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2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® Update: What to Do in Ann Arbor

You're coming to a random town in Michigan that happens to have a gigantic football stadium, a top 25 world university, and thousands of people. What on earth will you do with all of this down time?

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A view looking towards the HIll Auditorium from downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
A view looking towards the HIll Auditorium from downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
Andrew Horne

Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood morning Winging It In Motown! Most of you are getting ready to head out to the great state of Michigan to watch a lot of hockey. In fact, for most of you out-of-staters, you're probably having trouble explaining to friends and family that you're going on vacation and not just visiting family.

Other than the huge amount of hockey going on in Detroit and Ann Arbor, there will be some down time here and there to relax and explore. You could go to the Pure Michigan website, or you could also visit Ann Arbor's website for quick looks at things to do. However, as a person who lives in Ann Arbor, I figured I could do my part to help everyone out in the travel department, specifically in the bars and food department.

The good news for everyone is that the University of Michigan doesn't resume undergraduate classes until a week after the Winter Classic. That's great, considering you won't have to battle a large amount of the city's drunk population. The bad news is there are plenty of buildings that are closed off that are owned by the University, nothing that most people would need, but it'll certainly be noticeable.

Ann Arbor's average age will increase by about twenty years next week, and whether you're looking for something to do before driving back home or to the hotel, or for a quick bite, I'm here to offer some of my favorite things to do in and around town.


On Campus, Ann Arbor

The University in and of itself is pretty remarkable. Places like the Law Quad on South University (aka the Law School) offer Gothic, Hogwarts-esque scenery and a pretty nice place to walk around. While some University tour guides say that it was a candidate for Harry Potter filming (and the only one to be in North America), there is a lot of debate as to the truth behind those statements. Nevertheless, it's pretty cool.

The Law Library at the University of Michigan. It is the quietest library on campus.

The University also has its own Museum of Art conveniently located on State Street. Believe it or not, the school has quite the collection, including a wide range of Asian art.

Staying with the arts, the Bell Tower and Hill Auditorium are both historic landmarks in and of themselves, and are a few minutes to the north of the above two wonderful venues. The Hill Auditorium is one of the top rated concert halls in the United States, and has been operational for a century now. If you are staying a little later into the new year, the auditorium has tickets for purchase for upcoming shows.

Going back to musems, the Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building has "the most extensive dinosaur exhibits in the state of Michigan, as well as a focus on Michigan wildlife, anthropology, and geology."

The Michigan Theater on East Liberty Street, a classic movie palace.

The Michigan Theater and the State Theater are two classic movie theaters located in the heart of downtown and next to campus. These two venues show a collection of both classic movies as well as current flicks on a regular basis. American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks are on tap for this upcoming week, should a movie be on your radar.

Lastly, for nature buffs, there are a gazillion running and biking trails throughout the town, but none compare to the Nichols Arboretum off of Geddes Avenue. Located on the edge of central campus, the Arboretum boasts a large amount of trees (hence the name, geniuses) as well as a 300 acre botanical garden. There are loads of nature trails and outdoor displays for exploring. During the school year, there are a lot of kids who enjoy making some nature of their own (as well as smoking some other kinds of nature inside The Arb, as it is colloquially known on campus), but that will be virtually non-existent for the next week or two.

Finally, the Kelsey Museum of Archaology is right across the street from Angell Hall, housing nearly 100,000 Mediterranean objects from former civilizations. It's a nice stop and if you are a history buff, worth seeing.

If you are an alumnus or alumni, the Alumni Center is on campus, across from the bell tower on Fletcher Street. I'm not sure about the hours, but it's a quick walk to check if it is open during winter break.

The campus is a great place to walk around and see some things, pretend like you're back in college, or even show around a potential student. I'm an ambassador for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, so I'll be making sure that all of your children get a taste of the school. Then again, J.J. and Graham will probably advise you to stay away from me at all costs.

Off Campus, Ann Arbor

The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is an absolute must if you have a young child. While these museums do have a specifically younger target audience, I myself have gone to one of these (where I live in New York) as a teenager and still had a blast. Parents tend to follow their children's creative habits once inside. For instance my friend, who happens to be in the business school at U of M, brought his father with him and both had a blast.

Looking for something more alive? The Great Lakes Zoological Society has a reptile exhibit in addition to a load of other attractions.

In terms of brute walking, Main Street and State Street are the two places to go, and both are going to be glistening come time for the Winter Classic. The streets are still lit up for the holidays and the majority of restaurants and boutiques are along these two roads. They make up the heart of downtown, and they will provide hours of things to do and buy. A walk through Kerrytown is also pretty nice.

If you like ice skating and want a sample of one of College Hockey's most storied arenas, Yost Ice Arena is having public skating sessions throughout the week, with the exceptions of New Year's Eve and Day. While it is technically on campus, it's down by the athletics area and outside of the academic concentration of buildings. Skate rental is offered, and pricing information can be found here. The Ann Arbor Ice Cube, home of the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club as well as the USNTDP also offers public skating.

If you forgot to buy a Winter Classic jersey or you need an extra layer of clothing, the Briarwood Mall is a decent big-box shopping spot, and it's just off of I-94. In addition, there is a Meijer as well as a Target and Costco right nearby.

Most of the better shopping is up in the Detroit suburbs, where you'll find an upscale mall, for instance, in Bloomfield Hills. It's about a forty minute drive from Ann Arbor.


Be careful with this one, as the clubs keep their own schedules and are not always the best places for parties in Ann Arbor (come on, it's a college town). In all seriousness, I'd go with LIVE on First Street. It's not overpriced (it has a small cover charge) but again, don't go for the service or bartending. Pre-gaming and just showing up is the way to go.

Necto is a nice alternative, but again, I'd highly recommend checking out the schedules posted outside of the club as well as the website. You don't want to show up to Pride Friday (aka gay night) if you're not going to be comfortable. That being said, if you are homosexual, this club does have a very high reputation among gays (and I'll leave it at that).

Truth be told, you're better off walking around and finding law/graduate/doctorate students and walking into a house party if you're looking for a place to go nuts on New Year's Eve. Otherwise, check out some restaurants that are "throwing down."


By far this town has an amazing bar scene. I'm legally not going to give you personal recommendations, because, well, I graduate in 2017. But, other than the standard college bars of Rick's and Skeeps (Scorekeeper's, don't go here if you're over 21), Ashley's is highly recommended by a lot of people. Vinology is also pretty good, and has a nice collection of wines and food.

My favorite bar is the Black Pearl on South Main street. This place has some of the best bar food in Ann Arbor and won the Taste of Ann Arbor three times for its fish tacos. They also have amazing french fries seasoned with thyme and ten dollar martinis. I won't mention when, but you may run into a few of us from the Masthead at some point this week.

Places to Eat**

Part of the problem as a kid from New York is the fact that I was spoiled by a lot of good food growing up. For one thing, the biggest problem I had adjusting to life in Michigan was a lack of good bagels or pizza. I haven't found a solution to a lack of bagels, so I'll be bringing a baker's dozen of them back to school with me on Tuesday.

Pizza, however, I lucked out on. I don't eat pizza that much while I'm at school, but my friend from Chicago showed me a little known pizza place tucked away on William Street called Neo Papalis, which I go to every single time I crave some sauce and cheese on a bread plate. You start out with a basic pizza or base pizza, and build your own masterpiece with quality ingredients and only spending about ten to eleven bucks per meal. They have salads and sandwiches too, but this is, in my opinion, the best pizza in Ann Arbor. They only make personal pizzas, by the way.

A personal Pizza Margherita from Neo Papalis on William Street in Ann Arbor.

In terms of sit-down restaurants, the go to place is Sava's (more on that below) as it's right on State Street, though most of the good restaurants are on Main Street. They have renowned mac and cheese as well as some pretty good fish n' chips.

I like The Earle, an Italian and French restaurant which serves up some awesome food. It's a bit pricier, but their Wine Bar offers bargains and for an upscale restaurant, it isn't going to break the bank. Some good things to order include the mushroom caps, the french onion soup, the chicken, beef tenderloin, or the salmon. The Delmonico Steak is also a favorite of a family friend from Brooklyn.

The Black Pearl, mentioned above, is still awesome; I'll mention their fish tacos again so you can imitate Kyle Quincey from 24/7.

The Chop House on Main Street is extremely expensive, but it's one of the only true steakhouses in Ann Arbor. They also do have a cigar lounge, which my other friend from Chicago recommends.

Lastly, Real Seafood Company offers an awesome selection of local seafood (and has really good bread too, by the way). The cod is "to die for," but I enjoy the salmon and seared tuna quite a bit. If you can, ordered your fish blackened. If you don't know how, just get a blackened salmon. It'll be spicy, but they have an awesome blend. They also have Old Bay, which is really cool. (If you've never been to Maryland, Old Bay is used on everything there, and it's an amazing spice.)

[Honorable Mentions: Jerusalem Garden, The West End Grill, Pacific Rim, Shalamir, Zingerman's Deli, Zingerman's Roadhouse]

For quick eats that aren't restaurants, my favorite places fit in with the typical college joints. Quickie Burger on State and Hill is awesome, as well as BTB (Big Ten Burrito).

New Year's Eve in Ann Arbor

Sava's has a New Year's Eve event that runs from 6 PM to 2 AM. It will feature a four course dinner as well as a champagne toast and dance party. That's where you'll find me. There are a lot of restaurants that will be doing things like these, provided that they have a space. A quick walk around town will reveal some doable and entertaining things. Be careful, again, as most establishments are selling tickets for these types of events. Be sure to check restaurant websites, and if you're staying at a hotel, call the concierge/front desk and get a list of places to go. Hotels are also running their own festivities.

Ann Arbor will also host "The Puck Drops Here" to bring in the new year (more on that here by my colleague and fellow writer, Michael Caples at MIHOCKEYNOW). There will be live music and a large street party, so far believed to be on Main Street between Huron and Liberty Streets. A giant crane will drop a puck, you'll dance to live music, you'll hang out with a bunch of strangers, and it'll be awesome.

Sights in Detroit

Most people aren't coming to the Winter Classic to explore Detroit, but there is a lot of cool stuff downtown, too much, in fact, to list. For one thing, the Joe Louis Arena has quite a few events going on right now (see Ticketmaster), and will even play host to Zach Brown Band soon enough. There are no Red Wings home games (excluding the Winter Classic) until January 18th.

If you are driving all the way to Detroit, go see the DIA (which is definitely worth a visit). The Detroit Institute of Arts has plenty of shows and exhibitions, and the city of Detroit is currently debating whether or not to sell the artwork due to Detroit's fiscal crisis (believe it or not, it owns its own artwork), and therefore makes it a must go before the museum loses a lot of its content.

Hitsville U.S.A. on West Grand Boulevard in downtown Detroit, Michigan.

The Motown Museum at Hitsville U.S.A. is by far my favorite place in Metro Detroit. The former home of Berry Gordy Junior's Motown record label and the recording studio which saw Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles, Diana Ross, and more, the house(s) now serve as a tribute to one of music's most revolutionary eras.

Head to Greektown, eat, and walk around a bit. It is one of Detroit's most well-kept areas and has its own casino. The MotorCity Casino Hotel over on Grand River Avenue also has some nice gambling and is a good alternative place to stay should you want to gamble while you're in town.

The Renaissance Center, home of the Mariott in Detroit as well as the headquarters of General Motors, offers views of Detroit and Windsor should you be able to go to the top.

If you want a place to grab a bite to eat and you want to explore some Red Wings history, head over to the HockeyTown Cafe across from Comerica Park. Don't go for the food or service, but definitely grab a drink and look around.

That's it. Looking forward to seeing plenty of you at The Big House!

**Be sure to take a look at some hidden specials in and around Ann Arbor for some Winter Classic specials in addition to special happy hours and New Year's Eve celebrations.

This is part of a series of posts leading up to the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® . Feel free to check out the H2H3 pledge drive for the Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation. You can also text KIDS to 85944 to donate $5 to make an easy donation (full details here).