Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The Four-Hour Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
This month, we head due east to Ann Arbor, Michigan, a college football Mecca that welcomes blue-and-yellow bedecked fans and bon vivants alike. Whether you’re headed out during a home or away weekend, we’ve concocted an itinerary that begins and ends with Ivy League-level comfort, and is filled with a grab-bag of eating, imbibing and merrymaking.
Graduate Hotel (3 images)
The centrally located Graduate Ann Arbor hotel’s design theme follow its name (Ivy League, not seductive older women). As you enter the high-ceilinged lobby, you’ll notice green chalkboards busied with furiously scrawled trigonometry equations and a communal long table running the length of the space. Before you get comfortable, though, be sure to grab a beverage from the on-site Poindexter Coffee or something a little stiffer at the Allen Rumsey Cocktail Lounge.
The Graduate’s rooms continue the nostalgic collegiate vibe with inviting tartan wool blankets, letterman jacket throw pillows and paintings depicting scenes like a fraternity letter sporting quarterback dramatically posing in a river. Taking all this in, the impulse to recline in the cushioned lounge chair overlooking the city will be strong. Drink in hand, you might just be compelled to channel your inner Hemingway and begin penning the next great American Novel. Whatever you do though, as the decor strives for, you’ll feel less like you’re in a hotel, and more in a space all your own.
With the University of Michigan Museum of Art and Ann Arbor Art Fair (which draws nearly 400,000 visitors), Ann Arbor is as much a destination for the arts as it is athletics. New to its cultural portfolio is the University’s Stamp Art Gallery. Showcasing provocative work from students as well as international figures in the art world, the Stamp Gallery explores social and political issues that provide a nice contrast to what the city is typically known for. The calendar for the upcoming fall features film screenings, panel discussions, openings and live musical performances — all free to the public. So grab a bike from the Graduate and pedal over to check it out to give your impending evening of hedonism a splash of culture.
Black Pearl (2 images)
The Black Pearl
Depending on the day of the week you arrive, The Black Pearl offers a few inducements for you to pay them a visit. Mondays offer half-off select bottles of wine and raw oysters on the half shell. If you’re around on Tuesdays, you don’t only get the to-be-expected $4 taco special, but local beer, wine and spirit as well. Still, saving a few bucks isn’t the only reason to pay them a visit. They also have their own downstairs micro-greenery where they grow their own produce used in cocktails and special dishes. Also, according to a well-informed bartender, “A dude named Bob plays flute to the microgreens.” So there’s that.
The Raven's Club (2 images)
The Raven's Club
Once you’ve got an early evening meal and a Michigan-based beverage in you, it’s time to drift a few blocks over to The Raven’s Club, a place described to us as a “no frills, western bar” by an enthusiastic local. Given that description, we were expecting something a bit more rustic. However, the casual vibe and Woodstock-veterans bar crowd proselytizing philosophies like, “It’s all about joy and growth, man,” with Woody Nelson covers playing in the background were a suitable substitute for gunslingers and pianola. Food and beverage options come in the form of farm-to-fork American-fare and a robust whiskey list with old-fashioned cocktails.
Haymaker Public House
With 24 rotating craft beers and an arsenal of cans and bottles, Haymaker Public House is a spacious and welcoming sports bar that’s perfect for your group to take a breather. However, if you arrive in Ann Arbor in the off-season, you may feel cheated out of the college football fervor the town is known for. Don’t fret, though. The opportunities to feel the thrill of competition are abundant with the three different trivia nights Haymaker Public House hosts throughout the week. Also, if strong whiskey at The Raven’s Club has you craving a little more fuel, the wings and shrimp salad come personally recommended.
The Last Word
As the night wanes on, you might be looking for something a little more intimate and low-key. The Last Word is such a place: An inconspicuous speakeasy away from the main downtown hub. Their cocktail- and wine-focused beverage menu leads off with a gin-based eponymously named tipple. Should none of the “chapters” — as they describe the sections of their bespoke mixology — stand out, feel free to throw some ideas of what you want their way. They also serve a full kitchen menu of diverse selections from spicy glazed chicken yakitori skewers to meatballs marina.
By this point though, you should be well fed and buzzed enough to return your comfy bed at the Graduate. However, if the night continues to call you, located below the Blind Pig music venue is the 8 Ball Saloon — the last stand for late-night tippling in Ann Arbor. Although I had a good time there, tread lightly. Its Yelp reviews paint a picture of something out of Road House. Stay frosty.
Photos: Graduate Ann Arbor, The Black Pearl, The Raven's Club, Haymaker Public House, The Last Word. Main photo via The Last Word.