5. Oh, and one more thing — go to the bathroom before you get in, as the lines can get painfully long, literally.

Best place to be soulfully Northern
The Comet Bar
128 Henry St., Detroit
313-964-1508

Every Saturday night the musical scholars of The Golden Worm 45 Club transport the already time-warped Comet Bar back to the Soul Era. This rotating group of DJs eschews obvious hits, opting instead to focus on Detroit’s rich history of smaller labels that tried to compete with Motown. The local angle isn’t exclusive, with each DJ adding varying degrees of Northern Soul, Funk, and raw ’60s R&B. But the heart of the night is always in Detroit. Dancing is encouraged and, well, how could you not? Fittingly, the Comet Bar is located right up the street from Motown Records’ old headquarters on Woodward Avenue, and on a good night you can stand outside the abandoned building and hear The Golden Worm 45 Club echoing memories to it.

Best place to watch belly dancers and hear dumbeks
Adonis Restaurant
4853 Schaefer Highway, Dearborn
313-584-9300

In the middle of the 20th century, New York’s Eighth Avenue was the hotspot for Middle Eastern entertainment — a melting pot of Arabic, Turkish, Armenian and Roma (Gypsy) influences. Today that scene is history and the torch has been passed to metro Detroit’s own city of Dearborn. So where’s the best place in Dearborn for a night of Arabic music, belly dancing and savory food? A quick survey of musicians and belly dancers reveals a new favorite: Adonis Restaurant. The pale-colored interior features plenty of pillars and faux stone, with banquet-style tables and plush booths along the walls. Colored lights illuminate a sizable dance floor and stage, contributing to an atmosphere that’s part café in the Medina, part modern nightclub. Fridays and Saturdays have live music, sometimes with belly dancing as well. The ensemble on a recent night consisted of violin, keyboards, drum kit, dumbek (hand drum) and a vocalist; they kept an audience of all ages on the dance floor all night. Our friendly server enthusiastically observed that we were the second non-Arabic table that evening. He also refused to give us our check until we joined the fun on the dance floor. The food is high quality, though slightly pricier than at the typical Arabic eatery in Dearborn. Adonis also features flavored tobaccos for smoking in a traditional pipe, the argileh.

Best Tiki bar
Chin’s
28205 Plymouth Road, Livonia
734-525-CHIN

Since the fate of the historic Chin Tiki in downtown Detroit still hangs in the breeze, the best one can do in the meantime is pay a visit to its precursor: Chin’s in Livonia. Owner and designer Marvin Chin created this cozy little restaurant before erecting his Polynesian paradise on Cass in 1967, as sort of a trial run, so to speak. While Chin’s isn’t nearly the size of the Chin Tiki, it still has plenty of bamboo, flotsam and Tiki to satisfy, as well as a full menu of Chinese and Polynesian selections.

Best people-gawking
City Club
The Ramada, 400 Bagley St., Detroit
313-962-2300

As clubs come and go and trends pop and fizzle, City Club has remained a nightlife institution in Detroit for 20 years now (an eternity in nightclub years). The pitch-black walls and dark electro music attract the goth/industrial crowd, but all types can be found here, especially after 2 a.m. (the bar is open until 4ish). Latex, PVC and neon hair extensions abound, but you’ll also spot “normals” in jeans and T-shirt. Just come with a good attitude, and you’ll have a good time. At least one visit is a virtual requirement for any clubgoer in metro Detroit.

Best hip-hop open mic to get embarrassed at
Alvin’s, Wednesday nights
5756 Cass Ave., Detroit
313-831-4577

Punch lines from the city’s most popular and prolific rappers abound every Wednesday at Alvin’s. The most respected open mic in the city moved from Lush, in Hamtramck, months ago, to its current location that, for years, has been a Detroit hip-hop haven. On any given night, you may catch stalwarts like Miz Korona, Shime Bango or Supa MC of the Almighty Dreadnaughtz on the mic. Hometown celebrities are also known to drop in regularly. It all makes for an audience of observant local luminaries, which means you’d better bring your A-game every time you step on stage. Otherwise, face the ridicule of street sages.

Best jazz club
Baker’s Keyboard Lounge
20510 Livernois Ave., Detroit
313-345-6300

It’s at once a romantic nightspot (with booths perfect for close-seated twosomes), a great soul food eatery and the prime showcase for Detroit jazz. There are jam sessions on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays (the last directed by the venerable task-master Teddy Harris Jr.). October’s offerings include the return of former Detroit pianist Harry Whittaker (with the vibrant, up-and-coming New York singer Sue Giles), Motown session guitarist Dennis Coffey and guitarist Joshua Breakstone.

Best place to sing “My Funny Valentine”
Bert’s Market Place
2727 Russell Street, Detroit
313-567-2030

Singer Dee Dee McNeil kicked this off a couple years back along with the SBH Trio (drummer Spider Webb, bassist Hubie Crawford and pianist Bill Meyer), and it’s taken on a life of its own. Great instrumentalists drop by (trumpeter Dwight Adams blew beautifully just the other night), but this is first and foremost a showcase for singers and the occasional poet who wants to kick it with jazz backing. Thursdays have been so successful (heck, sometimes the club’s been packed to the gills) that a new Wednesday night jam has been added as well.

Best jazz club to see a Grammy winner
Firefly Club
207 S. Ashley, Ann Arbor
734-665-9090

With the demise of the Bird of Paradise, the Firefly in the Bird’s former digs has become the leading top-drawer jazz club in the region to book national names while nurturing the local scene as well. The Paul Keller Orchestra and Ensemble are among the regulars. September’s schedule was studded with national names as big as former Manhattan Transfer singer Janis Siegel (owner of nine of those Grammy awards), fusion pioneer Larry Coryell and former Jazz Messenger Geoff Keezer. There’s even a small space for dancing for those so inclined.

Best Bar to resurrect
Music Menu
Detroit (formerly)

We miss it all. The food. The music. The congenial atmosphere and the great staff. For our money, the Menu in Greektown was Detroit’s best bar, and since it has closed earlier this year we haven’t found anyplace that comes close to replacing it.

Best bar to get tanked in peace
Sneaker’s
22628 Woodward Ave., Ferndale
248-545-8243

Ever need a bar where nobody knows your name? How about one that doesn’t care whether you just headlined at the Stick or won your work-league softball game? Among Ferndale’s ever-shrinking list of bars that aren’t dominated by frat-fashionable twentysomethings, Sneaker’s remains a neighborhood shot-and-beer joint with just enough karaoke and unfashionable jukebox music to scare away both the white-belt-wearing and the Abercrombie & Fitch set. Now don’t tell anybody.

Best joint for new millennium blues
Tenny Street Roadhouse
22361 West Village Drive, Dearborn
313-278-3677

For those preferring their blues delivered in a slightly more upscale fashion — and who aren’t quite ready for the booze-spattered, hullabaloo-heavy roadhouse experience — this Dearborn club is the place. OK, so it’s called Tenny Street Roadhouse. Anybody who’s ever been to a roadhouse will have no problem telling the difference. Fact is, Tenny Street is a great addition to the metro Detroit live music scene, offering flavorsome food in a spacious and airy listening/ viewing environment (it was once a post office). The best part is how the club is set up to focus on live music, not giant television screens or whatever else. It’s a stellar venue for music lovers (not just blues buffs) and offers both local and national touring talent.

Best bar to cast your new play or movie
Seven Brothers Bar
11831 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck

For the busy casting agent or the would-be director dreaming of a new movie, Seven Brothers is the place to kill two birds with one stone. Relax in the homey ambience of a wood-paneled Hamtramck dive while examining the dozens of framed thespian headshots up by the ceiling or the hundreds of theater reviews taped to walls. Come on a night just after the nearby Planet Ant Theatre has let out and you’ll be able to see some of those actors in person.

Best bar to escape the summer
Whiskey in the Jar
2741 Yemans St., Hamtramck

We well know that an evening out in the summer can mean heat, glare and stifling humidity. The best escape is Hamtramck’s Whiskey, which can be like walking into a meat locker. The air conditioner is often cranked so high that the mercury dips pretty far below 70, and the bar’s lone window is so dim you’ll get better light from the jukebox. And the cheap drinks and live music just make this place cooler.

Best promise for Hamtown rock ’n’ roll
Painted Lady
2930 Jacob, Hamtramck
313-874-2991

The recent grand-opening night brought the cops. The event saw requisite (read: essential) chaos, cheap beer and even cheaper riffs. Torn fishnets too. It was, in a word, beautiful. The Painted Lady, you’ll note, is the old Lili’s 21 rock ’n’ roll bar, a den that birthed legendary stories involving Iggy and the Clash, the Romantics and the Mutants, and blah blah blah. When Lili’s shut its doors nearly two year ago, eyes salted and livers regenerated, and a gaping hole was left in Detroit rock ’n’ roll. It was a sad day indeed. But thanks to a couple devil’s racket enthusiasts who understand the fuck-shit-up tradition of rock ’n’ roll and the need to operate a venue that’s not bogged down by corporate agenda or trend-adhering mindsets, Lili’s was reopened. Moreover, it appears the new owners are staying true to the Lili’s milieu: The sound system packs a crunchy yet clean punch and the intimate scene boasts a sightline that is oddly, like before, direct and clear. And the name Painted Lady? Think Lili’s with a fresh coat of paint.

Best venue for media-ignored rock ‘n’ roll
I-Rock
16350 Harper, Detroit
313-881-ROCK

Since 1989, this venerable institution has weathered economic downturns and dubious word-of-mouth. Well, truth is the I-Rock has simply remained steadfast and true to the brand of rock ’n’ roll often ignored in the media but passionately adored by a sizable sect of the population. Often the venue is crammed with schnokered fist-jackers who just can’t soak up enough of the strident riffing. And that’s a good thing. See, the I-Rock is steeped in good old blue-collar ethos, and thus fills a cavity in Motor City rock. A cursory scan of performers says it all: Kittie, Testament, Monster Magnet, Dope, Veruca Salt, Mitch Ryder, Sylvain Sylvain, Dick Wagner and comely local glit queens the Sirens. Kip Winger and ICP have been spotted guest bartending! On some nights you’ll see kohl-eyed gents amped on Marshall stacks and pigtailed chicks in schoolgirl attire who look as though they’ve just stepped off the set of a Buttman shoot. In short, the I-Rock is an underestimated local institution. What’s more, the sizable room is equipped with arena-worthy lights and a PA that proffers a suitable ear-ringing wallop. Where else in D-town can you see pop-metal ’80s career-resurrectionists and up-to-the-moment industrial metalists bedecked in jester garb, or Bile and Metal Church gigging on the same weekend? Huh?



More best of Detroit 2004:

Community values
Department of commerce
Nutritional value
Best of the worst
Reader’s Poll

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