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Posted on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

'Mash' whiskey and beer bar to open tonight in downtown Ann Arbor

By Lizzy Alfs

Salsa nights and mojitos are being replaced with live music and whiskey as downtown Ann Arbor’s Cafe Habana Cellar Lounge transitions into a new concept this week.


A rendering of the new sign planned for mash.

Photo from mash Facebook page

The lounge, located in the basement of Blue Tractor at 207 E. Washington St., is being renamed ‘mash’ — a "bourbon, whiskey and beer bar," according to its Facebook page.

In an interview with, Cafe Habana and Blue Tractor owner Jon Carlson said mash will carry beer made in-house, along with whiskey and bourbon from distillers around the country. There will also be a “great wine list” and a full bar, he said.

“We’re going to have a huge selection,” Carlson said. “We’ll also travel down to Kentucky and other parts to get special single-batch versions of whiskey. There will be an evolving, revolving menu of different rare bourbons.”

He added: “We wanted to have inspired new cocktails based upon the most American of spirits. I think people will be surprised; some of the drinks we’ll be making are so refreshing with fresh fruit and our infused ice cubes and some herbs.”


A sign on the former Parthenon Restaurant building announces the new Lena/Cafe Habana.

Lizzy Alfs |

The space underwent a complete remodel in the past two weeks in preparation for the grand opening party tonight at 6 p.m. Local musician Laith Al-Saadi plans to perform at 9 p.m.

“We have vintage wallpaper, (Thomas) Edison light bulbs throughout, and we had an amazing retro gas fireplace installed,” he said. “The feel of the space is maybe 1910, 1920s.”

The Laith Al-Saadi Trio will then have regular performances on Thursday nights and Michigan musician Jetty Rae will also perform occasionally, according to Blue Tractor's website.

Carlson said mash plans to have live music a minimum of two nights a week, with a DJ spinning vinyl records on weekend nights.

“It’s going to be more hang-out, chill music,” he said. “It will be a whole mix, but kind of more the modern folk music that has been a growing genre.”

The opening of mash is part of a series of changes for Cafe Habana and Blue Tractor — which are both owned by Carlson and his business partner, Greg Lobdell, along with other investors.


The former Parthenon Restaurant is becoming Lena and Cafe Habana later this summer.

In January, the Cafe Habana restaurant closed to make room for a Blue Tractor expansion. The Habana lounge, which is known for its popular salsa nights, remained open in the basement following the closure.

At the same time, Carlson and Lobdell signed a lease to move the Cafe Habana restaurant to the former Parthenon Restaurant at 226 S. Main St. in downtown Ann Arbor.

Carlson told that the new Cafe Habana space on Main Street will have a first-floor restaurant named Lena and the Habana lounge will be relocated to the basement — both should be open before Labor Day weekend, he said.

With both Lena and mash, Carlson said the goal was to bring an entirely new concept to the area.

“I think it’s going to be something new for Michigan,” he said. “I think people will really be surprised.”

Lobdell and Carlson opened Cafe Habana on East Washington Street in 2007. A year later, they opened the Blue Tractor barbecue and brewery next door.

Other ventures they're involved with: Ann Arbor’s Grizzly Peak and Jolly Pumpkin; Traverse City’s Mission Table, North Peak Brewing Company, Kilkenny’s Irish Pub, Blue Tractor, Jolly Pumpkin and Bastone Brewery; and Royal Oak’s Vinotecca.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

Whiskey and beer, what a new concept. Let's party and get drunk, I'd rather be salsa dancing.

Janet Bigalke

Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 10:17 a.m.

We stopped by for the opening last night...didn't have a few of the mixed drinks we requested, the soft pretzels and the white wine my friend wanted. The service was slow. We left in a hurry and probably won't go back.


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

All I really wanted to say was...would've been nice to know about this soft opening a few days earlier...I had to "hear" it from an employee, not the "News"....


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 12:14 a.m.

I love to see some good southern drink making headway here in the midwest! next, UM will be joining the SEC :-)


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 6:45 p.m.

oh yeah...and some good Hot Toddies come winter...


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 5:18 a.m.

Yep. Where's my watermelon wine? I can do the crawl!

Stevie Welles

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

Bring on the bourbon!

Andrew R. Gorsuch

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

I can't wait to check out the new places! Greg and Jon are doing great things for Ann Arbor and all of Michigan really! They always put together a clutch concept and team. Can't wait to see what is up next from them. Cheers Fellas!


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 6:58 p.m.

"We're going to have a huge selection," Carlson said. "We'll also travel down to Kentucky and other parts to get special single-batch versions of whiskey. There will be an evolving, revolving menu of different rare bourbons. hmmmm, travel out of state to bring liquor back into the state.


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 5:16 a.m.

YEP! Stupid...good whiskey, right here. I know at least one brewery that has already brought back Kentucky casks...


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 9:28 p.m.

Don't get me wrong Robo, i will be first in line to try some of these whiskeys. I'm just surprised they said this. The MLCC tends not to like this type of thing. Can't blame them, the MLCC needs to overhaul its out dated system.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.

your point?


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

It sort of feels like they are going head-to-head with the Raven's club, but it could be correlation without causation. After all, it's not like serving whiskey is a new fangled idea. Looks like it could be pretty nifty. By the way, I adore the new color on the old Parthenon building. The tropical color really brings out the deco beauty of the place, which was hidden for far too long.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 4:36 p.m.

This place seems to change identities quicker than a drag queen in a '50's bar raid!

West of Main

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

Uh, is that Cafe Habana link even correct? Better check that! It sure doesn't look like Ann Arbor's Cafe Habana.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.

Here is the general link to the Cafe Habana restaurants: Thanks.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

The historic color of the building when it was a Cunningham's Drug store? It was a hideous color then and it is now. I hope improvements to the paint job and the trim occur. Right now it's an eyesore. I assumed that awful color was to give the building kind of a Miami feel.


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 5:14 a.m.

NO, I think they did the right's just a God-awful color in the original building color....:-)..And I lived years and years on the the Old Westside....I mean that sincerely...the original color of the building overhang was awful...but the new owners have replicated it correctly!!! (Sorry for the "replicator" comment, do love the Star Gate series...)

lindsay erin

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

"mash" - all lowercase. So trendy.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.

How about M*A*S*H?


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

What special drinks/events will be taking place for tonight's opening?


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 5:10 a.m.

None....they didn't advertise well enough...


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

Bummer there's no more salsa dancing this summer :( Also, this sounds very hipster-y


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.

I was totally going to this place before everybody else discovered it.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

By all means have music for those who need it all the time, but how about one night when those who want to relax and talk without having to ignore musicians or scream over DJ's and their souped up bass can do so over a nice drink ...


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 5:09 a.m.

ummm...there's a lotta places to go for that...your trouble is, you like to watch the gals who like the music, and have a decent drink...I can guess your exact age, based on when the music got too loud...and don't take me wrong, I've never had great hearing...more of a "Children of a Lesser God" kind of gal...but don't complain online of the volume being too loud...not if you like to look at the folks who still like it loud! :-)


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.



Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

Par-ty! Par-ty! Par-ty! Par-ty!

David Paris

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

This could be interesting. With such a narrow field of expertise (whiskey), MASH could become a technical/educational destination; like hanging around a distillery and learning all the finer points of the trade! I was in Philly last week and walked by a Rye restaurant. I regret not sampling their fare, but just ran out of days to fit it in.


Fri, Jul 27, 2012 : 5:05 a.m.

Did you not see the comments from owner? "Narrow field of expertise" ? Comments from owner sounded like...whiskey, wine, mixed drinks....make a decision, dude....(And I LIKE the space, want to succeed!!!) I'm just troubled that owner's quotes are trying to appeal to too many folks....keep it to Mash and Blues and it'll be a good niche!


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

I have always enjoyed the blue tractor I'm looking forward to trying the Mash.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:12 p.m.

The real test of their character will be the quality of Rye they have....


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

May I add nice choice of color on the new cafe habana,it doesn't stand out at all.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 7:30 p.m.

I like it Jon. Noticed it right away. Really brings out the architecture of the building.

Jon Carlson

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

Sorry you do not like it it. It is the historic color of the building.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

Kudos for having live music, at least two nights a week. Good move.


Thu, Jul 26, 2012 : 10:44 a.m.

Sounds like a great place for a Steam Punk convention!