Coming Soon: New Openings Planned Downtown

Downtown Ann Arbor is constantly in a state of flux, businesses opening and closing, rents going up, owners retiring, young entrepreneurs trying to break in.  It’s sad to see old standbys close but also exciting to see new concepts try to make a go of it.  I’m always curious as to what’s going on when I see a storefront papered over, contractors laboring mysteriously behind the scenes, hopefully bringing something exciting to the block.  As a (very lax and part time) blogger of the haps downtown I try to ask around and dig through city documents to see what’s going on.  I thought I would share a few upcoming openings, some more exciting than others.

“Bar Star” – 220 S Main St


The former home of Elmo’s T-Shirt Shop (now operating just down the street on Liberty) will be converted into a high end cocktail bar with the working title of Bar Star per construction documents.  This swanky spot comes from the owners of Melange and is being designed by local shop Synecdoche Design.  The interior appears to have a very modern theme with an open concept and chef’s table.  Critics may label as it as just another emblem of gentrification but it’s a substantial investment in the space and I look forward to checking it out.

 “TBD Sports Bar” – 309 S Main St


This one I’ve been waiting on expectantly for some time, The Melting Pot closed here in November of 2015 and I hoped for a fairly quick turnaround as the space is relatively turnkey for a restaurant/bar.  After a misfire or two (I heard the owner of Tavern & Tap in Lansing had the space under contract at one point) there’s now a yet unnamed sports bar in the works.  I don’t have a whole lot to go on here, mostly looking at a building permit, but it appears that the proprietor is the owner of Shalimar next door.  The space will be opened up a bit, occupy all floors of the building and feature a rear patio on the second floor, much like Jolly Pumpkin next door.

Kosmo – 308 S Ashley St

The second outpost of local Korean spot Kosmo will open in the former Lucky Monkey Tattoo parlor.  Personally thrilled for this as it’s about 100 feet from my office, look forward to exceptional bibimbap.  This one was already covered by the Ann Arbor News here.

Fred’s – 403 E Washington St


Another one recently covered by the News but the old Babo location at the corner of Washington and Division is being re-positioned as Fred’s.  This comes from Fred Lelcaj, brother of Babo owner Sava Lelcaj who recently ran a much smaller version of Fred’s on South U.  I never got to try the old spot so excited to check it out downtown, should be open by the time you read this.  (Side note, perhaps the closing of Babo will free up Sava to launch another concept downtown?  Here’s hoping.)

Roasting Plant – 312 S State St


Testing the depths of Ann Arbor’s seemingly insatiable demand for coffee shops, NYC-based Roasting Plant will open their second Michigan location at State and North University (RP has a very popular spot in the First National Building on Campus Martius in downtown Detroit).  I believe this space was most recently the northern portion of Amer’s Deli, they’ve consolidated (along with Chicago Reds and Yogurt Rush, you can really cover all your bases here) into the southern half of the building.  Roasting Plant’s shtick is a custom pneumatic roasting system called Javabot.  I’ve been to the Detroit location, it looks cool and makes a good cup of joe but the competition in that nook of A2 will be stiff, Comet and lab are right nearby for high end stimulation, Espresso Royale, Sweetwaters, Elixir Vitae and of course Starbucks offer a more traditional coffee experience.

Core Spaces Leasing Office – 306 S State St

Pretty boring but in case you were wondering what’s going on in the old Work Gallery Space on State Street, it’s a leasing office for Core Spaces, developer of The Calvin on Huron and conceivably The Collective on Fifth, the building planned for the library lot.  Positive here is that they will renovate the space and only be there a short time, hopefully setting it up nicely for a new tenant (note: I understand the building permit has been temporarily denied as they work on some accessibility issues).  In better news, the gallery has moved to larger space in McKinley Town Center on Division Street

Exscape Smoke Shop & Vape Lounge – 607 E William St

I don’t vape so this opening excites me about as much as a leasing office but for those who do, you’ll have a new option in the former Menna’s Joint space on William just west of State Street.  Exscape has eight locations, primarily in college towns, including one in East Lansing.

Collegian Leasing Office – 1112 S University Ave

The venerable Village Apothecary shut down seemingly overnight back in 2015 and the building (along with many of the others on South U) is probably not long for this world.  There are plans in the works for a redevelopment of much this stretch by developer Hughes Properties, there are two student towers in the planning stages right now.  I understand that most, if not all, of this block will eventually be torn down but for now Hughes is going to use the space as a leasing office for Collegian North and Collegian East.  Not looking to rent a student apartment?  It appears there will also be an ATM, so you know, there’s that.

Smoke’s Poutinerie – 1300 S University Ave


This is the corner space in the newish Landmark Building at the corner of South U and Forest once home to World of Beer and briefly another bar called Dick Tyler’s Tavern.  The Toronto-based purveyor of gravy fries is growing rapidly with locations planned for Detroit, Ann Arbor and East Lansing.  Honestly this sounds like a great spot for them, this is classic, relatively inexpensive drunk food.  The menu looks absurd, ah to be 22 again.

Odds & Ends

Another business in the Landmark building, Tim Horton’s closed down in late 2016 to make way for MVMNT, an indoor cycling studio which had their grand opening on January 20th.

No word on the former Kai Garden at 116 S Main St although they did recently complete an interior demo and clean out of the building.

Siris, the BBQ and cigar lounge on North Main is still in its seemingly perpetual “coming soon” mode.

Eve in the Bell Tower Hotel closed back in September 2016 after a flood in the restaurant.  Unfortunately it appears the damage was extensive and the closure is permanent.  Eve is looking for a new location and no news regarding the future of the Bell Tower space.

Not sure what’s going on at the old Carter’s Auto Service on Ashley that was once planned as a brewpub.  The building has been cleaned up and painted so certainly some improvement there.

I’m sure I missed a bunch of future openings, hit me with a comment or or social media if you have word on any fun new business developments.  Also, follow me on Twitter for updates like this in real time.

Jim Brady’s Detroit Plans Revealed

Way back in March, 2015 it was announced that Tom Brady (not that Tom Brady) of Diamond Jim Brady’s in Novi had purchased the former Vellum building on Main Street with the intent to create a new outpost of his Jim Brady’s Detroit restaurant concept.


The former Vellum Building today

I expressed some reservations about the 1950’s lux throwback theme in my Spring Restaurant Roundup a couple months back but I’ve never been to the Royal Oak location (a third spot in downtown Detroit is targeted for 2017) and will give the benefit of the doubt to anyone that would like to invest in our fair city.  The Royal Oak restaurant features modern takes on American classics and it appears the Ann Arbor spot will be more nightlife oriented than Vellum with three levels of space and two large bar areas.


Jim Brady’s Detroit Royal Oak Location

Brady filed plans with the Historic District Commission on June 24th to make renovations to the building including a new storefront, mechanical and facade improvements and all new dining spaces.  I’m excited about this because the building at 209 South Main was built way back in 1868 and is in need of some restoration.  Plans include rehab of the 3rd floor windows and the installation of a decorative cornice that at least imitates the way the building looked in the 19th century.

Jim Brady's

Image from HDC plan submission by Rossetti Architects.

The cornice isn’t nearly as elaborate as the original but they are difficult elements to re-create.  For the dreamers, what if Brady gets with Governor Synder (who lives in the condo on the top floors of the Four Directions building next door) to replace the whole cornice to the way it looked originally?


Jim Brady’s will occupy the north half of the 4th building down as seen in this view looking south down Main Street from Washington in the early 1900’s.

Probably pie in the sky but a blogger can dream.  Regardless, I’m glad to see the investment in the building and I wish the restaurant the best of luck, I’ll be sure to check it out.

Argus Farm Stop Expansion

It’s rare that a place opens and immediately becomes an indispensable part of the community.  Sometimes, a business at once fills a void we didn’t know existed and also epitomizes the culture and character of a neighborhood.  For the Old West Side, just off the western edge of downtown Ann Arbor, that place is Argus Farm Stop.


Husband and wife team Bill Brinkerhoff and Kathy Sample opened Argus not two years ago in August, 2014 in an old service station at the corner of Liberty and 2nd.  A year round farmers market and coffee shop, Argus quickly became the de facto meeting place for the neighborhood.  The quick popularity and success however seems to have put a strain on the already tight confines of the space.  Last summer they announced plans to add a 556 square foot greenhouse to the front of the building, effectively increasing their space over 40%.

Work is finally underway and should go relatively quickly.  I wish them the best of luck in their expansion, this is a regular coffee and occasional grocery/lunch stop for me.  Pro tip: Matteo serves up awesome barbecue from a serious smoker in the front parking lot on Fridays and Saturdays.  Highly recommend it.

Restaurant Roundup – Spring 2016

Ann Arbor really is a great food town.  That said, it’s easy for things to get a little stagnant.  Turnover and change in the restaurant business is not only a part of life, its generally pretty healthy assuming the openings are outnumbering the closings.  There has been a lot of activity recently so I thought I would try and sum up some of the happenings in the downtown area in 2016.



The Pretzel Bell – 226 S Main St – An Ann Arbor institution reborn in the former Lena/Habana space at the prominent corner of Liberty and Main (The Parthenon or Cunningham Drug Store if you’re going way back).  It won’t be the original and may never have its character but it could fill a void downtown, there’s actually very few decent, non-chain sports bars (BWW and Bar Louie are chains, The Arena sure but it has its issues, Scorekeepers doesn’t count unless you’re 19).  This place is about 50 feet from my office and I always felt Lena never lived up to its potential so looking forward to scratching my name into a table under the bell soon.

Fred’s – 1113 S University Ave – A cool addition to the standard (read: delicious when recently drunk) garbage on South U, Fred’s is a little health food spot specializing in juices, smoothies and light breakfast and lunch fare. Sorry to see former UM basketball player David Merritt’s clothing store close down in this location but it appears they live on online.  Fun fact: Fred is the brother of local dynamo Sava Lelcaj of Sava’s, Aventura and Babo Market fame.


Piada – 311 S State St – So-called Italian Street Food, this fast casual spot just opened in a location that was most recently Five Guys but will always be remembered by a certain generation of us as Shaman Drum.  A chain based in Columbus, OH is normally a double whammy of hate but honestly the concept seems to provide something different to the area and with only 35 locations or so, it’s not the kind of place you see on every corner… yet.

Mark’s Carts – 211 W Washington St – Now it’s in 6th season, there are two new food carts joining the fray in the little lot off Washington.  Pita Cruiser, a little gyro and shwarama truck based in Charlevoix is the first.  I sampled the gyro the first week it opened and wasn’t too impressed but need to give it another chance once they’ve established themselves.  The other is Seafood Driven.  This one I’m excited about.  Helmed by two young partners, one a Zingerman’s alum, they feature quick, East Coast style seafood, think clam chowder and lobster rolls.  I hope to be a regular.



KouZina – 332 S Main St – 2016 is the year of Mediterranean “Street Food” in Ann Arbor.  Building on the success of his very popular location in downtown Royal Oak, owner Bobby Laskaris is opening his fast casual Greek spot in the former Middle Kingdom space on Main Street.  It’s Chipotle-style ordering, pick a gyro, salad or bowl, pick a protein, pick the toppings, etc.  Main Street is typically more a full service restaurant location so it will be interesting to see how they do here but I can tell you there’s a definite lack of simple lunch spots downtown west of State Street.  The building looks great and they appear set to open any day now.

San Street – 415 N Fifth St – New Korean spot coming from Ji Hye Kim who is graduating from her San Street food truck to a full on bricks and mortar location.  Partnering with the good folks over at Zingerman’s, Kim will be taking over their Events on Fourth space (Zing will move to their new, larger Greyline space in the new Residence Inn on Huron).  A former Mark’s Carts occupant, this is sort of a great local success story.  Look forward to steamed buns, banh mi and fried chicken from a really talented young chef.

20160423_130829 (1)RoosRoast – 117 E Liberty St – Beloved deep local coffee roaster RoosRoast is taking over the lease of Elixir Vitae on Liberty just east of Main.  The original location on Rosewood sort of epitomizes A2: communal, original, funky and friendly.  If they can bring half that character to downtown it will be a great addition to the scene.  Lobster Butter Love y’all.

Jim Brady’s – 209 S Main St – An unfortunate loss for the Ann Arbor dining scene, Vellum closed in 2015 after just 2 years in business.  High end and creative, it was never quite able to find its place.  The space was bought by Tom Brady (not that Tom Brady) last year and should be the fourth location of his budding Jim Brady’s mini chain.  It first appeared the restaurant would open in 2015 but it seems this location was put on hold while the Detroit spot was opened up.  Jim Brady’s Detroit is up and running so perhaps we’ll see some progress here soon on the 50’s themed throwback bistro.  Here’s hoping the A2 location is not too heavy on kitsch and focused on bringing a unique experience to Main Street.

Garage Bar – 618 Church St – Not necessarily a new opening but rather an outdoor expansion of Pizza House in the ground floor of the new ArborBlu building at the corner of Church and Willard.  Looks to be a little more bar oriented compared to the restaurant feel of Pizza House and is exclusively outdoor with large garage doors opening out to the street.  Numerous taps and a fire feature appear to be on deck with an opening likely in May or June.

Siris – 207 N Main St – From the owners of the Heidelberg comes a new barbeque concept featuring 100 craft beer taps and a downstairs cigar lounge.  Formerly Sheesh Mediterranean Cuisine, the restaurant and a significant portion of the building were damaged by a fire back in 2011.  This block of Main Street struggles with foot traffic but there is a lack of good barbeque in the city (ricewood notwithstanding) and cigar lounges are few and far between so that will attract a certain clientelle.  The renovation has been long in the making including digging out the basement for the cigar area, looking like an early summer opening.

Allen Rumsey Supper Club – 615 E Huron St –  The restaurant opening in the recently renovated and re-branded Graduate Hotel, the old Campus Inn on Huron.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the guys over at AJ Capital Partners, the Chicago-based hospitality firm behind this venture and I can tell you they’ll put a ton of thought, energy and experience into this place.  Their eateries in the Soho House and CAA in Chicago are totally original with damn good cocktails and food in a community setting.  The location is a little challenging and the swank may be a test for Ann Arbor but I think these guys can pull it off.  Looks to open in June or July.


309 S Main St – The former Melting Pot location, a chain fondue spot.  Few mourned its loss and not notifying the staff?  Not cool.  The space has a “for lease” sign in the window but no visible signs of a change over.  The location is too good to stay empty for long.

116 S Main St – Formerly Kai Garden, a thoroughly decent if not exceptional local Chinese restaurant that closed down in 2015.  The business is still listed for sale for $195,000, I would think the space needs a pretty good overhaul, definitely a little tired inside and out.


307 S Fifth Ave – Old Jerusalem Garden space, most recently the Katoi pop-up.  Another tough blow for the downtown scene, Katoi was awesome.  Our loss is Corktown’s gain, they opened their new permanent location in Detroit this spring.  This building is tiny and from what I understand, needs some work.  Perhaps it can serve as another incubator for an up and coming restaurateur?