Friday night. 8pm.
I was hoping to head north to the Headlands Dark Sky Park to see the northern lights, but it is cold and rainy. My best friend, my wife Jill, is not home. My kids want to watch Captain America, again. I want a drink. I want multiple drinks. I make a few call to friends, to see if anyone is up for a beer or six. No one is available. I get in the car and drive to Petoskey, alone.
NPR is playing over the radio. A young man is telling a story about some letters from the 1940s he found on the side of the road. He is recounting his journey through California, seeking more information about the female owner of the letters. The story ends in sadness, the woman’s relations disowning her, leading to the letters being discarded. The windshield wipers are beating. The sky is gloomy. I feel my mood souring. I know where I have to begin my night.
The crowd tonight is a bit sedate. A couple sit in the ‘atrium’, cuddled close and whispering in each other’s ears. A group of five friends are playing Cards Against Humanity in the back, their laughter often overwhelming. Huey Lewis and the News playing softly on vinyl. I wait in line behind three guys from out of town as they talk over the beer selection with owner Ben Slocum. Ben cheerfully explains the brewery’s devotion to natural ingredients. They settle on three Pomegalatics. When it is my turn to order, I try the new Cherry Saison and sit at the bar. I am not disappointed in the flavor.
Seated next to me is a young man. He looks up from his iPod and gives a short nod. “First time here,” he asks. I shake my head. “My first time,” he tells me. He also shares his name, but I forget it as quickly as I hear it. “I’m from Brutus, and staying with a friend in town for the weekend.” He’s a talker. And I’m glad. This is what I love about Beards. The atmosphere is so friendly and laid-back, you can’t help but strike up conversations with complete strangers.
The young guy asks if I have seen the new Pierce Brosnan film. “Pierce Brosnan? I thought he was forced into retirement after his stint as Bond. Locked away in some British museum with Timothy Dalton and Roger Moore.” The guy laughs and tells me the movie is so bad, Pierce should be locked away. He then asks me what I think the greatest action film of all time is. I give the obvious answer, the original Die Hard. He scoffs. At this point my glass is empty and I consider ordering another. Before I can wave the bartender over, the young man says, “Avatar is easily the greatest action movie, hell the greatest movie ever. Period. No discussion.” I decide it is time to move on.
As soon as I walk out of Beards, I hear a commotion. Two couples are leaving Chandlers. They are obnoxious in their drunkedness. One of the women had stumbled and fell in a puddle. She is both laughing and crying. Her date is trying to assure her that her pants are only wet, not completely ruined. She is hearing none of it. When I pass them on the street, the other man flashes me an apologetic smile. I smile back, and turn into the short alley leading to Chandlers. I’ve never been in the place, and seeing the fun that these two couples had, I feel it is finally time for me to check it out.
I have to be honest, Chandlers is not what I expect. I anticipate walls of dusty wine bottles and a sterile bar. Instead, I find a quaint little restaurant both cozy and upscale. I claim a place at the end of the bar, near the open kitchen. The bartender is quick to greet me.
I am prepared to order a glass of wine, but I notice a bottle of Traverse City whiskey. I order that. When the bartender delivers my drink, I am pleasantly surprised by the generous pour.
I look around for someone to chat with, but I’m faced with backs. A group of friends are celebrating a birthday or anniversary or it being Friday. They are loud, but not obnoxious. The tables are all nearly full with couples sharing romantic dinners. One young couple is clearly on a first date. From the excitement on the young woman’s face, she thinks the date is going well. The young man, however, keeps his attention on everything but her. I am sure heartbreak is in her future.
A musician plays near the front door. He has a deep voice and sings southern rock classics. I like his sound and reward him with my attention as I finish my drink.
The Noggin Room was the first bar I ever visited in Petoskey, and I have fond memories of drinking with family and friends here. It is located in the basement of the famed and historic Perry Hotel.
Entering off the street, down a short, twisted staircase, I am reminded of the show Cheers. This is what a neighborhood bar is meant to be. Fully stocked bar. Great music. Upbeat crowd. Delicious food. Atmosphere. A musician is playing folk rock, my new favorite musical style.
I approach the bar, but not only is there nowhere to sit, I can not find a place to order a drink. The place is packed. I call out for the bartender, but she can’t hear me. I leave.
City Park Grill
The City Park Grill is my favorite place in Petoskey to listen to music, so I head over there. Almost all of my favorite local bands – Kellerville, the Accidentals, the Blue Dirt Band, the Whistle Stop Revue – I originally discovered at the City Park. I am disappointed when I approach and see the front tables set up for diners, and not a band.
I find a place to sit at the bar and order a stout from Rochester Mills Brewing Co. When my drink is delivered, the man next to me says, “Toast Papa before you drink.” I respond with, “What?!”
The man motions to a picture of Ernest Hemingway above the bar. “This was Papa’s favorite bar, back when it was the Annex.” I probably roll my eyes, but still I lift my glass to the picture. Over the course of the next twenty minutes I learn that the man is here in Petoskey visiting Hemingway’s old haunts. He is a writer and idolizes not only Hemingway’s style, but also his outlook on life. I tell the man that I know how he feels, I have the same connection to Mark Twain. The conversation jumps from topic to topic, as all great conversations do. One moment we are comparing Hemingway and Twain, the next we are solving the death of Jimmy Hoffa. As I finish my beer, the man pays his bill. He leaves for his hotel, I move on to the next bar.
Tap 30 Pourhouse
I cut through the park, along the old rail tracks. When I reach Mitchell Street I am shocked to see people in front of the old AD Fochtman Building and the lights on. Tap 30 Pourhouse is open!
The place is hopping. I work my through the crowd towards the bar. Before I can wave down a bartender, I see the bar’s owner and his lovely fiancee. I approach him and gush over the renovation. My platitudes are not empty. The place is stunning. One wall is built of decades-old brick, the other walls covered in strips of pallet wood. A row of big screen TVs over the bar scrolls the menu and plays the Tigers game. The kitchen is visible behind a wall of glass.
I scan the list of craft beers, nearly half Michigan brews. I find one I have never tried before, a cream ale from Dragonmead Microbrewery out of Warren. I order it by number. A couple gets up and leaves their stools at the corner of the bar, I take a seat.
The crowd in the Pourhouse is lively and the joyous buzz is contagious. The owner’s fiancee joins me for a drink. She’s a doctor or nurse or radiologist, I can not remember. I tell her my mom is a nurse in Detroit too. I blabber on about my mom’s nursing career. Have I already had too much to drink, or am I really this verbose? I decide to shut up and simply ask about the bar. It is clearly a topic she is proud to discuss, but before she can get out five words she is pulled away by a friend.
I run into a former acquaintance and his wife. They are on a rare date and have no where to sit. I offer my stool and the one vacated by the owner’s fiancee. I finish my beer as the couple flirts playfully.
Mitchell Street Pub
By this point I realize that my story is going to be a visit to all of Downtown Petoskey’s haunts. So I walk next door. The idea for The Crooked Porch was born in the Mitchell Street Pub, so it holds a special place in my heart.
In front of the bar, four young men are having a smoke. They are almost blocking the door, and I have to turn my shoulders to pass.
Inside, the bar is full. I walk through the place, looking for a table or a place to even stand. There is none. I look around for a familiar face to share a drink with, but I am greeted only by the stares of strangers.
There are no walls or ceilings in the pub, at least you could never see the walls or ceilings. Every surface is covered in antiques, photographs, posters, advertisements, toys, tools, everything. There is so much to look at, that you end up looking at nothing. I try once more to approach the bar, but I am not up for shouldering through the crowd.
After I leave Mitchell Street Pub, I get a text from my wife. “Where are you?”
I answer, “I’m walking into Leo’s.”
“Isn’t that a dive?”
“It’s the next bar over,” I type. Clearly I am trying to add a bit of mystery. Why? I feel stupid and erase the text. Instead I tell her my plan to visit all of Petoskey’s bars.
“Ok. Have fun.”
I have not been in Leo’s for over three years. My wife and I went in to watch a Lions’ game, and spent the afternoon heckled by some Bears fans. We never returned.
My wife was wrong. The place is not a dive. In fact, it is very clean and probably a great place to catch a game. They have a half-dozen TVs, so there isn’t a bad view in the place.
I find a seat next to a young couple. They are speaking softly when I approach, and even softer when I sit nearby. When the bartender approaches, I order a draft Boddingtons, my favorite British ale.
Leo’s feels plucked out of a 1970s movie, as if Charles Bronson was about to burst through the door. The bartender tells me Leo’s has been in Petoskey for over 75 years. “I bet you’ve been here for many of those years,” I say with what must be a shit-eating grin. The look he gives me makes me feel like a jackass. “I bet you have some great stories.”
“I do,” he responds. “And you aren’t hearing them.”
I have become the over chatty tourist. I am an annoyance. How did that happen?
I look past the young couple towards the other men in the bar. They all stare dead into their beers or up at the TV, which is silently recapping the Tigers game. These men did not come to the bar to talk. They came to drink away…something.
I finish my Boddington and leave.
I walk through town, snapping pictures and getting wet. Three hours. Five drinks. Three conversations, although only one longer than ten minutes. In all, a pretty boring night. Still, any time I can have a drink in any of these bars is a good night. Plus, I got to visit Tap 30 Pourhouse on their opening night. I go home feeling my night was well spent.