Dan’s Downtown Tavern adds a Pour House.

Ever since the state’s restaurant smoking ban went into effect in May of 2010, business has picked up at Dan’s Downtown Tavern in the heart of downtown Saline. More families come for dinner, and more folks who work nearby stop in for lunch. “I was so happy about the smoking ban,” laughs Desirae Nix, the tavern’s manager. “And I’m a smoker!” Nix says she’s never been one to smoke inside, so she’s relieved to get home from work without smelling like an ashtray. Dan Kolander is even happier about the new law. He’s the owner of the tavern. “It’s been a year since the ban and we’ve had a 40 percent increase in sales,” he says.

When Cadence Cycle, located right next door, shut down last summer, Kolander expanded into the space. “Now there’s room to breathe,” he says. He knocked out a portion of the wall beyond the bar to create a wide passageway to the new space, which he calls “Dan’s Pour House.” When it opened in March, the Pour House doubled Dan’s size, adding over 1,500 square feet with room for another seventy-three seats. The addition is flooded with light from the front windows on Michigan Avenue and offers plenty of room for larger groups as well as space in the back for playing darts and foosball. Four huge new flat-screen televisions hang on the exposed brick walls right alongside Kolander’s impressive display of old tap handles. Another wall shows off framed pages from the Detroit News and Free Press dating back to World War II, when the newspapers cost only 3 cents. Kolander got the old papers from one of his longtime customers, Jack Foley of Saline’s Foley’s Uniforms. A framed headline from July 1946 reads: “A-Bomb Sinks Only 2 Ships.” Kolander loves history, but closer inspection reveals another reason he chose the pages he did: “I like the beer ads, and also this is a Ford town. One of them shows an ad for a six-cylinder Ford motor,” he says.

Kolander is a devoted supporter of the Michigan Brewers Guild. The expansion gave him the space to add twenty new beer taps for a total of thirty-two drafts. “There are some great craftsmen, and this gives me the chance to get their beers noticed,” he says.

Nix offers a tour of the new taproom, showing off the hoses that snake back down to the basement and then up to the bar. The list rotates somewhat, but some of the most popular brews are Short’s Huma Lupa Licious, known for its hoppy, citrus aroma, and the Abita Purple Haze, a wheat beer with a hint of raspberry, both tart and sweet. “The Atwater Vanilla Java Porter is also really popular,” Nix adds.

Business has been so good that Kolander hired seven new employees in just two months. He wants to keep the pace he’s always had. “I don’t like people to have to wait,” he explains. “I make good, simple food. It’s fast, and I don’t gouge my customers.”

The menu includes a long list of appetizers, from spinach dip and mini tacos to chili fries and wings. Five dinner salads for $8.95 range from mahi-mahi to a Michigan harvest salad featuring organic spring greens, grilled chicken, apples, blue cheese, dried cranberries, and toasted walnuts. A house salad is $3.95. All burgers—there are almost two dozen to choose from, priced from $5.50 to $8—are made with fresh ground beef from Knight’s Market in Ann Arbor. The sandwich list has grown to seventeen, with new items like lettuce wraps joining longtime favorites like pulled BBQ pork and French dip. If that’s not enough, there are Mexican dishes and hand-tossed pizzas, from the “Tri Tip,” topped with steak, sautéed onions, and green pepper, to a vegetarian with an assortment of fresh veggies.

The expanded menu demanded some kitchen upgrades. “We doubled the grill size and added an eleven-foot hood fan during the renovation,” says Nix. “And it’s been packed!” Friday nights are karaoke nights, and starting in June there will be live music every other Saturday night.

Dan’s Downtown Tavern, 103 E. Michigan, 429–3159. Mon.–Wed. 11 a.m.– midnight, Thurs.–Sat. 11 a.m.–1 a.m., Sun. noon—9 p.m. Carryout and catering available.

After a yearlong wait, Biwako Sushi, the Japanese and Korean restaurant located in Saline’s Sauk Trail shopping center, received its liquor license in May. Owner Byong Kwon celebrated by renovating his restaurant. He got rid of the brightly flowered wallpaper and installed custom-built raised-oak wall columns and a cedarwood trellis that hangs over the dining area, creating a softer, more intimate dining atmosphere. A second entrance door cuts down on drafts when customers come and go. The brand new oak sushi bar comfortably seats nine, and its all-new lighting makes for a soothing ambience.

Biwako’s new drinks menu offers a dozen different sakes, ranging in price from $9 for a bottle of Ozeki hot sake to $109 for a bottle of Otokoyama Hokkaido, one of the finest sakes available. Biwako also carries Korean liquors, Japanese and American beers, and a variety of Scotch selections; there is also an extensive wine list.

Biwako Sushi, 1355 E. Michigan, 944–6301. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.–midnight, Sun. noon–9:30 p.m.

Benito’s Pizza has a new owner. Nick Wallen, born and raised in Saline, bought the franchise in February. Though he is only twenty-three, Wallen is no stranger to pizza. “I worked for six years at Domino’s,” he says, but he chose to buy into Benito’s because of its attention to detail. “I like the quality of the product. Everything is fresh. Nothing comes already chopped or packaged in a box.” In fact, Wallen arrives at 9 a.m. every morning to start hand-slicing fresh green peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

Wallen repainted, refinished the dining chairs, hung a chalkboard where he lists daily specials, and added free wi-fi. But the biggest change may be the “Benito Challenge.” If you can eat a twenty-four-inch pizza (that’s twenty slices) in an hour or less, you get a free T-shirt and a free pizza every month for a year. So far, Wallen has had several challengers but no winners. “One guy came close,” says Wallen. “He ate sixteen slices in an hour, which is amazing.”

Benito’s Pizza, 439 E. Michigan, 429– 2555. Sun.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.–midnight.

The Saline Dollar Tree moved from the Sauk Trail shopping center just up Michigan Avenue to a space nearly three times larger in the Oaks shopping center. America’s hard times have been good to the discount retailer: the 4,000-store chain earned $100 million in the first quarter of 2011, and paid its CEO nearly $6 million last year.

Dollar Tree, 950 E. Michigan, 944–5851. Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–7 p.m.

Fashion Bug, the women’s apparel shop in the Sauk Trail shopping center, closed in April. No one could be reached for comment, but it comes as no surprise—Fashion Bug’s parent company, Charming Shoppes, Inc., announced in March that it would be closing 10 percent of its stores.