Detroit’s drink has 20 years on Coca-Cola and is old enough to be the grandparent of Faygo, Detroit's other drink. And despite its moniker, the Boston Cooler was dreamed up right here by James Vernor, a pharmacist, politician, and soda maker who (legend has it) left some ginger ale in a barrel while he went off to fight in the Civil War and returned to find a “deliciously different” drink. While some historians doubt the story’s accuracy, we do know that Vernor was selling his crisp concoction by 1866, marking this year as the 150th anniversary of Vernors.
Starting June 5th, the entire city will be celebrating Vernors Week, but there are some bars and restaurants taking the holiday in stride, mixing Vernors-inspired cocktails (though you can get most of them the rest of the year, too). Here's where to find them around Detroit.
Rather than simply chucking any old ginger ale into the mix for the Higby Double Barrel, The Emory decided to go with a Vernors reduction to add a sweet but concentrated kick. Paired with Ferndale-made Valentine Liberator Old Tom gin and finished with sweet vermouth and orange bitters, the titular "double barrel" is a strong start to your cocktail adventures.
Speaking of Valentine, its tasting room serves up the Detroit Cooler. It’s a frothy blend of the award-winning vodka shaken with brown sugar, cream, and Vernors. Since it’s served in a martini glass and topped with a dark chocolate Olde English “D,” you’ll feel extra Detroit affinity while drinking it.
Yeah, we're telling you to order a specialty cocktail at a dive, and listen up: honoring James Vernor’s roots, one of Detroit’s oldest bars mixes up the The Woodward Pharmacist, which will be on special this week only. Usually $9, you’ll get $1.50 off the drink to celebrate Vernors’ 150th anniversary. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire whiskey and Vernors pack a one-two punch, mellowed out by a splash of vanilla vodka.
Hey Vern! is sheer brilliance, and further proof that Mudgie’s new bar program will bring nothing but great things. Vernors Week also coincides with the worldwide Negroni Week, so the bartenders at Mudgie’s put together what is essentially a frozen Negroni with Vernors in it. A Negroni/Vernors slushie. Sign us up.
Belying the whole “gingers have no soul” idea, the Tennessee Ginger marries the bold oakiness of George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee whisky with a homemade green tea simple syrup and St. Germain elderflower liqueur, then tops it off with Vernors for a buttery finish. The sweeter notes in the mixers really bring out the vanilla finish in the Dickel.
And now for something completely different: styled after the historic Ramos Gin Fizz, the Keep Whiskey Fizz starts with Maker's Mark whisky, then shakes it up with rose water, egg whites, and sundry liqueurs and syrups and lemon juice and Vernors and wow, that’s a lot of ingredients. But! You know you’ve got a legit Fizz when the straw stands up by itself. Another great one for those warmer days, this drink is creamy, smooth, and ever-so-slightly tart.
Like your drinks to fight back a bit? Try the Michigan Mule, a potent combination of cinnamon whiskey, lemon juice, and Vernors. It’s a fun take on the boring old Moscow Mule, and it's the bar's top seller, especially in the summer heat. Why not get some fish tacos while you're there too?
If shots are more your style, Detroit’s oldest bar has you covered. It has a shot special called The Flu Shot, inspired by every Polish grandmother’s flu remedy: take one shot of cold Jezynowka and chase it with some warm, flat Vernors. In case you don’t have a Polish grandmother to educate you, Jezy is a sticky-sweet blackberry brandy that can be found in every good Polish bar.
What is it about flavored liquor and Vernors that goes so well together? Whatever the science, Hamtramck’s storied dive bar features the Campau Cooler, a drink made with Pinnacle whipped cream-flavored vodka, a wee bit of Malibu coconut rum, and Detroit’s favorite ginger ale.
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1. The Emory22700 Woodward Ave, Ferndale
2. Valentine Distilling Co.161 Vester Ave, Ferndale
3. Abick's3500 Gilbert St, Detroit
4. Mudgie's1300 Porter, Detroit
5. The Whisky Parlor608 Woodward Ave , Detroit
6. The Keep140 Cadillac Square, Detroit
7. The Huron Room2547 Bagley St, Detroit
8. Two Way Inn17897 Mount Elliott St, Detroit
9. Painted Lady Lounge2930 Jacob St, Hamtramck
This au naturel American eatery dishes out locally sourced eats like ginger salads, beef slides, and key lime pie. The space is decked out in smooth reclaimed wood, and speckled with wraparound booths throughout. In the evenings, the bar transforms into a singles hub who come for the burgers, and stay for the craft beer.
In a tip of the hat to the bootleggers of the Prohibition Era, Valentine's Distillery uses old world techniques to hand-distill vodkas from a house-made blend of grains. You can tour the place or skip straight to the fun stuff and book a tasting.
The longtime owner of Abick’s passed away in 2014, after a long stint living above the bar her parents opened in 1919, but the place still has the near-century-old familial charm it always has: original tin ceilings, a old-time brass cashier, walls filled with old family photos. A cigar lounge, all smoke and scotch, lives in the back of the dive, for puffing pleasure. You can find a reliable platoon of regulars shooting pool under the bar’s green-tinted lamps, but that doesn’t mean the atmosphere is exclusive to the old guard: the wave of young people moving into the neighborhood have adopted this anachronistic standby as their new favorite, too.
This artisanal deli is a source of pride for Detroit natives, and it should be: nearly all the meats are roasted in-house and everything from soups, salad dressings, and ketchup is made from scratch. What isn't homemade is sourced from local vendors, and the result is hearty sandwiches like a Reuben on onion bread and the multi-meat Gutty packed with salami, pastrami, corned beef, bacon, and beef brisket. A formidable selection of craft beer, including local and imported bottles, makes Mudgie's a veritable Corktown hot spot for locals on the lunch prowl.
Located above the more baroque Grand Trunk Club, the Whisky Parlor is finished in cozier dimensions, with a carpeted floor and tableclothed tables that illuminate under candle lights. Guests here can choose from over 100 whiskeys, while sinking into a relaxed night backdropped by live jazz music.
This spot’s laid-back speakeasy vibe is served with crafty mixed beverages and plenty of dudes with well-groomed facial hair from the hip barbershop above. And though the bar is subterranean, it's got an outdoor patio where you can relax in the summer months with one of their draft cocktails or beers in hand.
This seafood restaurant resides in the beating heart of the Great Lakes state, serving up local fish and sea fare in the form of hush puppies, gefilte fish sticks, fish & chips, and brews to pair. You can dine along the bar, or besides a nautical mural and on bright blue chairs that add a pop of color to the classic, iron- and wood-clad room.
The Two Way Inn, established in 1876 by Colonel Philetus Norris, is the oldest bar in Detroit having gone through many reincarnations as village jail and general store, brothel, speakeasy, and now as a “fine dive.” You wont find a menu here, but owner and bartender Mary will host a weekly “popup” or two with homemade comfort foods like pasta, meatloaf, and shepherd’s pie. The first Sunday of every cold-season month Danielle hosts a brunch where she makes drinks from her homemade stash of vegetable infused alcohol. You have to be buzzed in for a bottle of domestic, international, or local craft beer, or to catch a glimpse of Col. Norris who is rumored to have never left this dark, weathered, underground-style bar.
Hamtramck’s Painted Lady lounge (rumored to be Detroit’s oldest) could use a paint job, sure, with turquoise and coral pink chips falling off of the wood-sided facade of a former Victorian-style home, but fixing that would betray the standby’s unpretentious, rough-and-tumble charm. Regulars gulp PBR on-tap after downing well shots as regular punk music acts keep them nodding their heads in the fashionably unfashionable orange-walled space. Weekly events, from movie nights to live comedy to bar-side taco nights keep the place full.