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A dash of Brooklyn, a pinch of Portland, a jigger of Wicker Park and a lot of whiskey. The Bar at 327 Braun Court is an oasis in Ann Arbor from the college bars on South University and the “I just graduated from college” bars on Main Street. It’s one of a handful of craft cocktail bars in Ann Arbor worth spending a good chunk of your life in, with the added benefit of serving cheap beer and being a step and a half above a dive bar. In other words, home.
Opening Thanksgiving week in 2011, the Bar sits on the second floor of a nondescript white building that looks like student housing. The Bar name isn’t anywhere on the building, the only marker a large Braun Court sign that advertises the courtyard near the Bar entrance, shared with local businesses. You’ll miss the entrance unless you find the front door which has the single word “Bar” taped to it. Don’t be scared. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
It’s not a large bar. Broken into three distinct parts, the Bar has the central bar area, a warm wood-paneled room to the left and a more open room to the right that looks out giant windows onto the courtyard. The tables are reclaimed wood and the chairs old school heavy metal and wood classroom chairs from the 70s and 80s. The chalkboard above the bar reads: Things We Like. 1. Bloodies. 2. Brooklyn Lager. 3. People That Drink Whiskey. 4. Bowling. 5. Beam Rye.
The birch room is completely paneled and offers a cozy setting for slightly larger groups, while the courtyard room is more open, more raucous and more like your friend’s basement in the 80s. There’s taxidermy on the walls and paintings of men with bears and men with beards. And a mewling cat. It’s my favorite room in the place. A series of lights above the bar like strings of molecules offer the bulk of the lighting, while candles and the exterior glow from the street takes care of most of the rest. There are no TVs and the soundtrack of the evening is the bartender’s iPod.
If you’re a regular, you’re probably here for these three reasons. It’s comfortable and intimate, they make excellent cocktails and they have a great selection of beer you’ll have trouble finding anywhere else in the city. The Bar is known for making its own tonic, so vodka tonics and the like are a hit, but they’ve also got creative creations like the Tequila Mockingbird (tequila, cucumber, tobasco – refreshing but spicy), the Royal Pain (like a fancy whiskey sour) or their simple but delicious Manhattan. The bartenders use the usual fresh ingredients you’d find at any decent cocktail bar, along with more unique additions like fancy salts, maple syrup and celery soda. They’re constantly experimenting and switching up the menu. Cocktails run from $9-12, pretty standard for Ann Arbor, with a cocktail of the day available for $7.
They’re also one of the few bars in town to carry Original Gravity on tap and probably the only bar in counties to serve Genesee beer in snub nosed bottles (a personal favorite). The Bar is also known for its Happy Hour punch on Thursdays and Fridays, something called Carol’s Bane which is orange juice, lemon, sugar, soda water and lots of whiskey. They serve $5 glasses until it’s all gone, which it usually is.
The Bar is also utilizing its kitchen on the first floor to bulk up its food offerings. You can always order simple snacks like chips and salsa, a meat and cheese plate, sardines and addictive marcona almonds, but now the Bar is offering up its kitchen to local chefs three nights a week for more ambitious vittles. On Tuesdays, local Asian street food vendor San Street takes over, followed by Tunisian food served by Cafe Memmi on Thursday and a brunch menu on Wednesdays.
For first time visitors, take your time with the drink menu and try one of their cocktails, or, if you’re in a beer mood, be sure to ask about what they have on tap and available by bottle because the selection is pretty unique for Ann Arbor. For second, third, and fourth-time patrons, start choosing your seat. I prefer the stool at the right edge of the bar near the courtyard room or in the courtyard room itself facing the painting of the man and his bear. The service is good, they’ll leave you to your own devices or chat if you have something interesting to say. The most entertainment at any cocktail bar is found sitting at the actual bar, where you can watch the bartenders in action, ask questions and talk about the mysteries of life.
If you can find it, The Bar at 327 Braun Court is a great addition to any night out in Ann Arbor. Enjoy.
Richard Retyi, Contributing Writer