Monday, May 16, 2011


Another entry in the list of places I miss in Ann Arbor

Ashley's is a bar on State Street that I love. It has over sixty beers on tap and their menu is descriptive and helpful when you try to choose one. Ashley's was the first bar I went to on my 21st birthday, and it played a significant role in my post-21 year old life. From Friday afternoons to long conversation-filled evenings, Ashley's is one of my favorite places in Ann Arbor.

Ashley's is the type of bar where people arrive with the intention of sitting and spending the evening there. You grab a table with some friends, order a round of beers, and catch up. The music is quieter than bars on South University so it's easier to have a good conversation. The beer is great - no matter what kinds you like, you can find them. I'm partial to Belgian-style ales and wheat ales. I've only been for dinner a few times and the entrees were tasty, and their late-night appetizers are delicious. Their pesto fries seem to be the best-known item for good reason. Waffle fries spread with a generous amount of pesto, served with an olive dipping sauce - wonderful with a cold beer and great to share with some friends.

I have many stories about nights at Ashley's with friends: the night I learned that absinthe dropped in Red Bull is dangerous but surprisingly doesn't taste bad; the night I went to grab a quiet beer with a few friends only to discover that it was the Oberon Release Night and some woman was about to be crowed Oberon Queen (Bell's Oberon is brewed in Kalamazoo and is only available in the summer. It is amazing.); the night my brother and his girlfriend were in town and I was finally old enough to take them out to a bar. One of the best ways to describe Ashley's, though, is through my Friday afternoons this year.

On most Friday afternoons from 2-4 pm, I had my history thesis seminar. Unfortunately, that was the only time all of us were available to meet. In my experience, very few college students enjoy Friday afternoon classes. It's practically the weekend, you could be spending your time getting work done (or sleeping), you could leave to go home for the weekend, and so on and so forth. But alas, I had Friday afternoon class both semesters of senior year. While I did like my classmates and overall it was an interesting class, my attention span for discussions about historiography, for example, is really only so long on Fridays after 2:15. My friend Elaine came up with a fantastic solution: after class, we'd go to Ashley's. There was a group of us that would head out, each grab a beer (or soda or coffee) and sit and chat. It wasn't anything wild, just a nice, casual way to wind down after a long week and a long class. We'd chat about our theses and our lives, and I made some good friends those Friday afternoons. I looked forward to time at Ashley's every week. Even on weeks without class, we'd make an effort to carve out an hour at 4 pm to quickly sip a beer and talk.

That, more than anything, is what I think of when I think about Ashley's. Yes, the range of beers is great and I love the pesto fries, but Ashley's is about grabbing a table with some friends and talking. That's something that I definitely miss now that I'm away from Ann Arbor. Well, that and Oberon.

Added May 23
My friend Amol pointed out to me that I forgot to mention Ashley's Beer Tour card. If you ask, your server will give you a card that lists all of the bar's beers, including spaces for rotating taps. When you order new beers, they sign off on the card, and once you've tried a certain number you can get cool free stuff. For example, after five beers you can get a free appetizer. After 100, you get a personalized hooded sweatshirt. Not too shabby. My goal had been an Ashley's pint glass, which I would have achieved after 20 beers. (Please note: you can only get signed off for four beers any given evening, so they are not trying to encourage you to order an excessive amount of beer in one night.) Sadly, after getting signed off for seven over the course of several weeks, I left my card on the table one night. It was too close to graduation to have a reasonable chance of achieving 20 beers, so I abandoned that dream. Maybe someday I'll be back in Ann Arbor for a long enough stretch to earn a pair of pint glasses, and maybe some free cheddar ale fries on the way.

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