December 7, 2009

A Free-Market Pub Crawl

I've had about five people in the last two weeks ask me whether my boss is Santa Clause. And it's not because of some kind of strange resemblance. He certainly didn't go ahead and legally change his name to Santa Clause like my dad's cousin did. I'm guessing it must have been because we passed out 5,000 of these around town:

Now Santa's got a pretty good thing going- fame, a pretty good track record for showing up and getting the job done, and he's always got those hot momma's kissing him under the mistletoe. And I know, I know- he gets to fly and stuff- and I don't want to belittle that- but how about a full-on pub crawl that ends in divebar karaoke and a rock show for a day at work. Santa's kinda got nothing on that. Especially not when it was my first day working at a so-called "real job" in a year and a half.

Let me explain. The three of us met up on a Saturday afternoon back in November to take these things to the streets. We had some great success right off the bat- Slows Bar-b-q agreed to take about a thousand and put one in with each bill going out. Maybe that was a bit of a shoe-in since Phil is one of the owners, but its always smart to start out on a good note. 'Hit all the balls in front of you' is what my professor, Perry Kulper once said. But that streak continued pretty well for the rest of the day. When all was said and done- we got six places that see a steady stream of city and suburban folks to actively shlep these guides on behalf of Detroit small businesses - either by having waitstaff slide them in with bill presenters or put them into those metal-loopy things that sit on the tables.

Now, not every place we visited was quite so happy to help their fellow Detroit businesses. But not for our trying. We'd sit at their bar anyway, and happily drink one to them in any case.

Well, that was the first time I'd been drinking with Phil and Toby. And if there's one thing the three of us have in common-it's that we're all top-notch dreamers. I mean, I for one as a child set a new school record in third grade by getting 28 check-marks on my report card. I had my two best friends in class with me and we were always talking, scheming, working on the next big thing. The teacher would always be yelling, "Sit on the Seat and Stay There!" And we'd mimic her, adding an H somewhere within that first word, but anyway- I digress. Well, Toby and Phil are actually more than just dreamers- they've actually done some
real things in this city, some real great things, I might add. And they've managed to pick up some pretty good connections along the way. So when you throw them together for an afternoon/evening of drinking- you're bound to get some really good seeds planted. I for one have a solid four projects at work now because of that day. All dreamed up over rounds of various whiskey drinks. This blog is one of them.

#2 started when Toby saw my friend Ko's car parked on Michigan Ave out front of Slows. She's got this old Explorer. Hasn't driven it for like six months. Tires have been flat, battery dead, muffler shot, stereo gone. And Toby starts talking about how we should fix it up for her. Phil's like
- I can get her keys. And I'm thinking that'd be sweet. Now about five seconds later I've officially filed that thought in the Never-Gonna-Happen-In-A-Million-Years folder. Which has seen a lot of use in the past year and a half I've lived here. But I guess Phil didn't. Cause he wound up calling me the next morning saying - hey homeboy, how we gonna do this for Ko? And I'm like ...uh ....yeah ...we should ... it. Well, we did. And it was pretty amazing. I'll get to that whole thing in another post. Her car looks snazzy, btw.

Well, after Slows we went to a place that didn't much like our shtick. But we still stuck around and had a drink. We've got wills of steel. The bartender was a young, nervous little guy who broke a bottle while trying to introduce himself to us. But I guess I'd be nervous too if I was trying to pull off the kinda stuff he's up to at the tender age of like, 19 (can't be more than 23, honest). He moved to a loft in Brush Park- a place that's sort of a graveyard of old 19th Century mansions. Out of his home he runs a speakeasy called the Breakfast Club with his girlfriend, a chef. It runs the 1st Friday of every month, starting after 2am with three inspired breakfast dishes and a full bar. Candle-lit, raw, exposed brick walls, a dj upstairs in the loft, tables scattered all around. Beautiful scene. I went this past Friday and it blew my mind. Felt like I was walking into the party for which they invented cocaine. Well anyway, the guy took our names and emails and said he'd add us to the guest list. When you go there, they give you this card, which you'll need to get in every time after:

We also planned a trip to Cuba for Phil and Toby's birthdays in February at that bar. I can't wait. (I guess that's #5, forgot about that one till now. Gotta remind Phil and Toby).

Oh, and I also forgot to mention the stop we took in North Corktown at the new pump-track that Phil helped build the day before we all met up. We went there right after Slows. We pulled up and there were a handful of folks hanging around
geeked about their shiny new park. Phil had brought over a bunch of dirt left over from the landscape project we built in front of Michigan Central Station this summer and these guys helped guide him & his bobcat to make a figure-8 track for the bikers to ride. The corner of Cochrane & Sycamore in North Corktown: 1967- Riot Hell. 2009- Dirtbike Heaven. Victory.

Well anyway, a few other places, a few really great drinks and varying degrees of success with those shopping guides. We sure did have a lot more to say about them as time went on though. I remember at Union Street, where in the end they picked up what we were putting down, that all three of us were talking while the owner tried to listen. He scanned each of our faces right to left, sometimes nodding, like he was reading a really big book.

At Michael Simon's Roast, we got some appetizers and a round of Rye & Sodas. Delicious. I'm pretty sure it was here that Toby dreamed up the Slows cookbook. That's #3. Slows has a pretty amazing story. The block it's on was a cold wench of a place a few years ago (please forgive my french) before Phil's family purchased four buildings and got a group together to open up the Bar-B-Q shop there. The place has since become the miracle child of Detroit. It's like a crackhouse for suburbanites. And a local favorite to boot. Enter the restaurant's info into Business Plan Pro and see what happens... You'd have to pull out some voodoo magic to get it to show you the sales figures they pull in Downtown Detroit. Anyway, we were talking something about Slows and the community around the old Michigan Central Station. And about how it seems like the successful business owners in Detroit 'get it' that you have to support the whole community to succeed and not just fend for yourself. Something like that. Phil was noticing that our track record with the guides was hitting this point home,

And that's when Toby started talking about doing a cookbook/business community/Detroit story. How to build a business in Detroit and how to make a mean 'slaw all rolled into one. He's already mentioned it to his publisher at Harper-Collins, the one that put out his book 'Sharp Teeth' and it seems like there's a good chance we can get it rolling.

Well, we crossed the finish line with two places for a drink without the shopping guides. Jumbo's Bar on 3rd Street and The Lager House in Corktown. Jumbo's is a first-class cinder-block dive. No windows. Right in the heart of the sketchy Cass Corridor- well, maybe not as rough as those days when you could catch a show at the Gold Dollar, but still not the place you'd want to go start up a game of midnight tag. We each took the karaoke mic for a spin to celebrate.

And finally, things ended at the Lager House. If I ever was a sharp guy, I sure wasn't by the time I got there. I almost blew the surprise we had in store for Ko- but managed to cover it up somehow. Then we watched the band (usually I'd at least know the
name of the band I go see, but I guess I just had a lot on my mind after my first day of work...)

Oh, and there's also a top secret project I'll be working on involving that Lucky Old Train Station. See that's #4. But I can't say a peep about that. And there's also a #6 and that's a bar, but I can't let that one outta the bag either. Highly confidential stuff. Well, for Santa Clause, and all the Fans of the Underdog City, goodnight. We'll see you in Cuba.


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