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Thursday, January 29, 2009

A night out in the D

I have a friend from college who lives in downtown Detroit and recently invited me out for a night on the town... Detroit that is. So I'm thinking, ok pack your bullet proof vest and lock your doors. But seriously I was excited for the night because we decided he would take me to a few places "off the beaten path."

We started off with dinner at this Mexican restaurant in Mexican town in southwest Detroit.  When we first walk in there are a few old school arcade games in the doorway and the place is empty but there are like 9 waitresses there.  We order a couple beers and decide on the tortas (sandwiches) that are like $4 (great deal in this economy).  While waiting we get some chips and a salsa tray with like guacamole, mild salsa, chili salsa, sour cream and some other stuff.  We finish our meal and start talking about the gateway project that my friend is working on and some of the places we are going to go tonight.

The folks that we were waiting for arrive and order.

When we get done we head to Charley's (Charlie's ???) but stop at an ATM because as I'm told most of these places only take cash.  Come on, it's not a real dive bar if they take VISA right?  

We get to Charlie's.  There are 4 people total in the bar.  There are 5 of us.  It's a Friday night.

Three people are down at the end of the bar, the bartender talking to a couple.  There is another guy at the bar video game machine.  We order some beers, Pabst is the beer of choice and it comes in a can... priceless.

Right away I am singled out.  "You're not from around here."  Says the guy at the end of the bar.  He asks where I am from and I tell him I live in Royal Oak and he nods as if that's what I looked like.  He then tells all of us that we should leave if we don't want to get hurt.  The bartender assures me that she has my back.  All the while the video game dude never talks.

We hang out here for a while.  I end up beating the bartender at pool.  And then we decide to head to an even more obscure bar.  On the way out "the guy" says he likes our friend with the "P" hat ( an old school Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap).  Curious.

We head to a friendly neighborhood bar called Atkin's.  It is located in a residential area and looks like just another house.  

We get to the front door with the open sign gleaming in the window and try to open it.  It won't budge.  I pull thinking maybe I didn't see the sign, still won't open.  

I look inside and see at least one patron, back turned to me, drinking at the bar.  We pound on the door but no one comes to our aid.  Not such a friendly neighborhood bar after all.  

They must have locked up and are having some sort of after hours party for VIPs only, at 10:30pm on Friday.  So we decide to head to a classier joint down the street with the same residential feel... Aces Lounge.

Again we get to the door, again it won't open, again we knock, again no answer or help.  We turn to leave only to hear a buzzing noise... the door opens... we were buzzed in!

A younger crowd of Detroiters is found inside.  The bartender greets us with a smile as do the linoleum floors reminiscent of those in your elementary school cafeteria.  We order some beers and find a table to sit at inside.  

This place is much larger than Charlie's, complete with two pool tables and twice as many patrons, who are currently trying to figure out which suburb we are from without asking us directly.  The bouncer asks us if we know Fredo, we say no, he says, "I told you so," to the bartender.  The bartender recognizes my friend and asks if he has been here before.  He answers yes and she says to the bouncer, "I told you so."

I start explaining to my friend what an education this has been for me.  He tells me that he was really wanting to get off the beaten path tonight and I assure him he has succeeded.  He informs me that these are dive bars to the extreme and that I should not be worried.  Most of these places he discovered while working a campaign whose offices were located in this neighborhood and he has never felt threatened.  Yet I can only imagine what the reaction would be if the everyday bar patron from downtown Royal Oak were to barge into one of these fine establishments.

I will say, the next night, while waiting 20 minutes in sub zero temperatures to get in to the Black Finn in Royal Oak with no jacket... and then waiting for another 15 minutes to order a $4 beer at the bar, I was missing Charlie's and The Aces Lounge.  

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