BY STEVE ROBENAULT, Staff Writer
Not that long ago Detroit was considered a barren relic. The automotive juggernaut was a shell of its former self and its collapse buried most of what little jobs still remained. Even now as the city attempts to navigate out of bankruptcy many questions remain. However, in much the same way factory workers rose up during the forties and built the city into an urban metropolis, a new revolution of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues are doing their part to fuel the rebirth of the dirty D.
If the never-ending construction along Woodward Ave is enough to keep you away from downtown Detroit, consider Hop Cat the reason to bring you back. Located conveniently near the Wayne State district and across the street from the popular Garden Bowl and Majestic Theater, Hop Cat separates itself by blending an inviting atmosphere and personal intimacy that is often hard to accomplish. The U-shaped bar allows for more stools without taking away much floor space. Following this mixture formula, the decor features generally darker, natural colors and conventional patterns alongside exposed brick and mortar, a nod to the industrial roots of the motor city. Overall, each aspect of Hop Cat seems well planned but not over managed. Customers are seated conventionally but reservations are never accepted. There is also separate Wifi for customers and staff, a very thoughtful addition.
Perhaps the best feature though, is the attached Huma Room, the upstairs venue which offers an eclectic list of performers such as Pigeons Playing Ping Pong or J Roddy Walston & The Business. Bands like these usually play on Friday and Saturday nights. Sunday evenings are reserved for The Drunken Retort, an open mic event featuring performers from Grand Rapids, the birthplace of the original establishment. Every Wednesday more bands perform under the sponsorship of Grand Circus Media. Even the music piped in downstairs ranges from motown hits to groovy hip hop or a few upbeat electronic tunes.
As any hip bar knows Craft beer is the money maker these days and Hop Cat certainly goes beyond what many other places would consider sufficient. Their beer selection is a menu onto itself, literally. There are hundreds of choices in addition to 30 local favorites. The names are almost as unique as the beers themselves. There’s Zombie Killer, Vanderghinste Oud Bruin and the Belgian-style dark strong lager Grand Cruz.
If your mouth isn’t full pronouncing these drinks it definitely will be with food. The typical groups of appetizers, french fries, burgers, and sandwiches are listed; however, each entry is re-worked with varying ingredients and spices. For instance, the olive burger incorporates swiss and blue cheese with an olive spear (duh!) and topped with thousand island dressing.
Certainly the ingredients may seem like ordinary household kitchen finds but the beauty, like the rest of the restaurant, lies in its purposed pairings. There’s even a brunch menu. Hop Cat strives for originality, but creates an identity that simultaneously honors past traditions while offering contemporary changes to add spice. Even a few of the food descriptions provide a little laugh. As portraits of legendary figures like Bob Seger and Diana Ross smile on the patrons, the electricity of Detroit flows strongly through this new installment like a speeding Mustang.
The original Hop Cat opened in 2008 and since then has spread across the mitten to Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Detroit. Broad Ripple, Indiana and Madison, Wisconsin also boast establishments. For more information about any restaurant or to see a calendar of events go to hopcat.com. But until you actually sit down and order a Ghettoblaster and Crack Fires, Hop Cat’s true value will elude you like a back alley cat on Canfield Street.