The Ann Arbor Sampler: Slummin’ It at the 8 Ball and The Fleetwood Diner

Not every Ann Arbor Sampler is going to be a restaurant review complete with lots of pictures and recommendations. This one is just a straight up, “take a look at my experience.” That is, after all, part of the reason I started this AAS project.

Friday night, date night, and I let my husband do the choosing. He can’t help himself. He spent many a metal-loving night at the 8 Ball Saloon during his undergraduate days. Located at 208 S. 1st Street in Ann Arbor, 8 Ball is the basement component to the Blind Pig, which I am ashamed to say, I have yet to see a show at. When I first visited Ann Arbor, I remember the 8 Ball as a smoky, heavy rock, cheap beer hang out with comfortable spaces for darts, pool, and of course, the ever-scary dingy bathroom. A lot of those things have changed, we found out. Some for the better, some for well, the different?

The first thing you notice when you walk down the stairs to the 8 Ball isn’t the thick cloud of smoke, but rather, the stink of pee. Yeah, I just said pee. The men’s bathroom is directly in front of the entrance area, which now the owners may be regretting, post-smoking ban. You get used to the smell, after a few PBRs. One thing to note before you head down the alley way to the 8 Ball entrance, it is a cash only bar, so come prepared. For emergencies, there is an ATM that distributes bills in $5 increments. Fun, eh? You’ll be pleased to find that one thing that hasn’t changed about 8 Ball is the ridiculous cheap drinks. We went with PBR, because why not, and it cost us about $3 for two. You can’t go wrong there.

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Best beer of 1893. Yum.
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Wall graffiti. As you can see, Cheri and Chad aren’t great with grammar.

We grabbed a booth (a hot commodity after about 10:30) and started the people watching. I asked my husband if the crowd had changed much since his days there. He said it seemed “a little older” than he remembered, but mind you, this was around 9:30. He later would revise his answer. The bar area is dark, dimly lit, walls of graffiti, and sells the ambience of “this is the bar where the hardcore people hang out.” It’s good to know that feeling still exists, because as I mentioned before, that ambience is cut in half by the late crowd. It’s coming, just wait for it. 8 Ball also has plenty of TVs for your sports-watching pleasure, and a huge, internet jukebox at the center of the room. My husband laments the good old days when this establishment had, “the best jukebox in town.” Gone are the days where you can play the entire Judgement Night soundtrack. Now, you have to hope your favorite songs aren’t on the “costs 3 more credits” list.

Things started to get more interesting as we enjoyed our crazy cheap beverages after 10PM. Large groups of, well, I’m sorry to say this, but there is no other way- hipsters…descended upon the 8 Ball. Many of them went immediately to the jukebox, where they laughed at the irony of playing Natalie Imbruglia, Miley Cyrus, and “Who Let the Dogs Out.” It angered my husband so much, I knew our time there was limited. He said back in his day, someone would be knifed for pulling crap like that. These hipsters (or maybe this is what metal people look like now?) were dressed in every pattern of plaid that you could imagine, and tight, tight, TIGHT pants. I’m not even talkin’ about the ladies. I’m talking about the guys. Big guys, small guys, guys that maybe had no business wearing skin tight colored jeans (not lying), were all there Friday night. It lead me to think, is this what fashion is now? Am I that out of the loop? The girls were dressed in all kinds of layers of tights, shorts, leather, vest, and of course, plaid. Plaid everywhere. My favorite patron was a fella who looked EXACTLY like Zach Galifianakis as “The Snuggler” from Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job right down to the too-tight pants and wooly hair/beard combo. I wanted so badly to ask him for a photo opp. Other interesting people-watching included a giant group of runners, dressed in running clothes, drinking together. I am sure they were a part of some kind of official running/drinking group, this is Ann Arbor, after all.

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There’s a pool table. And there’s some men’s colored jeans. Sigh.
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The back of “Ann Arbor Zach” and that big old jukebox.
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What you would have seen, had this been a better picture.

We played a half game of darts before we were inched out by the crowd. It had become a crowd at that point, and we had one thing on our minds by that point: chili cheese fries. It only seemed right to head over to The Fleetwood Diner, located at 300 S. Ashley Street to close out our night. The Fleet is housed inside of what one might describe as a single wide trailer. Hell, maybe it’s a double wide, but it’s a very small establishment. Can’t even really call it a building. The walls have long been covered in various stickers: band stickers, humorous stickers, writing, and the latest, political stickers (Obama, obviously.) I hear they sometimes scrape them off and start from scratch, but within weeks, the walls are covered once again. There are only a few tables inside, and a long breakfast counter for service. I’ve been in there on late weekends where it’s standing room only. In the summer, there are additional spots on the patio out front. The servers are a hearty group of I imagine, very tolerant humans that are always prompt and friendly.

The Fleet has been around in Ann Arbor for a long time, and it’s a regular spot for after hours food, offering a full menu, 24 hours a day. They are famous for their Hippie Hash, which is a creation of homemade hash browns, grilled tomato, green pepper, onion, mushroom, broccoli and feta cheese. You can add meat to the mix, and a side of eggs and toast. We go there for their chili cheese fries- a very unattractive, but undeniably good plate of french fries, smothered in a “coney style” meat sauce and topped with melted cheese. Sometimes you can still see the outline of the cheese shape. It’s not a fancy dining environment. This night, I decided to finally get the Hippie Hash that everyone raves about, my husband played it safe with a club sandwich, and we shared a plate of the CCFs. My Hash was the “meaty” kind with corned beef, NO broccoli (ick), and two eggs, over easy.

I really don’t want to crush anyone’s dreams by saying this, but I found the Hash to be okay. There was nothing at all wrong with it, I think it’s more a personal preference. All the veggies were fresh, the hash browns were crispy and seasoned, but the egg was a little runny for me. Overall, I think it’s just that I prefer greasy snacks after a night out, as opposed to breakfast. If that’s the path you’re going, I recommend the coney dogs, a reuben sandwich, or any of the greek dishes. Or just the chili cheese fries. You really can’t go wrong there.

Conclusions:

+ I actually had a great night out. Both the 8 Ball and The Fleetwood provided exactly what we signed up for: a casual night with cheap drinks and greasy food. Friendly service at both places. Conveniently in walking distance of each other, it’s a fun spot for a laid back evening. 8 Ball has dart boards and pool tables and hilarious people-watching. Fleetwood has food all night long.

The crowd at the 8 Ball was surprising and slightly disappointing for us, just with the knowledge of what we could once expect. The crowd got younger and weirder as the night went on. Cash only- with ATM on premise. Don’t ever expect a clean bathroom experience. The Fleetwood’s Hippie Hash was decent, but not mind blowing for me. You will have stomach-related regrets in the morning.

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