A Girl's Guide to Drinking: Bar Review: Empire Kitchen and Cocktails: Detroit
The Place: An American-style bistro on the ground floor of The Scott apartment building, located in newest Midtown hotspot - Brush Park.
The Time: Saturday February 2nd, 8pm. Instead of going to my favorite Wayne State University-nostalgia-inducing-dive-bar to unwind, I decide to dive head first (pun intended) into Empire Kitchen and Cocktails, a new place that attracted me for two reasons. One: it’s only got a two-dollar-sign rating on Yelp. Two: Empire’s website showcases a spacious patio that looks perfect for warmer weather and entices this gal to do some research for potential al fresco drinking.
The Vibe: It’s 8pm on a Saturday night. As I search for parking (which you must aggressively hunt for, btw) I quickly peek inside. The restaurant looks packed, but I feel confident in my ability to find a spot at the bar. Almost every single table is full and there is only one seat left at the marble topped bar, so I snag it. Interior decor is generic-almost-chic with black leather banquettes and dark wood paneling. Beautiful bar display featuring suspended shelving. At first glance, the interior does appear to be pretty. But I take a second look around, and from the skinny bare “antique” lightbulbs, I get the impression that this may just be another predictable new bar trying to cater to *millennials* without having anything special to offer. It feels a little like they’re desperately trying to create ambience. The music is loud but not uncomfortably so; uptempo 80’s/90’s pop and R&B jams, heavy on the backbeat. Average clientele age hovers around early/mid-thirties. Solid place for a first date, especially if the person you’re trying to woo is a suburbanite who hasn’t visited Detroit since the beginning of its renaissance and isn’t aware of the new places with charm and character.
The Bartender: Three men in their hipster-best. Long aprons - check. Button down black shirts rolled up at the sleeves - check. One dons a newsie cap. One has a solid beard and an impressive tattoo sleeve. One has a babyface and doesn’t look old enough to be behind a bar, let alone be outside after dark. Newsie cap is really getting an arm workout with that shaker, but that’s one of my favorite sounds so I don’t mind. All three guys are dedicated to making sure their guests are well taken care of and they seem genuinely happy to be at work.
The Drank: The bourbon based signature cocktail named “Lush Growth” ($12) immediately catches my attention (obviously I end up ordering a second one because the title is hilarious!). Four Roses bourbon, Punt e Mes, green chartreuse, maple, cedar. I’m confused as to where the cedar is, perhaps for aroma…? Regardless, the drink is awesome. I also order a side of the crispy potatoes ($7) - they’re delicious and super fun; they look like mini tree trunks sliced up and deep fried.
Was I Hit On?: I don’t know. There is a weird moment when the babyface bartender drops off my potatoes and I think he says, “Is there anything else I can bring over for the pretty lady?” To which I respond with an abrupt and curt “What was that?” He laughs awkwardly and asks if I need any ketchup or mustard for the potatoes. I thank him but decline the condiments and his ambiguous advances.
Should You Drink Here Alone?: Sure. All in all, Empire is a bit underwhelming but I had a reasonably enjoyable time. I’m more inclined to come back in the summertime when the patio is open... Because patio + booze + crispy potatoes = one happy Michigander.