Wednesday,BNovember 6 -' , The ' t:.._
- ME DRUNK
Inourminds,theplacewasshroudedin Three Olives-soaked
mystery, but we dove inwith open minds and mouths, ready for
whatever Ripk's could throw at us. The first things thrown -
well, handed - were two glasses filled to the brim with a thick
pink concoction known as a Mindprobe, the house drink. We'd
tell you what's in it, but no one really seems to know.
On our very first trip to the bar, we brought a whole crew
of Kerrytown-dwelling Rick's-virgins. Mindprobes in hand,
and leftover pasta we ate communally from a Tupperware, We
made our way to the sweaty and slippery dance floor. It prob-
ably wasn't a sight typical to the average Rick's night, but sur-
prises became a recurring theme during our Rick's expedition.
Unlike Madonna - who recalled the story of meeting Bray
in a 1984 interview with Rolling Stone, saying "those were
good days" - we didn't find love. But we did discover an entire
subculture built around the famed bar, a subculture that has
persisted through decades of changes.
INTO T HE G ROOV E
Love it or hate it, through the years, Rick's has become
one of the most talked about fixtures of campus nightlife. In
August, it was named one of the top-25 college bars in the
country by The Daily Meal. It's the only club in Ann Arbor
that's ever had a (now-defunct) website devoted to its line.
N A In both 2008 and 2011, The Michigan Review, a conservative
IT publication, deemed it the "worst bar in Ann Arbor," saying
"You might have taken home a good hook-up a few times, but
E you probably also took home a nasty case of Syphilis, as well."
Our first mystery to solve about the bar: Rick. Is there a
EDTR Rick?Who is he?
Chris Hesse, general manager of Rick's, laughed when we
asked if he had ever met Rick.
"There really is no 'The Rick,' "he said, leaning back in his
chair in the office tucked away just to the left of the steps that
lead down from Church Street into the dark world of Rick's.
We spoke with Hesse the day after Halloween, one of the
busiestnight's for the bar. It was 11 a.m. on a Friday, andthe bar
that had -justnine hoursbefore - held hundreds of inebriated
cats, zombies, vamps and Mileys was now occupied by employ-
ees wielding mops, cleaning up the sticky mess of glitter and
spilled drinks leftover fromthe night's celebrations. The silence
and (slightly) brighter lighting were bizarrely jarring: This was
Rick's during daylight, our glimpse behind the curtain.
Hesse told us that the man often confused as the original
G "Rick" was Rick Novak, a manager and partner of the bar in
the '80s. But it wasn't Novak who gave the bar its name.
tudent on a four-year Rich Johnson and Steve Crawley originally opened
versity wandered into Rick's, and based it on their favorite place to go out in Colo-
called the Blue Frog- rado, also called Rick's American Cafe. After opening up in
ountered an attractive Ann Arbor, Johnson and Crawley expanded, establishing a
a local band and, like Rick's East Lansing.
Named after "Rick's Cafe Amdricain" - the swanky night-
two spent the evening club and gamblingden from the 1942 classic film "Casablanca"
. Even though he was - Johnson and Crawley transformed the Blue Frogge into the
d. bar and dance club it is now in 1979.
Back then, it wasn't a given that the dark, crowded base-
ucer Steve Bray, who mentwouldbe,well,so damncrowded. On Dec. 3,1978, Michi-
five semesters in Ann gan raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 19 - and just 18
throughout her musi- days later, raised it to 21.
it 611 Church, the Blue In the years following the law's passage, many hoped that
Arbor establishment: the new age limit wouldn't be enforced. More thought it would
be pointless to enforce. "It's an impossible situation," Michi-
)ve, but searching for ganState University President Edgar Harden said in 1978, after
arity and longevity of the legal age change was passed. "I don't see how you can have
ite this story, we had students drinking legally at18, and the next day say it's illegal."
never descended the But as drinking ages rose across the country, eventually
basement that doubles culminating in the federal Drinking Age Act of 1984, crack-
downs on underage drinking hit Ann Arbor - and they hit
hard. According to the 1982 edition of the Michiganensian,
bartenders and managers alike were shocked not only.by the
fines bartenders could incur by serving the now-minors, but
also the new tactics employed to ensure Freshman Drinker.2.0
couldn't sneak a beer in local bars.
"One of the latest tactics for catching these lawbreakers is to
send in burly, balding 19 /2 year-olds into bars to get served,"
the Michiganensian reporter wrote, "and report the bartender
to authorities who are planted at the bar."
"It really is a sad situation," one Rick's manager told the
same Michiganensian reporter. "Since the enforcement of the
drinking age, our bars are only half full."
Campus staples like Charley's, which opened its doors in
1979, old-timer The Brown Jug, established in 1936, and Rick's
endured the end of (legally) liquored-up minors. Hesse said
he isn't surprised by the initial hit Rick's'took after the legal
drinking age changed.
He said current age restrictions on Rick's actually work to
its advantage. The new 21-and-over policy helped establish the
reputation of Rick's as a hangout spot for older students.
"I think one of the reasons Rick's has sustained so well ...
-is that this has kind of been known as the senior bar," he said.
"It's where the 21 and overs hang out. We like to think it's the
hardest bar to get into on campus."
Not that the bar's zero-tolerance policy stops under-
classmen from trying.
"People get crazy trying to get in," said LSA sophomore Jor-
dan Roth, who bounces at Rick's. "Girls have offered me num-
bers. Guys try to give me an extra $20."
Roth said the pressure can be tempting, "but if that per-
son gets drunk, then whoever was checking IDs is in big
trouble. It's not worth it,"
But for better or for worse, keeping Rick's minor-free has
built up its reputation asan exclusively upperclassmen bar.
"Senior year, everyone was very drunk and emotional all
the time," Recent alum Proma Kholsa said. "And there's no
place better than Rick's for that sort of business."
"You say to yourself, 'It's gonna be dark, sweaty and crowd-
ed. And maybe there will be a stranger creeping on me.' You
know it's gonna happen, and you're fine with it."
Hesse said he believes that regular customers know what
they're getting when they cometo Rick's and that the bar never
tries to be anything it's not. That understanding of the atmo-
sphere and low-key look of Rick's contributes to its endurance.
"People know what Rick's is," Hesse said. "We know we're
not a big fancy Chicago, Vegas, New York-style club, and we
don't try to be ... I mean, if you look around, it's a dingy, dark
basement bar. People make of it what they make of it."
Age restrictions aren't the only major changes Rick's has
undergone through the decades. Shortly after Rick's first
opened, it became known for its live music. The stage that's
now recognized for uncoordinated bumping-and-grinding-
and-falling once hosted performers like Matt "Guitar" Mur-
phy, a - you guessed it - guitarist in the Blues Brothers, who
played Aretha Franklin's husband in the movie of the same
name, hit Rick's several times in the early '80s. The Pixies
played there in 1988. So did Primus - a.k.a. the guys who do
the "South Park" theme.
University alum Karen Carlson frequented Rick's in the
"People would go to Rick's for the bigger night outs," she
said. "If you were really wanting to go out for a big night, not
necessarily a dressy night, but just a nice, long night of hanging
quut with your friends and having drinks and stuff, Rick's was
always on the to-do list."
LIK E A (RICS
ne night in 1976i, a young at
dance scholarship at the Uni
a popular local bar and disco
ge with her friends. She encc
and charismatic waiter, a drummer in
her, an aspiring artist -
She asked him to buylher a drink. The1
talking about their shared love for music
four years older than her, they connectec
That student was Madonna.
The waiter was songwriter and prod
Madonna dated on and off during her f
Arbor and continued to collaborate with
cal career. The place they met? Located a
.Frogge eventually became an iconic Ann
Rick's American Cafe.
We went to Rick's, not looking for l
an explanation for the staggering popuL
the famed roar. Before setting out to wr
never walked through its double doors,
oft-packed stairs that lead into the hazyl
as one ofthe city's most popular bars.
COVER AND INSIDE PHOTOS BY TODD NEEDLE PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALICIA KOVALCHECK