Empire Kitchen and Cocktails: Detroit
3148 Woodward Avenue at Erskine St, Midtown, Detroit MI
By Erin Hildebrandt, Guest Writer
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.
Erin Hildebrandt is a Michigan native, a newlywed, and recently relocated to the Metro-Detroit area after living in New York for 3.5 years. She currently works for Audi and is also an actor. Her next show coming up in March is “The House” at The Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale. www.erinhildebrandt.com