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Posted on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

9 Valentine's Day gifts for Ann Arbor lovers and 1 gift to avoid

By Richard Retyi

Thursday is Valentine’s Day, and before you complain and click away, I know most of you hate it. Love. Hearts. Expectations. Public displays of affection. Edible Arrangements vans skidding all over the place, the drivers all hopped up on Monster Morning Blend and leftover paczki. It’s gross, but like handshakes in church, a necessary evil.

I'm here to help. I’m no expert romantician, but I do have a Ph.D. in gifts research. Two years ago, I polled Briarwood Mall employees for their Valentine’s Day gift ideas and last year I hot tubbed for your benefit. I’m taking it to the next level this Valentine’s Day.

If you’ve already done chocolate covered strawberries and Build-a-Bear and that Pandora bracelet and you’re stumped, fear not — here are nine ideas for Valentine’s Day gifts and one gift you should be sure to avoid.


Alley Bar

Rich Retyi | Contributor

Two Alley Bar Pickle Backs, please

It’s booze and vegetables. Done. Spring for Jameson and chase it with pickle juice sourced from local pickle purveyors at The Brinery. The pickle juice does some weird things to the palate, unlocking flavors that weren’t there, cooling the whiskey burn and leveling the bad breath playing field for any subsequent makeouts.

A kitten is a commitment

Normally I’d counsel against buying your significant other a baby animal, but I’m getting a lot softer in my old age. Warning: a kitten is a commitment. Be sure that the person you’re buying the animal for is a diehard cat lady for females or misanthropic loser if it’s a guy, ensuring that they will be physically and emotionally unable to abandon the pet should times get tough.

Do NOT click this link if you don’t want to add a pet to your life. Seriously. Clicking this link is like opening a bag of chips and not eating some. “Oh, I just want to smell the chips,” you’ll say, just like you’ll think you can look at these animals and not want to love them. I warned you. (Check out Bagpiper and Flo. Oh my god I want to hug them so much, my insides hurt so bad!)

Two tickets to the planetarium-dise

I almost proposed in the planetarium at the Natural History Museum. It’s probably one of the most romantic destinations in Ann Arbor (take that, Melting Pot!). Darkness, stars, planets, narration by Liam Neeson. Just don’t propose in here. If she says no, you’ll permanently scar all the little kids in attendance who until the end of times will feel a weird sense of embarrassment and shame and smell the sweet scent of tears every time they stare at the night sky.


The Heidelberg

Rich Retyi | Contributor

Dinner on the west side of Main Street

You’ve got a lot of romantic dining options on the east side of Main Street, like Raven’s Club and that place with the fondue—but show your unique sense of style, taste and romance this year and take your lieben east to The Heidelberg basement.

My argument: How busy will the basement be on Valentine’s Day around supper time? How awesome are those intimate wooden booths? How great are those fake stained glass windows? How excellent does a boot of beer sound right about now? Spatzle, schnitzel, pretzel rolls. Knackwurst is a very sexy food.

A jukebox with a limited selection, glass tabletops that you can slip love notes and business cards under. I’m falling in love with myself as I write this. Be different, go German and let those other suckers battle over tables on the east side of Main.

Salvation Army shopping spree

Shopping is fun, but on a tight budget it’s tough to justify splurging on new outfits from Forever 21 and Wet Seal. Fear not, get creative. You each get $25 cash money and 10 minutes at the Salvation Army to select a full outfit that (hopefully) someone didn’t die in. Dresses, T-shirts, slacks, fancy jackets — whatever you find in the allotted time is purchased at checkout and brought home where each of you dress in your new duds (no washing first!) and then settle down for a homemade meal. I suggest pasta with a light salad and a lot of wine. And probably a post-meal shower.


Cherry Republic hot cherry salsa

Rich Retyi | Contributor

Cherry somethingorother from Cherry Republic

Ditch the chocolate-covered strawberries or toffee covered bananas (so 2009!) and go cherries. Cherry Republic offers Valentine’s Day gift boxes full of chocolate-covered cherries and whatever boomchunkas are, but if you’re giving something to a guy, get the salsa. The delicious cherry salsa. A bag of cherry chips and the medium cherry salsa (sorry, I’m a wuss) on Valentine’s Day and I’m putting a ring on that.

Cha-Cha-Cha dance classes

They say you can tell how well a person can parent by how well they dance. OK, maybe that’s not what they actually say, but dancing is an important indicator of things. Rhythm, tempo, grace, fiscal responsibility. Ann Arbor is full of dance studios willing to teach you and a special someone how to dance ballroom, cha-cha-cha, flamenco, hip-hop, jazz, mambo, salsa, swing, tap — heck even jive and the foxtrot. Pick a dance that suits your style the most (I’m more of a krunk guy than a rhumba man) and get busy.

A little slice of Mr. Darcy from Nicola’s

I’m a little embarrassed to say that in nine years of living in Ann Arbor, I’ve only been to Nicola’s Books once. It’s everything that Shaman Drum used to be. Pay them a visit and pick out a romantic book for the one you love. Go old school with "Love Story," give your sweetie permission to lust after Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice," fall into a deep depression after reading "Atonement" or try something really sweet in "Gone Girl." I’m totally kidding on that last one. Do not get that for anyone you care about as a meaningful gift or you will get dumped/divorced/arrested. Stick with Jane Austen.

Warning: Do not get a couples massage

Do not get a couples massage for Valentine’s Day. Unless you are extremely comfortable in your own semi-public sexuality and don’t moan uncontrollably when getting rubbed on.

I never understood the appeal of a couple’s massage. Are you supposed to hold hands while two strangers rub your dermis? Is that romantic? I’d be ultra aware of every sound and movement I was making and if the masseuse ever asked me “Is this okay?” I’d be forced to answer, “I’m engaged!” at an inappropriate volume. The ultimate in awkward. Don’t do this folks. Get your massages alone.

Richard Retyi returns to with his new column Hidden Ann Arbor. Rich will write about the hidden side of Ann Arbor and the things locals take for granted. In his day job, Rich is a social media director for a digital marketing agency in Ann Arbor. Read more of his stuff at or follow him on Twitter.



Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 3:19 a.m.

friends, it's SAINT Valentine's Day. It's the feast day of a (collection of) early Christian Martyr(s). So the heart-shaped omelettes, long stemmed roses, the Amore Vietato (forbidden love) cocktail recipes and the red satiny brassieres with ostrich feather-- all newcomers to the celebration!! furthermore, it's my anti-cat opinion that kittens don't belong anywhere except in the wolf's lunch bowl. viva the martyr!


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 10:32 p.m.

Valentine's day. PHFFFFTTTT.

Colleen Sherman

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:47 p.m.

Pickle back. The name alone says it all. Richard, my sweetie will thank you later for your good ideas.

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 9:02 p.m.

Aw shucks Colleen, anytime!

Kellie Woodhouse

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

Also, another strange but fun thing to do on V-day is attend the carillon concert at Burton Memorial Tower. It takes place every weekday at noon. I can imagine it might be pretty romantic, especially if you instagram the experience. Plus, your ears will be ringing afterward--- wait, are those wedding bells?

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:40 p.m.

One better - go to Kerrytown and play them bells. Maybe something from The Sound of Music? Game, set, match, Woodhouse!

Stephen Landes

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

How about something traditional, too? Hand made chocolates from Sweet Gems at Morgan & York.

Kellie Woodhouse

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

I've made a terrible mistake. I clicked the link. Cupid, help me (Oops, I mean my significant other).


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

Okay, I clicked on the HSHV link. Now I want Raisen. That poor kitty!


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

We've done couples massage and it was fine. We were just in our own little worlds. We don't celebrate too much. This year we decided to throw a few steaks on the grill and share a bottle of wine - red meat and red wine. What could be better for Valentine's Day? All I care about is that we're together.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:09 p.m.

LOVED the article. Laughed all the way through, but had to look up "misanthropic " and laughed even more!

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:19 p.m.

Glad you enjoyed it.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:04 p.m.

Thanks so much for the laughs - you are so funny. P.S. Now I want a kitten! Great article and humor, thank you!

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

Thanks Lonnie. Please go adopt Bagpiper. Right. Now.

James Toy

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:53 p.m.

Thanks for this creative article! I wouldn't give a couple of whatever sexual orientation(s) a gift certificate or cash to spend at the Salvation Army. How about the PTO Resale Shop or Value Village instead? The Salvation Army discriminates in their hiring and services policies on the basis of sexual orientation. I don't know what the Salvation Army's policy is on issues of gender identity and gender expression. Several years ago, as I recall, the Salvation Army was denied permission to build a new facility in Ypsilanti because of the SA's policy of discrimination as noted above.


Thu, Feb 14, 2013 : 1:55 a.m.

What gay friendly charity would you recommend ?

Jenn McKee

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

Lingerie should be on the "don't" list, too - unless the guy is going to be truly honest about the whole thing and open it as his gift to himself before handing it off to his significant other.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 10:52 p.m.

I agree aggatt, my other half enjoys it to


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:47 p.m.

I kind of disagree--I like fun lingerie, it wouldn't just be a gift for him, I'd enjoy it as well.

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

I already used up my quota of Bongz & Thongz references for the month or I would have included that.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:38 p.m.

Great writing! Gonna have to pick up some cherry salsa for my guy :)

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:14 p.m.

Thanks Mom. Your significant other is gonna love it.

Ben Freed

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

Great read, definitely gave me some ideas!

Cole Bertsos

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:03 p.m.

Beware of those Alley Bar Pickle Backs — they are not for the faint of heart. Or weak of stomach.

Michael Miciura

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:38 p.m.

Save the claw machine teddy bear and ceramic mug full of waxy chocolates for Secretary's Day. Just remember, the best Valentine's Gift you get is usually the gift you give yourself. :) However, if you do plan on getting a couple's massage, I'd highly recommend Balance Massage Therapy in Ann Arbor.

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Um, Administrative Assistant's Day, Don Draper.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:34 p.m.

Lizzy, you should check out the IS very cool. Loved the Cedar Bend comments from last year's article. Cedar Bend/Island Park was the big car make-out spot back in the 60's-70's. The cops would drive through, but hardly ever bothered anyone. (I think Rich Kinsey was just a kid then!)


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

And I'll bet they have fond memories of that spot, too! I have to admit, it was an awful lot of fun to go "parking". And if you didn't have a boy/girlfriend, you could always get a few kids together and go "bumper-jumping" at the same location!

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

That's hilarious. I checked it out during the winter last year and it was beautiful. There is a spot just like that near my family's cottage in northern Michigan and the parents all describe it the same way: as the make out spot in years past!


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:33 p.m.

Good read. Write more articles please.

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 8:14 p.m.

Thanks Pegret!


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 7:07 p.m.

Yes, very funny. Cool website too...had to add it to my Favorites.


Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 6:27 p.m.

Good to know I will check that out, thanks!

Richard Retyi

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:47 p.m.

SHAZAM! They aren't all there, but most of them are. Check back each and almost every Friday for my regular time and place. Also, thanks for the kind sentiment.

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

"I almost proposed in the planetarium at the Natural History Museum." First: I've never been here - or even knew it existed. Sounds cool, though. Also - Check out this old story on the most romantic places in Washtenaw County: