I had an unexpectedly classy evening yesterday - birthday drinks (sadly not for my birthday) with two friends at Grange, and a dinner organized by a few student groups (including my own) at the Jolly Pumpkin.
One of my friends is a little down on Ann Arbor - or at least, while he doesn't hate his life here, he won't miss an opportunity to point out its shortcomings. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to hear him praise Grange's cocktail list - not just for the well-regarded GKB Manhattan, with its bacon-infused bourbon, but also the seasonal Kentucky Monastery. The GGGinger just won an award for best cocktail in A2, which my other friend loved. My own choices were vastly different - the In-Cider, with a well-blended hint of fall; and the John Daly, which blended sour citrus with a tea subflavor. I think what my friend enjoyed (for once) was the lack of pretension in the drinks. These are well-thought drinks that were out to please, not to impress with their awesome daringness. As he put it, "Imagine how terrible these ideas would be executed in Brooklyn."
Jolly Pumpkin has also got a lot of press for its local beers, including a Belgian-style that famously did better than actual beers from Belgium in a New York Times taste test. The food's not bad (as at Grange), but I do think that the drinks are the highlight. Sadly, both spots are a little out of my price range for everyday visits, but once in a while I'm pleasantly reminded of the strength of both drink menus.