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Here we are again in a university town, this time Ann Arbor. This town is great. Books, coffee, food, cocktails. Almost everything you need, but still no good hotel.

The Residence Inn is a Marriott property, and it is brand new. It’s pretty much what you would expect of a mid-tier mid-market Marriott hotel. Shiny suburban fake is the style. NPS has different style.

When the reservation was made, we requested a high floor and a Panoramic City View Suite. The first room we were assigned was 414 which is ADA formatted. When asking for a non-ADA configured room instead were assigned down to 214. The rooms are almost exactly identical. Moving down was a big mistake because traffic noise starts at 5am. Alas.

So much for the high floor request.

The manager, having heard tell of checkin problems, was very gracious. We had a nice chat. His valet staff is super.

The view from 214 says it all

The room is filled with lots of shiny new veneer cheap furniture that looks better than it feels when you use it. The suite includes a kitchenette.

Entry hallway kitchenette

desk room

desk room couch

View from the bed to a nice bank of windows

large (impersonal) bathroom

The real problem is the shower, which is partially glass and partially plastic. It is open to the huge bathroom without a glass door. Cold air makes for a less than stellar shower experience.

shower. not approved

Anyway, we knew what we were getting into when we agreed to come to Ann Arbor. Apparently, there is a copy of The Graduate here too BTW. Sure wish university towns had better hotel kung fu!

Dinner at Mikette was delicious. Great service.

The cocktail scene in Ann Arbor remains vibrant. A Sunday night visit to Nightcap was optimal in all respects. Andy was a blast behind the bar.

Because there was Handy in the house, we present, The Handy Handy
1.75 Thomas Handy Rye
.3 oz Del’erborista ultra-bitters
.3 carpano antica
2 dashes scrappy aromatic
Stir. Strain. Express orange peel and drop in.

Three showerheads for the Residence Inn in Ann Arbor. Dang university towns.

Perhaps this is a trend. Hopefully not! Anyway, NPS finds itself in another city not staying in a hotel. What?! The reason this time has to do with the rather appalling state of hotels in Ann Arbor. For example, these hotels.

There is still plenty of information that NPS readers can benefit from WRT Ann Arbor. So here it is.

First of all, there seems to be some kind of underground bread oven thing going on.

Bread oven

Bread oven

And, not following the Mason-derived construction rules can lead to hard labor.

For a supremely good brunch (especially on a Sunday) try either location of Cafe Zola.

Excellent Cuban food can be found at Frita Batidos.

Finally, there are some reasonable cocktails to be had at Mash.

The Ravens Club has an outstanding bourbon and rye collection, including George T Stagg, Hirsch 74, and Thomas Handy.

Ravens Club bar

Ravens Club bar

Though dinner at Logan was truly outstanding in all respects (fantastic food, super bar, very good wine list, top notch service), we were left with a sour taste in our mouth when one of the owners (there are three) stopped the bar from providing us a recipe for a cocktail before heading out the door. Fuck that. In our view here at NPS, keeping recipes and techniques secret is the domain of children and assholes. Don’t be one.

Logan's cute little bar

Logan’s cute little bar

The attempt failed.

Here’s how to make a None More Black
1.5 oz black sesame infused blackstrap Cruzan rum
.75 oz cocchi americano apertivo
.5 oz root
Stir down, strain into coupe, express orange peel and balance.

The Last Word on a Tuesday

The Last Word on a Tuesday

At the quasi-underground Last Word, we had a Last word (it was almost chartreuse day) (of course) and proceeded with a Rye and Bourbon lesson using the antique collection 2015 offerings. The Last Word is a great place to drink.

A Last Word at the Last Word

A Last Word at the Last Word

When visiting Ann Arbor, make sure not to be sentenced to three or more years of hard labor building a bread oven.

I don’t know what it is about academia and academic towns, but the hotels in the academia sphere appear to be trapped in the late 70s. (For example, see State College, Palo Alto, Bloomington, and Ann Arbor where I find myself again again.)

Last time I was in Ann Arbor, I tried out the Campus Inn. Three showerheads for them and a resounding “meh.” This time I am staying at the Bell Tower Hotel. It is better, but it’s still trapped in the 70s.

So what does that mean?

That 70s hair.

That 70s hair.

Well, check out this collection of items. First there is the clock, on which I have superimposed my usual alarm clock (an android device). I had to unplug the wood veneer hotel clock radio thing to plug in my phone. (Equals not enough plugs near the bed.)

70's clock technology.

70’s clock technology.

And then there are these country club chairs which my mom had a copy of in her dining room way back in, yes, the late 70s. Their sales people must have been phenomenal, because these chairs are everywhere. (I believe the style is Queen Ann and the nice ones are mahogany or cherry.)

That 70s country club chair.

That 70s country club chair.

The key technology is also solid state. Really solid. Do not lose this key!

Solid state 70s style key technology.

Solid state 70s style key technology.

My great travel people requested a non-plastic shower, and lo and behold there is one! yay.

Glass shower.

Glass shower.

Orange.  Check out the curtains.

Orange. Check out the curtains.

The rest of the suite in room 212 looks like this.

212 Sitting Room.  Dark carpet.  Flowery curtains.

212 Sitting Room. Dark carpet. Flowery curtains.

212 Mirror Bar.

212 Mirror Bar.

212 Bedroom

212 Bedroom

Ultimately, the Bell Tower Hotel is functional and much better than the Campus Inn. But neither hotel is up to world level. Still looking for somewhere hip to stay in Ann Arbor. The Bell Tower Hotel squeeks by with a low four showerheads rating.

On the flip side of the coin, dinner, jazz and cocktails at the The Ravens Club was delightful. The barman on hand, Robyn, was great fun to work with even though he was really busy. He concocted some nice experimental beverages. The best one of the night was what I will call the Ann Arbor Ain’t Manhattan:
1.5 oz Elijah Craig 12 year
1 oz Apero
.5 oz Cardamaro (a house made bitters)
.5 oz “Nectar” sherry
2 t green chartreuse
Stir down. Garnish with orange peel.

Bass player Ron Brooks put together some great jazz sounds heavy on the Thelonious. The food was serviceable and good, but nothing super special. Come for the drinks and the jazz.  εὕρηκα heúrēka

Night two included a visit to the Last Word, which though hard to find is quite fantastic. We had Wiliam Larue Weller bourbon. We had house made concoctions. Like this one which we’ll call the Next to Last Word.
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
.5 oz Punt e mes
.5 Bonal gentian quina
5 drops lemon tree bitters

And then a really bad idea. Cigars at midnight. Oh well.

Unlike an actual living wolverine, the Campus Inn in Ann Arbor is mostly harmless. It has a good reputation among University of Michigan alums, professor types, and parents on the “visiting their kids in college” circuit. But it feels more like a Marriott than the marketing on the net and the general buzz might lead you to believe. Mostly it’s cold up here in room 1501 (which according to the map on the door is exactly the same as every other room on this floor with one exception), because the ancient windows leak like sieve. Brrrr.

It’s not a Marriott, though, and that’s a good thing. For one thing, the arctic temperature keeps the flowers fresh! I have never seen fresh flowers at a Marriott.

You would never find this at a Marriott.

You would never find this at a Marriott.

Or this either.

Or this either.

This?  definitely Marriott.

This? definitely Marriott.

The staff are more like eager beavers than wolverines. Incredibly helpful, responsive and proactive. Check-in was smooth and quick.

But the room is, well, generic.

Generic and flowery.

Generic and flowery.

And the shower is one of those 1980s showers.

Tiny marble clad bathroom.

Tiny marble clad bathroom.

Shower over tub with wobbly door.

Shower over tub with wobbly door.

View from 1501.  Interesting?  Not really.

View from 1501. Interesting? Not really.

There is the rest of Ann Arbor, though: a great university, creative restaurants, and even a budding cocktail scene.

BBBB spiral.

BBBB spiral.

Over at Grange, in addition to a serviceable dinner, they concocted a GCB Manhattan as follows:
3 oz bacon bourbon
.25 maple syrup
.25 blood orange bitters
Shake. Strain. Serve up with a cherry.

Verdict: too thin and way too sweet.

Bacon bourbon is made by rendering 2 strips of thick cut bacon and adding it to a fifth of bourbon. (Sadly, the Grange people don’t have any good bourbon so their result was thin and watery. I would suggest adulterating a bottle of Bowman‘s.) Steep for two hours, freeze and strain fat.

I’m pretty sure we can improve on this recipe in 57 ways. Stay tuned. At least they are trying to make interesting cocktails though!

(Because of the United fiasco trying to get up here, I missed the client dinner slated for Tuesday evening at The Ravens Club. Have to try that out next time. Looks like they have more of a mixology clue than Grange.)

Anyway three showerheads and a trip to the frozen midwest for the Campus Inn.