Sunday, March 25, 2007

Field Report: Lower Park Avenue

The conventional wisdom about the gay scene in the city of Detroit, and downtown in particular, is that you are pretty much welcome anywhere you want to go, and this is certainly the case in my experience. But sometimes you want to be around other gay people, right? Not only so you can feel that there is some kind of community here, but also because a couple of gays really does tend to spruce up the atmosphere. Plus with the dismal gay bar options in the city, why shouldn't the gays hang out at nice places?

That's where the Field Report idea comes in. I go out, drink a lot with friends and then identify the places that have a good gay vibe, a decent gay presence, or maybe just a lot of potential as a gay socializing spot.

This week Lower Park Avenue was the target. I like calling it Lower Park Avenue because it makes it sound like a full district instead of just two bars.

First stop was Park Bar at the corner of Park and Elizabeth, pretty much right behind the State Theater. It's definitely a beer-and-a-shot kind of place, but they've got a ton of beer on tap and are fully stocked with the requisite good stuff. But I don't need to rehash these details - read the Model D article if you are that interested.

The decor is simple but nice with a gorgeous wooden bartop. It can get a little loud, but the location is cool and all the windows are great. The circle bar means sometimes you have to scream for a bartender in order to get booze, though, and the music vibe is definitely pretty rock-n-roll. You won't have to worry about getting dressed up either.

The crowd is a somewhat eclectic mix of hardcore Detroiters, hipsters, Kales building residents, a few visiting suburbanites and other random drop-in's who probably wandered down from Upper Park Avenue.

As far as any kind of gay vibe goes, we've got nothing going on there. The bar was pretty crowded when I was there and a friend asked if I thought there were any other gay people around other than me. A quick scan of the crowd revealed that no, in fact, there did not appear to be.

So the only gay in the room decided to wander next door, to Cliff Bell's.

Cliff Bell's has definitely got the gay goods. The interior is a beautifully-restored art deco space (presumptive thanks to Model D for the image below), and the live jazz and big band music is city sophistication at it's best. There's a lot of seating at small tables where you can hang and listen to the music with your group, or you can mill about at the bar and scope out the generally attractive and well-dressed crowd.

It's a cocktail kind of place too, so you don't have to worry about looking out of place as the only person in the room with a cosmo!

Having established that empirically this place is perfect for gays, what's the verdict on reality? Well I am thrilled to report that whenever I have been there, there is always a small but significant gay presence. It's a gay demographic that fits in with the crowd - mid-20's to mid-60's, professional, sophisticated. I ran into one gay friend and his group, sat at the bar next to two other (very cute) gay guys, and then ran into another (straight) friend who brought a group of gay guys he'd run into elsewhere that night. And who knows how many homos I missed? I was very focused on my cocktail. And the cute guys next to me. Anyway, not bad on a night when the place only filled to about 60% capacity.

The thing I love about the gays at Cliff Bell's is that everyone is so friendly. They're often out with straight friends, and everyone mixes together so easily. I can't really think of a visit when I didn't meet some new gay people there, and I certainly can't think of an occasion that wasn't a full-on good time.

So as far as Lower Park Avenue is concerned - don't hesitate to stop in The Park Bar and have a drink or meet friends there, but for finding the elusive downtown gay scene, definitely make an evening of Cliff Bell's.

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