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Posted on Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Top 15 bars: Ann Arbor's liquor sales grew 7 percent in 2011

By Paula Gardner

Ann Arbor's reputation for hosting a vital nightlife scene is just part of a growing industry in Michigan: liquor.

A look at statewide data for wholesale liquor sales to bars and restaurants that, in turn, sell it for consumption on their premises shows sales and revenue growth in 2011.


Necto is number 2 on the list of Washtenaw County bars, ranked by state liquor purchases. Its bar is busy, as shown in this 2010 file photo.

Melanie Maxwell I

Statewide, wholesale liquor sales went up 3.66 percent in 2011, along with a 1.64 percent increase in price per case.

Gross sales were $270 million, generating revenue of $61.5 million, up $4.3 million. The total sales included $43.4 million from establishments with on-premise licenses, a $1.5 million increase over 2010.

In Washtenaw County , sales of liquor sold for "pours" in bars and restaurants went up about 7 percent from 2010 to 2011.

That's reflected in the top 15 establishments in the county, ranked by sales (see list below). Of those top 15 — all of which had totals of more than $100,000 — sales increased by 6.4 percent over 2009 to $2.2 million.

Four of the county's top liquor buyers reached the $200,000 level. And one, Good Time Charley’s, looks to be within reach of hitting $300,000. That number is up from $217,107 in 2009.

Charting the top wholesale liquor buyers among the county's bars and restaurants is one indicator of business volume. It’s not a read on non-liquor sales — like food or beer — and it doesn’t indicate how much an establishment may be charging for a drink.

However, it is a consistent measure across each bar and restaurant for how much inventory they’re buying for a key component of their sales: booze.

And it also shows — perhaps predictably — that downtown Ann Arbor is the hub of the county’s bar and restaurant activity.

Of the top 15 purchasers of wholesale liquor, 14 are in Ann Arbor — and 11 are downtown, mixed between the Main Street Area and the bars that cater to University of Michigan students.

Number one on the list — again — was Charley's. Number two: Necto, an Ann Arbor mainstay that has found its groove with music-themed events. Its purchases grew 33 percent in the last year.

The reason, said Scot Greig, isn't due to a single factor. Some remodeling may have helped. Special programming — like Voltage Wednesdays — also plays a role.

But so do the foot traffic and atmosphere in downtown Ann Arbor, said Greig, a manager and owner at Necto.

"I think more people are going out," he said. "… The city and everyone who lives here has done a good job of trying to stay up during a bad economy."

The Alley Bar made the list for the first time under its new ownership, coming in at number 12.

Robbie Schulz, bar manager, said he’s not surprised the small establishment leapfrogged over many larger ones.

"A lot has to do with what we specialize in," he said. "We’re cocktail-driven."

The clientele expects a range of choices, and Schulz tries to stock new and seasonal surprises for his regular fans of whiskeys and gins.

And because of those expectations of his customers, Schulz also will stock up when the state runs low of a favorite.

That, he said, may be influencing how much the bar has spent.

"Come in and look at our back bar," he said. "It's piled deep with liquor."

The number 3 position on the 2011 list is filled by Knight’s Bar & Restaurant, which typically is found in the top 3. In 2011, the volume grew by 1 percent, but it also topped $200,000 — a new milestone.

"We pour a good drink, and it's always consistent," said manager Lindsay Bedolla. "We believe that brings a lot of people back."

Top sellers in Washtenaw County (Changes from 2010 in parentheses)

  1. Good Time Charley’s $285,908 (20 percent)

  2. Necto $265,526 (33 percent)

  3. Knight’s Bar & Restaurant $204,768 (1 percent)

  4. Blue Leprechaun $204,475 (38 percent)

  5. Weber’s $173,542 (25 percent)

  6. Rick’s American Cafe $157,481 (5 percent)

  7. Rush Street $153,554 (no comparable)

  8. Black Pearl $143,533 (11 percent)

  9. Melange Bistro $138,806 (-8 percent)

  10. Scorekeepers $137,582 (8 percent)

  11. Brown Jug $129,379 (18 percent)

  12. Alley Bar $116,378 (no comparable)

  13. Conor O'Neills $104,253 (-39 percent)

  14. Banfield Bar & Grill $103,088 (7 percent)

  15. Aubree's Saloon $102,780 (27 percent)

Almost at the $100,000 mark:

  • The Arena $99,218 (15 percent)

  • Sidetrack $99,201 (- 8 percent)

Paula Gardner is News Director at Contact her by email or follow her on Twitter.



Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Two things, State doesn't sell alcohol anymore to establishments with a license, that was phased out in the 90's. Wholesalers sell it now but the state is till involved in ricing and the like. Additionally, It should be noted that some places fly under the radar by purchasing some of the alcohol they serve from retailers.


Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 3:31 a.m.

Babs almost hit a 100k in sales so they should make the honorable mentions. You missed Sava's, they're at 106k in their first year, and tap room, at 105k. That's ypsi but you did list Aubrey's.


Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 1:53 a.m.

I just discovered Knights recently. I drive there from Tecumseh. I like the food, drinks, clientele, decor, location, reputation, bathrooms, bartenders, waitstaff... did I mention the drinks? Congrats to Knights.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

Knight's comes in at number 3 in sales, but I bet its ration of lowest number of drinks poured to amount sold blows the rest out of the water. Love those strong knights cocktails!!!


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

YOY numbers are misleading. Compare against 2007 the last "normal" economic year. That probably tells a much different story. While I'm at it: Knights pours a man drink and at a reasonable price. Townies have known that for years and reward them with loyal patronage.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.

But so do the foot traffic and atmosphere in downtown Ann Arbor, said Greig, a manager and owner at Necto. "I think more people are going out," he said. "… The city and everyone who lives here has done a good job of trying to stay up during a bad economy." Bad economy=buying liquor. Interesting. Especially since alcohol is a depressant. No wonder there are so many pedestrians stumbling around in the street.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

I think this has to do with the increasing stability of the Michigan economy overall. Its not like alcoholism has increased in the past year or so. It's just that people can afford to do it in a resteraunt or pub again instead of their basement or garage. On another note though what is the "innovative" things going on with craft drinks??! Please, its all alcohol people. Garnish it with orange zest, a candy cane, and pour it over liquid notrogen but if it doesnt get you hammered WITHOUT racking up a $60 tab then its just not worth it.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

To YOU maybe. Others may like the show, or drinking a high end tequilla the same as somebody drinking beer likes a Bells over a Budweiser. If it were just to get drunk, then Milwaukees Best would be a top selling beer and Grey Goose would just be a bird

Tom Joad

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

would be interesting to see some more numbers, like percentage markup because these figures are only wholesale prices the bars paid for the liquor. They obviously make a hell of a lot more than that selling it to the customer.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 6:12 p.m.

Is it that bars are doing better business or the fake ID industry is improving to unheard of levels? Are the totals adjusted for inflation compared to prior years? Everything seems to be getting more expensive these days? And one last thing: "It's not a read on non-liquor sales — like food or beer —" If beer is not liquor, we should not have to pay sales tax on it. Beer is food. I drink it with pizza like I drink milk with cookies.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 9:32 p.m.

The state is the only one who sells LIQUOR to restaurants. There is a LEGAL definition of what is liquor, beer and wine. They are NOT the same. A wholesaler sets beer and wine prices and has no reason to give out their data. The state is the only place to get hard liquor legally. I think this again proves price or tax increases do not stop people from buying what they want. Increase in price 1.64%, increase in revenue 3.66% That is a GOOD thing.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

The first ten --- other than Webers and Knights.... are all gimmicky college or "big night out" bars that appeal to a transient student population and/or people who just come into town for a night out. I'm sorta glad not to see alot of my townie hangouts high on this list.

Peter Baker

Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 2:03 a.m.

"I'm glad that the townie bars with regulars are not on this list." I bet they're not.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

Well, they're not the same loyal locals who patronize year after year. That's my point: I'm glad that the townie bars with regulars are not on this list.

hut hut

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

The student population is not transient. The faces may change, but the population is steady.

Jimmy New Holland

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

There is an amazing craft spirits movement going on and if you want a great cocktail...Ann Arbor has them!


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 7:08 p.m.

I miss Leopold's :(


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 2:37 p.m.

I can't believe all the people who drink and drive in my middle class neighborhood.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

First, the title of the listing should read "Purchasers" vs "Sellers". The data comes from the State website showing how much is being purchased, not being sold.. Secondly, I find it odd that the #1 and # 2 sites are predominantly visited by students, of which a large majority are probably under the legal drinking age ..

Some Guy in 734

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

That's true. The Alley admitted they buy up when the state supply runs low--and that they're carrying a large inventory.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

So if they aren't selling it what are they doing with it? You find it odd that college students are drinking underage? Really?

Boo Radley

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

I'm happy to see that us old guys are still managing to keep Weber's and Knight's in the top 5. ... the places are still great, and the parking is free and plentiful.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

I confess to a presence in #14 but all I did was boost their beer and wine numbers. ;)

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Not to attempt to teach any journalism but it would be refreshing to hear less about some software company maybe hiring three new people because SPARK sends out a press release that you folks cut and paste it into a story and more about real business success stories. When was the last time you did articles on some of these top 15, mostly locally businesses? We get plenty of long time businesses failing ala the Flim Flam when the doors close but when was the last time you wrote about Rick's? Banfield's? Or ever the Arena? Or Scorekeepers? Just a thought.

Stupid Hick

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

Yes, could we please have some more fluff jobs on local businesses, masquerading as news?


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

all the local business pieces are done about zinger mans


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

I have to agree with @ Alan Goldsmith I would even like to hear about the successful local software companies that are actually making positive revenues. But instead, we get a steady dose of companies pushing 'ideas' that never are actually commercialized, or if they are, never pan out. There are a lot of great companies locally that get zero props (with the exception of's darling: Zingerman's) for doing what is really hard these days: making a profit. How about doing some real journalism on some local (non-chain) businesses hitting the cover off the ball? I can thing of a few off the top of my head: Comet Coffee Van Boven Knights Restaraunt Anderson Paint, Co. Banfield's Liberty Title Red Hawk Ayla we only seem to hear about local businesses when they're going out of business.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? just curious.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

Exactly, I would also like to know the same thing


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

We love our girlie drinks here in AA!!


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

Did I read that right, Conner O'Neills is down 39% and the biggest declining bar on the list? Ouch.

Paula Gardner

Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 12:19 p.m.

@Dan1737, They didn't respond to my request. I'm curious about the change, too. A couple of years ago, they'd focused on Irish liquors as a strategy to hedge off the economic downturn and present customers with something different. That may have played out and they may have stepped back from that - but that's just speculation.


Thu, Feb 23, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

Would have been nice to have a reporter ask them about that rather than just writing an article based on numbers alone.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

Kind of funny how Knights only gained 1% compared to some of the other places (33%... 38%), but yet is still in 3rd place.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 11:28 a.m.

Well you are welcome It was a hard job but Someone had to do it Now its time to sober up .. Or not


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 11:21 a.m.

Glad to see that the "no smoking" laws did NOT kill the bar industry as I kept hearing they would. Silly folks! SO nice to have a drink without a side of smoke.


Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 3:15 a.m.

Ypsi, drink a beer, sip a glass of wine or do a tequila slammer. Afterwards, lick an ashtray. If you can't tell the difference stay out of places that serve alcohol.


Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 1:49 a.m.

@YpsiBlue2012, for most people, light to moderate drinking is not harmful to their liver or to any other organ in their body. In fact, there likely is benefit to such alcohol ingestion. There is no safe level of tobacco use, though.


Mon, Feb 20, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

as a smoker, i've never been offended by this law. Honestly, it's common courtesy to just step outside for your smoke, even at the bar.