YPSI REVISITED This Winter, in large part thanks to Wurst Bar, I found myself visiting Ypsi on an abnormally frequent cadence. I found that much had changed since I called 48197 home. I started making time to seek out newer places I had only heard about. Don’t believe the naysayers, there’s a lot to see and do in Ypsi. I thought it was high time for A2GastroBoy to pay it forward and draft my version of a travel guide.
YPSI CONTEXT [AKA - UNCLE GASTROBOY’S SOAP BOX] Before I get into the details of local interest, let me ramble-on about the general condition of Ypsi. As I see it, Ypsi gets a bum rap. Yes, it has some warts, but few Midwest towns as old as Ypsi have survived the post-industrial era without a few warts. In my opinion, there are three primary issues that make Ypsi’s warts unique – one fiscal, one geographic and one superficial.
FISCAL: Here’s an often overlooked fact...Ypsi is tiny. The majority of land folks consider Ypsi is actually Ypsilanti TOWNSHIP not CITY. As a result Ypsi’s tax coffers are extremely limited. At the same time, Ypsi is an established community – meaning residents expect rich services consistent with living in legacy urban centers. Adding insult to injury, the infrastructure is aged, requiring higher cost per captia to operate and maintain. Mix in a highly transient student population that creates additional expense without generating tax revenue and you’ve got a hard city to finance.
- SOLVE: I Applaud Ypsi and Willow Run school districts for agreeing to merge…not that they had many practical options. I would love to see more consolidation with the region. I know the debates and would like to publically announce my support of regional authorities for all public services. No, I’m not a socialist, just a fiscally practical.
GEOGRAPHIC: People occupy three spaces…space to live, space to work and space to play. When all three overlap you get magic – community. When you don’t have overlap you get Ypsi. Isolated pods of land that lack human traffic. There are two physical landmarks that imped Ypsi’s social-critical mass…The River and Déjà Vu. I love the River. I also love Riverside Park. Unfortunately the size of this park makes it too darn far (and at night unsafe) for lazy American’s to walk from Downtown to Depot Town. An equally lame distance separates Campus from downtown. Without foot traffic no single area will establish critical mass. As for Déjà vu...Thanks to Beezy for braving the block. Unfortunately few other respectable businesses would choose to locate next to the vu. It creates a black hole in one of the most promising blocks of downtown.
- SOLVE: The River Street Development – At one point early in the River Street project I was sold on the idea that this would create a new downtown. Proximity to Depot Town and Prospect Park would draw foot traffic while simultaneously connecting both areas with downtown. It’s a brilliant dream. I pray the near bankrupt city doesn’t compromise and accept a short-term revenue generator that falls short on that long-term objective.
SUPERFICIAL: Proximity, AKA the inherent comparison syndrome of Twin Cities. Here’s my final stand dedicated to all of the elitist fucks in Ann Arbor who refuse to acknowledge life east of US23…Consider Minneapolis and St. Paul, Manhattan and Brooklyn, San Francisco and Oakland, Royal Oak and Ferndale, Eli and Payton. In each situation you have an underdog little-brother, forever over-shadowed by their larger, more affluent neighbor. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying Ypsi would be Pleasantville if it stood alone. Not at all. The paradox of twin cities is that they need each other. Ypsi is the low rent district. That doesn’t make it bad. It makes it affordable. Affordable fosters development and creativity. Would Beezy’s be in Ypsilanti if Beezy could’ve afforded an Ann Arbor lease? Would the Dreamland Theater exist if it weren’t for folks from Ann Arbor driving in? Maybe. Likely Not. Stop making comparisons. We don’t need another Ann Arbor. We need to appreciate the value of diversity.
- SOLVE: Rebrand the City. I know it sounds ridiculous – but who really likes the name Ypsilanti? Leave it for the township. Just don’t choose a bullshit name like say, Xfinity.
OK – I’ve scratched that itch. I will step off the soapbox. Now for the reason you’re still reading…
EAT & DRINK
Beezy’s Café Have you ever been to Roast & Toast in Petoskey? It’s an institution, part coffee shop, part deli, entirely “townie food.” That’s where Beezy cut her teeth before moving to Ann Arbor and working for the Zing folk. Now running her own place Beezy’s taken the best of both worlds, Roast & Toast Charm with a menu groomed by Zing. I’m genuinely jealous of a friend who works in downtown Ypsi as he get’s to make Beezy’s a regular lunchtime stop. As a marketer, I also respect Beezy’s use of ‘the Twitter. Bravo.
- Eat This: While the name Chicksilanti would make anyone want to order chicken salad, save it for the second visit and start with the Bacon Popper, Roasted jalapeno cream cheese, 4 strips of bacon, lettuce, tomato and sliced red onion on a toasted bagel. Epic.
Ugly Mug Café and Roastery Perhaps you’ve read my piece on coffee (click here to read). If not, understand that there’s a new breed of small batch roasters redefining quality and the fine folks at the Ugly Mug have been leading the movement since 2004. The café itself is a kitchy version of bohemia meets gas station. Proximity to campus adds an interesting mix of patrons to a space that would otherwise be over-run with hipsters if it were in say, Corktown.
- Extra credit points: Recently Ugly Mug’s been selling 40th Anniversary WCBN blend. Nicely done.
Corner Brewery Confessional time… I’ve never said it out lod, but I don’t enjoy the space at Arbor Brewing Company. The beer is wonderful, the people righteous, but that angular bar jetting into the entryway? Awkward. Corner Brewery is an entirely different beast. Where as ABC makes we want to drink and run, CB makes me want to set up camp and stay for the season. I won’t waste words on the beer other than to say they consistently win praise. The true charm of this place isn’t the beer but rather the space, which happens to incude the area’s best outdoor bier garden. If you’re looking for a meal understand that there’s no kitchen. No worries – CB encourages folks to deliver-in or BYOF.
UPDATE: I stand corrected - CB DOES in fact have a kitchen and limited menu. Go Gref Power!
Sidetracks / Frenchies If you follow Depot Town history you’d know that Side Tracks was one of the first businesses to brave Depot Town. The oldest part of town, it had become abandoned and overrun with bikers. Linda French opened in 1980. Ever since Linda and the staff have been building a reputation for great burgers, cold beer and salty language ever since (Old Town take note!). Speaking of burgers, have you heard the maxim, “Press builds Press?” In the case of Sidetracks their burgers have become such legend that soon kids will be telling stories about Paul Revere riding to Depot Town. Is the hype overboard? Probably. Good for Sidetracks.
- Also Noteworthy: The side patio rivals Corner Brewery for best outdoor beer spot in town.
The Wurst Bar Speaking of hype – perhaps you’ve read something about the WURST lately. Everyone within 50 miles has written about the second newest place in town…including this hack (click here). The Wurst Bar endeavors to being life back to the Eastern stretch of Cross Street No small feat.
Red Stone Rock BBQ The title of newest place in town officially goes to Red Stone Rock BBQ. And yes, A2GastroBoy has visited. Now understand, when the only competition is BW3 and HAABs, you don’t have to try that hard. That said, Red Stone shows true promise. See for yourself.
HAABs In my fantasy world, HAABs is like Knights Steakhouse. In reality it’s more like the Knights of Columbus. In either case, it’s older than you and I combined and had a AAA tour guide rating since the days when that meant something. If for no other reason than nostalgia, you need to visits HAABs at least once.
SEE & DO If you make the time to drive all the way to Ypsi you may as make the most of your time. Here’s a few gems worth seeking out.
The Water Tower (@ypsitower) OK – so everyone knows the tower. But did you know the tower has a twitter account? I follow 1,025 accounts on Twitter. This is one of my favorites. Enjoy.
Mix Marketplace Imagine Etsy in person. That’s Mix Market. Open two days a week just down from Beezy’s, it’s creating a reason for folks to stroll the streets.
UPDATE: Mix Market has ceased to operate. However - it's legacy is that Bona Serra, one of hte food purveyors, will open up a permaent cafe within the Mix Space. WIN.
Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum Honestly – how long have you sat at Sidetracks and wondered what that vintage car place across the tracks is all about? For me, seventeen years. This winter I finally went inside. They have a Tucker! How cool is that. For parents, you’ll win big points by taking the kidlets to see the Hudson Hornet, AKA Doc from the Pixar movie Cars. Yes – the REAL CAR! Cool, huh?
Woodruffs Here’s a little trivia I learned on Wikipedia…Woodruff was the name used when the city now known as Ypsilanti was originally platted. Interesting, right? It’s also the names given to Ypsi’s newer-est music venue – and its in Depot Town. Cool, huh? Yes.
Frog Island & Riverside Park Festivals The spring and summer are full of activity in the parks. It’s a great excuse to get out and visit Ypsi. There’s a high propensity to the automotive, a nod to Ypsi’s connection to Willow Run. Here’s a few of my favorite….Vintage Volkswagen Car Show, Elvis Fest, Michigan Summer Beer festival, Annual Orphan Car Show, Antique Truck Show.
What'd I miss? KNow something cool about Ypsi? Click comment below and say so.