Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Better Know Your Barkeep | Luke Andrews, The Bar at 327 Braun Court

Luke Andrews—barkeep at The Bar at 327 Braun Court
The boys at The Bar at 327 Braun Court call a bar "The Third Space". There's work, home and then a sanctuary for men and women to go where they can connect with other people, enjoy a cocktail and relax.

Ann Arbor has some of the best third spaces in the world, staffed by professionals with different backgrounds, different temperaments, different skills and different stories. They create the atmosphere that brings people back to Old Town, The Last Word, Raven's Club and the 8-Ball. Many of them have been slinging drinks and listening to stories for years and turnover at many of Ann Arbor's best bars is surprisingly rare. 

It's time to sing about these unsung barkeeps—ask them about their experiences and their craft,  learn a little more about their relationship to their bar. Essentially, to better know our barkeeps. 

This semi-regular feature will pop up on Damn Arbor from time to time giving insight into the people behind the bar and hopefully entertaining, enlightening and doing something else that starts with the letter "e".

One last thing, a nod to Mark Maynard's exit interviews, which I just happen to be modeling in this first installment. Normally I'll interview these people before they leave. Luke is the exception.

Named The Most Popular Bar of 2012 on February 3, 2012, The Bar at 327 Braun Court recently celebrated its second anniversary. For the last year or so, the staff has remained relatively intact with Luke Andrews and owner Eric Farrell behind the bar. Braun Court is my home bar and Eric and Luke have become fast friends. It's with some urgency and more sadness that Luke is the first subject of this series, since Wednesday night (Dec. 11) will be his last at Braun Court. Chicago calls and the next chapter in his life is one timezone west. But we'll get to that. Better know your barkeep, Luke Andrews.

Rich Retyi: How long have you worked at Braun Court?
Luke Andrews: I've been drinking there since it opened, but Eric hired me about five months in.

RR: You're a Texas guy. What brought you to Ann Arbor?
LA: A girl. I moved here two and a half years ago when she got a job here. It didn't last long. I was living in Lubbock, running a beverage program at a wine bar, and then we moved here. I loved it right away. I loved how easy it was, like Pleasantville, in a weird way. I lived in four different places in a year: off Stadium behind the Wolverine State Brewing Company—my first Ann Arbor mug club—on Thompson and in Kerrytown, which is how I found Braun Court. I was working at Vinology and The Last Word and Braun Court was on the way home, so I'd stop in all the time. Eric and I became friends.

He needed help about five months in and since he was a good friends and I loved the place, we knew that I could jump right in with no training. It was bittersweet to leave Vinology and The Last Word, but they were really understanding about it. It's a small town.

This "best bar" stuff is bullshit. I work at the best bar in America. In the world! It's so subjective.
RR: What makes Kerrytown a special place for a bar?
LA: Kerrytown is nice and out of the way in Ann Arbor. Not far away, but enough to keep us away from the masses. It's a quieter part of town that doesn't attract the riffraff.

RR: What makes Braun Court special?
LA: It seats 38 and has a capacity of 58, and the small size makes it awesome. Some of the best nights are eight people just sitting at the bar. Other times, when it's packed and we're just making drinks, it's a ton of fun.

RR: What do you think of the craft cocktail movement?
LA: The craft cocktail movement can sometimes go a little too far. "How many ingredients can you throw in a drink!" I'm more interested in how to make really good simple drinks. It's not easy, but we love making classic cocktails with two to three ingredients, shaken or stirred and served. When you can take two spirits and put them together, why would you adulterate that? Most of the time, bartenders want a beer and a whiskey. Two things that have been perfected. It's hard to beat.

RR: What are your favorite bars in Ann Arbor?
LA: I'm usually at The Last Word late on Tuesday nights if we're slow. Raven's Club is great. I love having a beer in the afternoon at Arbor Brewing Company. Sometimes I want to go where no one knows me. I've used up my solitude in most of my favorite bars.

This "best bar" stuff is bullshit. I work at the best bar in America. In the world! It's so subjective. The best bar is where you feel comfortable. The day I chose to work at Braun Court was the day I lost my favorite drinking spot. Eric always says the bar is a third space. Not work. Not home. It's a third space.

RR: What's your best advice for someone going to Braun Court for the first time?
LA: Go to Aut Bar.

RR: ...
LA: Go on a Tuesday. Soak it in when it's calm. I feel so bad for first-timers in Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tuesday and Wednesday you can sit, enjoy a drink, talk to us. If you have questions, we love to answer them. It's tough to talk when we're 10 tickets deep.

RR: What are some of your fondest Braun Court memories?
LA: Every time we get a new menu, we drop the old one into the fire outside Aut Bar. I love walking in to open during the day and having Sandy (owner of the Espresso Bar downstairs) make me an espresso. Some of my favorite times are between 4-5pm. Those are the times when people come by and don't need to order—I know exactly what they're having. I'm not asking how they are, I'm asking how their kids are. It's a lot less making drinks—it's people. They come back because my Old Fashioned is the shit, but also because we have these long, ongoing conversations. I don't even know some of their names, but I know their lives. I'm sad that I'll leave so many conversations unfinished.

RR: What will you miss most about Ann Arbor?
LA: Mighty Good Coffee. Ann Arbor summers. Buying a loosey at the tobacconist in Nickels Arcade and getting a coffee at Comet and lying in the grass in the Diag. I'll miss the Michigan Theater. I love the farmer's market. Monahans. Babo. Name Brand Tattoo and Jen Munford. She's been a great artist and psychiatrist.

RR: What's next?
LA: I'm moving to Chicago with the intent of opening my own bar within a year. I don't want to stop doing this.

RR: Last question, and kind of a loaded one. Who's your favorite Ann Arbor writer?
LA: SAES. I would have bailed that kid out of jail. How did he get his tag on everything in the city?

Check out Damn Arbor's list of some of the better bars in Ann Arbor with tips from DA contributors. Do you have a barkeep who you'd like featured on Damn Arbor? Comment below and we'll be sure to add them the to list of people we'll get to know.


  1. I wonder how SAES is doing these days.

  2. This is a great idea for an article series! Don't forget your friendly beer bartenders...my pals at the Corner always make me feel welcome and loved.

  3. I'll miss you too, Luke!!! Great column idea, Rich! :)

  4. Thanks Jen! I'll miss Luke too. Good thing he's not that far away.