DRAFT Magazine has released its annual list of the nation’s Top 100 Beer Bars, and a pair of establishments in the Great Lakes State have made the cut (HT: Michigan Brewer’s Guild). Maybe my YBD compatriots can break down Chicago- and Denver-area bars at a later date, but I’d like to focus on Ashley’s and Hopcat. As a Grand Rapids native, but current resident of Ann Arbor, I’m familiar with both of these places, and I can attest to DRAFT Mag’s endorsement of the pair.
DRAFT Mag’s synopsis of Ashley’s Ann Arbor goes thusly:
Planted near the Michigan campus, Ashley’s is higher education in beer. Its 72 taps and three casks pour some stunners; in fact, Bell’s Brewery crafted a cask especially for the bar that was the first carnation of Two Hearted Ale. Other Michigan great sit alongside wet-hopped brews, Belgians and classic pub fare.338 S. State St., ashleys.com (serves food, new to our list)
The beer selection at Ashley’s is nothing short of amazing, as their 75 draft beers are complemented by a bottle roster rivaled by no other establishment I’ve ever seen. There’s not the focus on Michigan beers that this synopsis seems to imply, but they are definitely present.
Of course, beer selection isn’t where it stops, as they also have a robust selection of whiskeys. The magazine doesn’t mention a certain… deliberate pace… of the service staff, but when I’m looking to try something new, slow waiters aren’t going to prevent me from heading to State St.
DRAFT Mag has this to say about Hopcat:
This craft beer juggernaut burst onto Grand Rapids’ beer scene in 2007 and hasn’t slowed down since. It’s still doing what it does best: pouring Michigan beers from 48 taps, 150 bottles and one cask; hosting regular beer classes; and cranking out solid pub food (the Crack Fries? A must.). But the bar’s upped its game with an annual barrel-aged beer fest and impressive house beers like Kymerica Beer 2010, an imperial brown ale blended with Vander Mill Cider. 25 Ionia S.W., hopcat.com (serves food, pours house beer, sells beer to go)
Ashley’s was my golden standard for beer bars prior to my first foray to Hopcat, and while it may have a slight edge on the basis of sheer breadth of selection, this is a close, close second. Whereas Ashley’s is a bar that has a bunch of beers, Hopcat is a true beer bar. A knowledgable staff – understatement of the year – and a more local focus nearly close the gap that great selection gives Ashley’s.
Hopcat’s food makes a strong push to be more upscale than standard pub fare, but it either falls short of that or misses the mark completely a bit of the time. With a microbrewery onsite, however, you’re coming to drink, and the food is just a bonus.