Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Has it really been 10 years?

It's been a good 10 years.

Leopold Brothers Brewery and Distillery closed after a rousing last night on Saturday. Nomo rocked the house for "Last Call at Leopold's." They're pulling up stakes, giving up brewing, and moving to Denver as a distillery. But it won't be the gathering place there that it was here.

I met Scott and Todd in 1998, shortly before they opened. I was biking past, and stopped in, to welcome them to Ann Arbor (Colorado transplants that they were), and to see what they were putting in to the old auto parts store. It was to be a German-style beerhall, with an organic, low-waste brewery and hydroponic greenhouse (using water from the brewery.) The bar and tables were even built from reclaimed wood. They got two out of three -- the greenhouse never came to fruition. But the brewery used a fraction of the water per batch of most breweries, and the ingredients were always organic.

AntlerierThere was always something special, to me, about that space. It was large, noisy, and dim. It was often smoky. But it was also somehow cozy and welcoming. The long tables encouraged conversation, while a secluded nook with couches was great for curling up with a good book and a beer.

I think it was the people who put the finishing touch on it, for me. I was always welcomed with a smile, and often by name. Even when the place was hopping, the service was friendly, never snappish. It was a place you could spend 10 minutes or several hours. It holds many memories.

Election night, 2000. Greens and Republicans shared the space. Instead of sports, the TVs were all tuned to the election returns. Some of us cheered as Florida went for Gore. Then moaned as it went back to "undecided." I left before it was over (as it wasn't over for a long time, that year.)

One night, before they had to stop putting on live shows because of the neighbors' complaints, I watched and listened to a local "punk" band. The singer was young and skinny with no shirt (emulating an earlier Ann Arbor punker perhaps?) As I watched him get caught up in the music, watched it jerk him around with his limbs flailing in rhythm, I wondered "could that be my son in a few years?"

A Michigan-Notre Dame game. It was a sunny fall day. The crowd kept getting thicker, as Notre Dame fans, unable to score a ticket, walked up Main St and into the first bar they found. Eventually, the door was closed. That big room was full, at capacity.

The marriage of friends on a Saturday morning. The large hall temporarily turned into a wedding chapel. Later, music by iPod and dancing on the concrete floor. Lunch at the beerhall tables, with old friends and new.

Another football game -- Michigan & Ohio State. I was sitting at the bar between a Michigan fan from Cleveland and an Ohio State fan from Columbus. I bet the Ohio fan a beer at half time. I lost, as did our team. But in the end, that didn't matter to me; the time spent making new, temporary friends did matter. We'll probably never run into each other again, but for those few hours, we were a community.

What else do I look back on? An evening with a book and a beer. TGIF with friends from work -- brews and pizza, games and conversation. Late night, sharing a beer with the bartender, now off work. Scrolling through the best jukebox selection in town, trying to pick out just seven songs. Sitting in the beer garden with a cool wheat beer.

Scott was the "front of the house" man; Todd was the brewer. German-trained, he started out making unfiltered lagers, giving them names like "Red", "Black", and "Landbier". He refused to be pinned down to our beer-geekish stylistic preconceptions. It was from Todd that I learned to enjoy the fresh, sulfury taste of a newly brewed lager beer. At first I would say "I'll come back in a couple weeks, when this has mellowed." But later, I relished it; looked for the extra edge it gave to the malt and hop combination.

The place wasn't perfect; the beer wasn't always the best; the smoke drove me nuts, and kept me away sometimes. But I'm going to miss them. Nowhere else in town does it quite the same.


James said...

I was forwarded your blog by a friend (Spencer). I think you put into words many of the same feelings I have of the place as well as the people. Todd and Scott I truly wish you the best. I wish I could have been there for the final farewell but we are currently hunting good beer in the Carolinas. Todd I will always cherish our many discussions over a pint. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I wish I could have those happy memories. Jeff and I went to Leopolds a few years ago and loved it, but the beer quality really did decline. At one point, I had sent back pints on 7 consecutive visits. That's when we started drinking elsewhere.
Having said that, I applaud their environmental efforts and willingness to host many political and social events. Also, Jeff is gonna miss one of the female bartenders, on whom he had a mad crush