Sunday, January 28, 2007

Flaming Cheese

The past few weeks we've been hearing more and more about Esko Lounge (Downtown)- the newest, upscale nightlife spot in Metro Detroit. Saturday night, with a little guestlist help from DJ Tom T, one of us was finally able to make the stop. Here we go with the full-on review...

Esko Lounge is another typical, trendy club in downtown Detroit. If you've been to Elysium Lounge (Downtown) or Plan B (Downtown), you should know what to expect. If you haven't, well, you should try it. Despite what is going to be a generally negative review of the club, we want to encourage all our readers to get out and experience everything this city has to offer.
Getting to Esko Lounge is pretty easy. It's a short distance away from the Woodward Ave roundabout, just down Michigan Ave. The biggest drawback to its location is there isn't much else around. Without any safe curbside parking nearby, you're forced into picking between a $10 lot and a $10 valet; factor in cover at the door, and it can make for a costly night. On a side note, coat check was only $2 or $3 and not mandatory.

When I dropped in just before 11p there didn't seem to be a line. As with most clubs, things get busy around 12/1230, so I'm expecting that lines probably started forming outside of Esko just before midnight. But even when I arrived, the valet guys were already scrambling around without any visible order. I'll come back to that ordeal later.

Inside Moves
I really enjoyed the layout at Esko. A giant bar fills the majority of the space, while the reserved couches+tables are roped off out of the way. Be careful when walking up to the bar, especially if you've got heels, because there's a small wood trim on the ground that's easy to trip over. The DJ booth sits up on high in the back corner, overlooking a decent sized dance floor. The walls were decked out in custom-painted MIO Flow wallpaper tiles, and the place is fairly well lit. Unfortunately, someone decided it would also be cool to put up a giant screen and project a really lame video of people dancing. Later in the night the video was killed and the screen sat empty. I'm not against using video in a club, but bring in a real VJ. Otherwise, put up more wall tiles.

By 1230a, things started to heat up. Literally. It got so busy that it wasn't only difficult to move, but it was getting tremendously hot. Guys and drunk girls were stumbling and bumping into everyone, forcing more than one drink to spill on the woman next to me. Esko Lounge should substantially decrease their capacity.

Black is Back?
Everyone I saw Saturday night was dressed fairly well. The problem was most guys looked identical. The number of black sport coats on guys was overwhelming, as was the amount of gel in their hair. We all know you can't really go wrong with a nice jacket, but if you know everybody is going to be rockin' the Express blazer, why not go for something different? Considering I had no problem getting in with mashed up jeans and a short shirt, I'm fairy certain Esko's dress code policy is pretty much wide open. If you're a guy, wear something else. And no, that doesn't mean you can wear your favorite striped button up shirt.

If you're a woman, find some color in your wardrobe if you have any desire to stand out. By far and away the most appealing of the opposite sex where those in whites and/or color. Save the little black dress for when you have a date and aren't with a dozen friends or going out to be seen. Avoid tank tops with jeans, unless you're a celebrity.

The crowd fits the same general bill as the other clubs I mentioned earlier; guys from their mid-20s to mid-30s, women from 21 to 35. Most guests fell into one or two ethnic categories, with blacks and whites in the minority. I really hope this changes. Metro Detroit is cluster fuck of races and nationalities, and it would be a pleasure to see a more diverse crowd. Although, part of the general lack of diversity could be attributed to the fact roughly SIX birthday parties were happening Saturday night. Thanks god I didn't see flyers advertising this, like I have so many times before. On the plus side of things, there wasn't as much smoking as I had expected. All of us at Exclusive Detroit hope the trend continues and that ash trays get tossed into VIP rooms or thrown outside.

Put Your Hands Down
The music at Esko was great in the beginning, but as the crowd picks up, it inevitably turns to the standard dance tracks and playlists found everywhere else. It would be nice to hear some of the newer tracks coming out Ministry of Sound+Hed Kandi, and even some older Data Records releases that have yet to be played here. Detroit needs to stop waiting for tracks to hit, and start making them hit. Being able to read the crowd and play to them is fine- but if the crowd isn't informed, the music will never make any progress. DJs should stop listening to what the crowd wants, and take a chance in giving them what they need. There are too many great tracks to hear the same ones over and over again every weekend. If I have to wait for a Hed Kandi DJ to come to town just to hear some of these songs, something is very wrong with this city and Fedde Le Grand might want to reconsider the lyrics of his latest offering.

Up until 1ish the night was going well. Ignoring all the typical problems that plague every club in Detroit (because most clubs are identical), I was having a great time and more than pleased I got off my ass to make the drive. But then some guys stood up on the bar. Dancing? No- because that would have been fine. They were blowing fire or whatever you want to call it. They weren't flipping around bottles on fire, or playing catch with them. They weren't even dressed up. To anyone in the crowd who was amazed, I'd recommend you stay away from Zack's Restaurant in Plymouth. Because if you're thrilled by someone spitting a little bit of paraffin onto a flame, you're going to have a heart attack when someone places an order of Saganaki. OPA!!!

Left in the Cold
When I jumped out to leave, I was standing with 10 other people; six of whom were waiting for a valet, and 4 of whom were begging for change. Cars and SUVs were everywhere, but no valet in sight. I don't mind the homeless really. They've saved parking spots for me, watched my car, and cleaned my windshield with dirty water. But if you're the owner of Esko Lounge, you can't allow them to be standing outside your doors- especially if your valet crew is going to be so damn slow. By the time I finally got my car back, half of my CDs were under my feet. Apparently their valet drivers like to accelerate fast and stop on a dime... because that's the only way my CDs could have slid from my console.

Esko Lounge, for all it's problems, shows a great deal of potential. I can't comment too much on the bar staff since I ordered only two drinks... (but, they did seem kind of slow and unorganized). If the parking/valet situation was better, the crowd was a little less dense, and the music had a wider variety of sounds, Esko Lounge might just be the premier venue in Detroit.

ps. If you're wondering why it's called "Esko," I can't tell you. When I looked up the word on wikipedia, all I found was this.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

All Mixxed Up

Tonight we tried to make the rounds in Novi. We haven't gone out in the area for a long while, and thought it was time for a check up. To our dismay, it was quite the disappointment. Our stops included Luckys, Mixx Lounge, and O'Tooles. Enjoyment was only found a few hours earlier in the evening while snowboarding at Mt. Brighton. The rundown follows. We strongly suggest you take a quick moment to read.

Lucky's hasn't really changed since it opened. The food is still good, the drinks are a little over-priced, the men's bathroom now has a restroom attendant, and they've swapped the placement of the Skee Ball and Basketball games. But what does that really matter? If you can manage to find a booth or a spot at the bar, you'll most definitely get decent service. We've never really had anything bad from the menu either, so we're fairly confident Lucky's is more than capable of satisfying whatever cravings you may be experiencing. If you're into premium vodka, be prepared for $8 drinks and $7 shots. Had I realized I was paying such a high premium at a video game bar, I think I could have settled for a "normal" vodka+tonic or classic coke with rum. Then again, had I known about Lucky's new policy for designated drivers that gives them free coke and/or coffee all night, maybe that's the route I'd have taken.

Those who go to Lucky's pretty much fall into one of two categories; typical, attractive female and typical, attractive male. For the most part, women visiting Lucky's seem to look a little too good. And for the most part, men visiting Lucky's are the typical Bugle Boy model from the late 80s/early 90s. Everyone wears jeans; women front form fighting styles, while guys prefer the look of Lee or Dungaree. Men seem to like wearing button up shirts and polos. Women enjoy the standard short sleeve top that extends down to their hips. We've thought long and hard about why so many good looking women come to Lucky's, but we're stumped. Not only do you have to park far away and walk through what appears to be an abandoned amusement park, but you're going to the same place a 9yr old just had their birthday party. But, to each their own.

In the past we've always given Mixx Lounge a fairly positive review. Consider their streak broken. Driving up, we noticed a valet company has once again taken over the public parking. This should have been our clue that something changed. The new standing rule is a $5 cover for guys after 10p. Over the past few weeks, lines have been starting to form on Fri+Sat nights and this is their attempt to help curb that behavior. It's a dumb rule.

There aren't many options in the Main Street area in Novi on the weekends. The Post Bar charges $3. Gus O'Connors is free (or at least used to be). Dirty Martini wants you to think it's a high class place and takes $10. Fifth Avenue is usually $5 to get upstairs. If Mixx thinks a $5 cover is going to deter people, it won't. It's not high enough to *really* force someone to go somewhere else.

If Mixx wanted to stop lines from forming, they would have looked at why they're forming and addressed the root of the problem. In the bathroom, a guy was complaining he had to pay $5 for a remodeled version of the Post Bar. And in the middle of a crowd, two women who don't often come to Novi, didn't understand why a girl in a Piston's jersey was let inside. In a sense, these fall in line with our previous criticisms of the bar. The guy in the bathroom was right, as were the only two women in the bar who knew how to dress. Why come to Mixx Lounge if it's exactly like the Post Bar, but with a nicer decor? It was good to see that Mixx turned off the big screen televisions behind the bar, and we thought it was cool to have Fuel TV on around the pool table. But come on- if you let in anyone and everyone, turn the back corner into a dance floor, and pump out Top 40, without a doubt you're inviting the largest demographic of the bar scene. It's only a matter of time before there is a line.

Instead, why not change the music selection, hide the DJ, put the couches back where they used to be, and either charge a $7 cover or slightly raise the price of drinks? As an added bonus, this will also prevent things like guys in candy cane striped shirts dancing by themselves, pairs of women getting swamped by guys who work at Quicken Loans, and I'll finally be able to walk around without having a crowd of people spill half of my martini.

By the end of our first drink, we took off for O'Tooles. This was also a mistake. O'Tooles used to be a dingy place to go with cheap drinks, good service, an attractive wait staff, and a lot of people. We walked in, saw an empty bar, and turned right around.

Sweet Dreams.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Furniture Shopping is More Fun than Nu Pampas

Week after week mySpace is filled with flyers in bulletins and comments promoting the more the popular, mainstream events. But sometimes you have to look deeper, and outside of mySpace, to find out what's really happening in Metro Detroit. Last Friday, italmoda in Birmingham hosted an unexpectedly amazing party featuring the artwork of Camilo Pardo. An unexpectedly disastrous after-party at Nu Pampas (Birmingham) started shortly thereafter.

italmoda is supplier of high-end furniture and also offers interior design services. If you've been to iLounge (Pontiac), or any major party the past few months, there's a good chance you've seen their work. As far as I know they've never actually hosted a party in their showroom, and for good reason- it's not a place to mingle, as it is packed with furniture and doesn't offer a great amount of mobility. However, it seems they removed truckloads of inventory in preparation for the event and brought in Crave Lounge (Dearborn) to do their catering. This, in combination with a collection of Pardo screen prints decorating the walls, proved to be a perfect setting for the perfect Friday night warm up.

I'm not sure who actually organized and planned this event, but current promoters would do well to take a careful look at the details . Since parking is extremely limited in the area, it was nice to see valet in full swing. Something tells me it wasn't complimentary, but I can't say for sure. Walking in around 830p, I was immediately hit with the level of sophistication shown by the guests. Everyone was in good spirits, partially due to the endless supply of wine+champagne, and despite the full house, breathing room was more than sufficient. Music was only a side note to the event, filling in the gaps between pauses in conversation. Appetites were satisfied by attractive waitresses with tray-fulls of assorted sushi, while cheese+fruit platters were available in the back. And visuals came not only in the form of artwork and designer furniture, but also in the flesh. Plenty of models made their rounds throughout the night, done up in Pardo-inspired racing gear.

The after-party to all of this was scheduled to take place at Nu Pampas- the Brazilian steakhouse-turned-lounge. We last visited Nu Pampas the night before the Thanksgiving. We were disappointed then, and we're deeply disappointed now. Scheduled to take place immediately after the pre-party wrapped, the draw to Nu Pampas may have been affected by the late finish at italmoda. However, with a $40 cover charge (a portion of which went to "Kids Kicking Cancer"), it's not hard to believe no one planned on attending. Pre-sale tickets for the event went for $20.

When we arrived at Nu Pampas, it was already almost midnight and the place was empty. The music was loud and the lights were moving, but no one inside was. Of the dozen or so tables set aside for guests, maybe 3 or 4 were occupied. Couches in the back held additional patrons, but it didn't help the atmosphere. Whereas the party at italmoda was a sociable, entertaining event, Nu Pampas was more of an anti-social retreat for groups of friends and coworkers. At one point, we counted more employees than we did guests. The dance floor was partially used by the Pardo models for roughly ten minutes, after which they made their way to the back of the room. There were complimentary appetizers that some (not I) seemed to enjoy, but stories of people getting sick later in the night have been talked about in corners. By 1230a, I shifted over to Sky Bar (Royal Oak) and danced to Top 40, early Madonna and Michael Jackson, and even a little old-school gangster rap. We'll save the Sky Bar review for a later time. But yes. We did enjoy it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Thursday Night Delight

It is possible to go out on the town, not get totally wasted, come home at a decent hour, and still manage to have a good time. We did it on Thursday, and we'll do it again. Starting the night off at Mosaic (Downtown), and switching over to Buzz Bar (Downtown) offered a bit of variety that we think many people overlook. We had our fair share of problems in the night, but we weren't going to let that stop us from enjoying the last remaining hours in the day.

Mosaic is a restaurant/bar in the heart of Greektown. While it's primarily a restaurant, there is a bar which seats a more than a handful of guests. What started off as a party of 2, shortly thereafter became a party of 3, and later a party of 5. And so despite more than enough people sitting around the bar, we were surprised to find seating that accomodated our growing demand. The nice thing about going to Mosaic for drinks is that you always have the option of taking advantage of the restaurant's menu. We're not recommending that you sit at the bar and have dinner; do that at a table. But if you find yourself drinking a bit too much or feel the need for something with chocolate, ask for a menu and keep your eyes on the appetizer and dessert sections.

For those that don't venture out into Detroit that often, we recommend you put Mosaic near the top of your list. Why? Because while it isn't anything special, it will demonstrate that Detroit does not fit the stereotypical image you've been holding onto for all these years. People will be dressed up. Conversations will be lively. And all ages and ethnicities will be represented. You'll walk in and realize that Detroit does indeed have a pulse. You may be upset with the fairly high food+drink prices, but you'll most definitely be carrying a smile on your way out the door.

The next stop was Buzz Bar, which turned out to be quite a bit different experience than our previous visit. This time around the DJ's music in the main bar was way too loud. We still managed to find seating pretty much immediately, and also had a waitress who was fast to assist us. The crowd was a typical Detroit mix, with no one particular group acting as majority. As we said before, it's very much like bars found on the lower east side of New York. Everything about it screams cool, except for the fact American Express and Discover are not welcome. In the end, we only stayed for a drink. But that was plenty. Remember, it's okay to be mature.

Not many people make it a point to go out very far on Thursday nights. They go to places that are safe bets and/or close by. We recommend you take it upon yourself to try a Thursday night in downtown Detroit. Go out of your way. Jump around between bars and just enjoy the social aspect of things. This nice thing about Mosaic and other places in or near Greektown, is that you can park in the Greektown Casino parking structure for free- just make sure that when you walk into the casino to validate your parking, you do so in a discrete manner.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Not-So-New Year's Eve

Everyone loves New Year's Eve. We all get a kick out of losing our inhibitions. We all savor the combination champagne and New Year's Eve kisses. But as is the case with miscellaneous holiday parties, it's unfortunate that club owners and promoters take advantage of us during such an enjoyable time. Looking through the list of New Year's Eve events was quite painful this year. And we're sorry to say that we failed to attend the one event which actually caught our attention. Let's take a look back at the last happenings of last year, and see what all the fuss was about.

We're still not entirely sure why such large covers are in place on Dec 31st. Surely, it cant be the added cost of cheap champagne in plastic champagne glasses. It also can't be due to the DJs or entertainment, considering the same talent is found at the clubs on a weekly basis. Maybe it's the added cost of advertising? No. The same places buy the same amount of ad space week after week. In fact, around the holidays promoters get plenty of additional sponsorship dollars that they don't see during the year. This leaves us with one last potential expense, which apparently is being passed off to the public- food.

Mon Jin Lau and Mosaic are the two names that come to mind when I think of the various restaurants I saw posted on flyers. They're both very fine places, and serve fairly good food. But $40 for an assortment of finger food that has been sitting out all night under a bunch of bumbling drunk people? I don't think so. We think a private booth with a waitress who brings us our favorite selections from a thinned out menu is a bit more appropriate. Sadly, I don't think that scenario happened anywhere on New Year's Eve in Detroit.

While it's been over a week since our last post, we aren't accepting any fault in the matter. Our shock and widespread disappointment with promoters in the area has had us out of commission for some time. Perhaps had we attended the "Detroit Legends of Electronic Music" at The Max (Downtown), we wouldn't have been in such a sad state. While we can't comment on the event's success or failure, we do think that ringing in the new year with Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, and Carl Craig is worth $60. At least we know we would be paying for the talent.