Better booze at Lo Fi and Nightcap
by Lee Lawrence
From the May, 2019 issue
My husband and I met thirty-two years ago on the dance floor of the Blind Pig--a story whose full details we'd be unlikely to confess to any grandchildren we might've had, but a damn fun night. We still have fun on a dance floor, especially when liquor softens life's hard edges, music puts the thump in our feet, and the room's energy draws even the wallflowers into its grip.
Recently we discovered vintage Blind Pig atmosphere at Lo-Fi, the new underground bar beneath Main St.'s Nightcap, complemented by the contemporary take on drinking better booze. The first weekend we visited, local musician Dave Menzo headed a pickup band before a mixed crowd. The place wasn't full--it was early--but there were enough folks to build enthusiasm and energy for a few spins across the dance floor.
For lubrication, Lo-Fi focuses on a handful of classic house cocktails and beers. Suspecting the daiquiris might be frozen and frothy, I asked the bartender how they were made. "No, no," she assured me. "They're rum and lime and sugar syrup served in a coupe, the original formula." Mine was tart and lovely and alcoholic enough to make its point without hammering. My husband asked for a Founders Porter, and we turned our attention to the band.
Sadly for us, it was an early night for them; the live music gave way around ten to DJ duo Tadd and Nayiri Mullinix, who started off with a couple of space-age numbers that left the early crowd wide-eyed and staring. The tide soon turned, though, with students, streaming down the stairs like gushing water, filling the room's empty corners and taking to the dance floor in gender-segregated, pogoing groups. It was clearly time for us to climb the stairs to Nightcap.
We left a bar to enter a lounge. With an entrance notched back from the sidewalk and subtly signed, Nightcap can be hard to spot from the street. But as the night wears
on, the traffic in and out of the door becomes noticeable, and the concierge, polished fine in a tailored suit and pocket square, comes to escort guests to an open seat at the bar or scattered tables, or maybe along an intimate plush banquette or a stand-up rail.
Even busy, the atmosphere isn't rushed or frenetic. Here, the crafting of cocktails is given due consideration. That night, though, not wanting to suddenly change course, I ordered another daiquiri, noting that Nightcap's elegant setting added a dollar to the cost. My husband, who also decided to stick with what worked, found a greater selection of interesting beers. Served our drinks, we sat back in our seats, enfolded in the lounge's welcoming embrace.
Another evening took better advantage of Nightcap's strengths. When we arrived at 5:45, the friends we were meeting were already there--and no one else save a bartender and a server. Our companions were drinking a ginger beer and a virgin colada--a nonalcoholic but nicely balanced, not-too-sweet version of the tropical mainstay, they reported. Tax preparation called away the prudent ginger-beer chum, but the rest of us were ready for cocktail hour.
We'd noticed that cocktails came bottled and on tap, as well as freshly made by the bartender, and we asked the server about the differences. Some of the more popular drinks, he explained, can be individually bottled ahead, finished before capping with a squirt of nitrogen for preservation. The mix is also diluted with about 20 percent water to mimic the melting of ice cubes in a cocktail shaker or in stirring; the water dilution is the often-forgotten part of many cocktail recipes. Other popular drinks are mixed in even larger batches and are available on tap. Nightcap offers some of these tap cocktails as shots, and we enjoyed sharing a tiny "Old Fashioned" (muddled sugar and bitters with whiskey).
My friend and I are both fans of the Italian negroni--traditionally, equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth--bitter yet sweet and alcoholically hefty. Nightcap offers it freshly made or bottled, and we wondered if we'd taste a difference. "Well," our server said, "the bartender version is likely to be more intense," and indeed it was, though the reason--less dilution, the vagaries of the particular bartender, the mellowing that might happen in a capped bottle--no one could definitively declare. What we could declare without hesitation is that we appreciated both examples of the traditional recipe over the ashy, smoky mescal version we also tried--and which the server graciously whisked away without charge.
"Wanna nightcap?" I asked my friend after dinner later that evening. So we returned to the lounge, where the smartly dressed doorman escorted us back to a banquette seat. Dressed in headband and camouflage, with a heavy beard and unkempt hair, managing partner Andy Garris, looking more like a habitue of the old Blind Pig than this swanky club, led the bartending trio that kept the crowd well watered. We finished the evening with a Tap 75, a variation on a French 75 champagne cocktail splashed from the tap--light, slightly sweet, but refreshing, and, of course, sparkling and celebratory--a toast to a couple of fine new adornments to Ann Arbor's evening scene.
220 S. Main
Wed.-Mon. 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Closed Tues.
220 S. Main
Wed.-Mon. 7 p.m.-2 a.m.
[Originally published in May, 2019.]
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