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Posted on Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 10:28 a.m.

The last night of the Elbow Room (and my memories of the Ypsilanti bar)

By Richard Retyi

Editor's note: This story was corrected to reflect the fact that Andy Garris managed the Elbow Room but did not own the bar.

The best bar in Ypsilanti and my favorite bar in the entire world closed last night.  

The Elbow Room welcomed me into its gritty, grimy, sometimes sticky embrace for three years and grew to be much more than just a place to get a drink. The end was sudden - operator Andy Garris told me Thursday that the bar’s final hurrah under his management would be two nights later. 

I didn’t have much time to mourn. The finality of it has yet to sink in. Heck, I just became Four Square mayor of the place, for crying out loud. And now it’s over.

After years of running bars in Ann Arbor, Garris started managing the Elbow Room in January of 2007. The Elbow Room had a rough reputation when he moved in, and Garris worked hard to make the Elbow Room what it was last night: gritty, grimy, sometimes sticky and a home away from home. He fostered a feeling of fun and family, he stressed great service, made constant improvements and helped promote local music with shows during the week and every weekend. The Elbow Room became the haunt for a lot of people from the area, myself included.

I made a lot of friends at the Elbow Room, including Garris. I’ll admit to bowling with Garris, playing softball with him and eating a few meals with him, including the only $100 steak of my entire life. I met a few girlfriends there too. I once saw a man get bounced from the Elbow Room and then, on the sidewalk, rip out his own tooth and throw it into the street. The Elbow Room had poor lighting, smelled kind of bad, had disgusting bathrooms and a pool table you had to kick really hard to get all the balls to tumble out of. It also had great bartenders, a part-time magician as a doorman and walls covered in concert posters and local art. The clientele spans every race, creed, background and occupation.

Elbow Room

Last week during game seven of the NBA Finals, I sat at the bar and an older woman slid in next to me. She just moved to town and was working as a librarian. She didn’t have her cable hooked up, so she wandered down the street to watch the game at the Elbow Room, coming in on karaoke night. The sound on the TV was muted and, as the crowd grew and karaoke began, she leaned in more and more and remarked, “I’ve never heard that song before.” Even Elbow Room karaoke is special and different. But she enjoyed herself. She watched the game, chatted with me and a few others, alternated between ordering Diet Pepsi and regular Pepsi (she didn’t drink alcohol) and told me stories about her family, her daughters and Karl Malone. At some point she leaned in and said, “I like this place.”

Read Rich's Blog: Don't Take Christopher Walken Boating

I liked it too. Running into people from all walks of life was a regular occurrence at the Elbow Room. The woman at the bar was shocked to hear that she was not the first, nor even the second, third or fourth librarian I’ve known to spend time at the Elbow Room. The clientele is a grab bag - baristas from the Ugly Mug, bartenders from local establishments, day laborers, business people, students, schoolteachers, rockers, mods, bums.

Colorful characters like Patches and Soul Train give the Elbow Room more personality. It’s common for former patrons to visit the Elbow Room whenever they’re in town, and its commonplace for Garris to greet them with a hug and their regular libation. There’s the occasional dust-up or dead night where you can sit and really get to know someone. Sometimes you’ll see a band you’ve never heard of play so hard you buy their CD, even though the only CD player you own is in your car.

Andy Garris

The Elbow Room was a lot of things to me. I was a regular on Thursdays for karaoke (even during the dark days), but also popped in for shows or just a random midweek drink and some conversation. I wrote columns and short stories sitting at the bar. Sometimes I just read a book or talked to people. It was a comfortable atmosphere full of familiar faces. It was more than just a watering hole.

Garris was a special operator who prided himself on having your first drink ready before you got to the bar. He gave back to the community, ceding his space and a lot of his profits to local organizations or fundraisers. He donated thousands to 826michigan this January as part of Mittenfest IV and has helped raise money for a number of organizations. Garris has planned to build his very own bar in Depot Town for years and this summer those plans might actually come true. Until then, Garris will move a half-block down the street to run the bar at Savoy (formerly Club Divine). It’ll be an impossible task to replicate the Elbow Room, but he’ll take his best shot at making Savoy another special place to visit in Ypsi. I’ll be there on opening night; and probably a few more nights after that.

The Elbow Room is survived by Andy Garris, Dustin McDonald, Nina Cislaghi, Birdman, Tony Scarboni, Justin Tury, Tassie Zahner and Amazing Mark. Gone but not forgotten. In lieu of gifts, please give generous tips to the staff at Savoy.

The Author at the Elbow Room

The author on the last night of the Elbow Room

Special thanks to Courtney Mandarino for helping with this piece.

(Richard Retyi writes the bi-weekly column, Lie to Your Cats About Santa, which may have to take a short hiatus to mourn the loss of the Elbow Room. He’ll get over it. Please email any story ideas or feedback to or leave word with Andy Garris at the Savoy. You can read more of Rich’s work here. Hope you’re having a great summer!)


Richard Retyi

Tue, Jun 22, 2010 : 2:16 p.m.

@djm12652 - Not Penny's boat.


Tue, Jun 22, 2010 : 2:13 p.m. not cause too much distress to those that are overly concerned about inside information...but... 1....I will never tell anyone Pig's name 2....I will never tell anyone about Pig's wardrobe there are some things the weak of heart should just not be made aware of....

Richard Retyi

Tue, Jun 22, 2010 : 2:05 p.m.

@djm12652 - I have it on good authority that the pig in question DID make the move with Andy from the Elbow Room. To avoid any inside information, the "pig" is a ceramic pig head that was gifted to Andy back in his days at the Alley Bar in Ann Arbor which hung above the beer bottle display at the Elbow Room.


Tue, Jun 22, 2010 : 1:59 p.m.

@westfall...really? Before Garris, I wouldn't go in because of the "local drunks" and crack ho's approaching on the street...Mann and Pratt may have worked to get the "music" there, but Garris did get the music there. And by the way commentor..."the Pig" I asked about that was not posted is a ceramic Pig's head that we gave Andrew when he was still running The Alley Bar...what gives?


Tue, Jun 22, 2010 : 1:48 p.m.

Somebody PLEASE tell me the Pig made it out! And Richard, tell Andrew if you see him before me...I WILL NOT cook anything for him ever again if he left the pig behind...And the one thing you left out about the L was that one was always made to feel like family...albeit, some of the actions received would be illegal is most states...'cept Caintucky.


Tue, Jun 22, 2010 : 12:04 p.m.

"The Elbow Room had a rough reputation when he moved in, and Garris worked hard to make the Elbow Room what it was last night" Not to discount Andy, as he is a great guy and has done great things with the place, but the Elbow Room would not be what it was without Leighton Mann, and before him Greg Pratt. They are the ones that turned it into the unique place to see great music before Andy took it over.


Tue, Jun 22, 2010 : 6:29 a.m.

John P, Savoy is carrying on that tradition...local acts and live music. KeyStone (the underground martini bar) under J Neils at Michigan and Washington Street also has some live music from local talent. Local live music is alive and well in just moved a few buildings north on Washington.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 11:03 p.m.

It's kind of like the Flood's closing IMHO. Andy is a class act and I hope the best for him in the future. The Elbow Room's support for local live music cannot be understated. It's likely such a business plan led to the demise. I personally support those drinking establishments that do offer such. It wasn't that long ago, that the arts were only supported by aristocrats. Now it's up to the common man. I have gone from seeing this town as a major contibutor to the music scene to what it is today, an it ain't pretty.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 8:47 p.m.

Although I'm a resident of Detroit, I've been frequenting the Elbow Room for shows and various gatherings for about three years. Andy Garris' efforts are what made me drive 45 minutes away to see bands, get a drink and see a lot of people I know (and wanted to know). It was always comfortable and I always felt like I mattered. Here's to hoping that Andy's new adventures will be profitable and fun!

Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 8:04 p.m.

@Chrysta - Karaoke will move from the Elbow Room to Savoy, so you haven't sung your last Journey song at MoFo (well, technically it's called Harry Karaoke now, but it's pretty similar)! I'm interested to see how the new stage and set-up changes the dynamic. @Cash - The Thursday benefit you mentions sounds like a great event for a great cause. I've heard that another benefit show will take place on Friday for the Ann Arbor Derby Dimes, the fledgling roller derby group.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 6:53 p.m.

Savoy is actually a live music venue right next to Pub 13. This week Thursday... Savoy is hosting the benefit to help the family of Parliament-Funkadelic singer/guitarist/producer Garry Shider, who died Wednesday from cancer, pay his medical bills. The bands Muruga & Free Funk and Enema Squad (a P-Funk offshoot, with P-Funk drummer Gabe Gonzalez) are scheduled to perform at the benefit, along with other guest P-Funk alumni and DJs Ultra Man (Dave Gonzales from Enema Squad) and veteran Detroit DJ Craig Huckaby.

Bubble world west

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 6:07 p.m.

Savoy used to be the Spaghetti Bender (I think), which was a great big place to get drunk and dance your butt off, so just another change and move for the drinking/dancing crowd. I still miss Cross Street Station! They always had good cheap food and great music. I heard the roof fell in on the building, sort of like Michigan's economy fell in. Sigh. Generally a fan of your work, but references to insider information should be left out, unless you want to bring everyone in. Keep the personal side out, right?

Chrysta Cherrie

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 4:13 p.m.

Man, this stinks! Glad to have gotten in one last MoFo Karaoke this week.

Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 3:15 p.m.

@HerrSnibbens - I don't think the smoking ban was a major factor in the end of the Elbow Room. I wrote that the Elbow Room smelled "kind of bad" not disgusting. It was the bathrooms that were disgusting! The smoking ban has made all the bars in Michigan smell slightly better but the unexpected side effect is how well you can see now. Back in the olden times, there was a Hong Kong haze, but today you can usually see stem to stern.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 3:03 p.m.

I would not be surprised if it is one of the first casualties of the smoke ban. I can only imagine that a very sizable percentage of the clientele of the Elbow Room were smokers. And Richard says that it smelled disgusting *before* the ban.....can only imagine what it must have been like after the smoke was no longer there to cover some of that up.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 1:49 p.m.

Bummer. I was just there a couple of weeks ago. I have a lot of fond memories of the place, that is for sure.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 12:02 p.m.

Thats great reporting there Rich because for the average reader who doesn't spend as much of their off time in a bar getting to know the owner, it might be a little difficult to pick up on the attempted smart assedness of your closer to home remark.

Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : noon

@Lokalisierung - Savoy is a big space but it had a lot of potential. It will never be the Elbow Room, but it has a chance to be something different than what Ypsi currently offers. Tonight is the first night of the Garris regime - we'll see what's in store for the summer.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 11:56 a.m.

Sorry; I wasn't aware of his living situation. But on another note, I had heard about the Savoy and was planning on checking it out anyway, but now it's a must.

Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 11:50 a.m.

@Lokalisierung - I was being facetious. Garris lives in downtown Ypsilanti within spitting distance of both the Elbow Room and Savoy.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 11:49 a.m.

Support our local establishments. Please. Before there aren't any left.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 11:37 a.m.

"Garris will move a half-block down the street to run the bar at Savoy" A half block closer to home?

Richard Retyi

Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 11:32 a.m.

@Robert M. - I'm a little too close to the situation to report, but plans to have a news reporter cover the closing. I can only speculate that the proprietor's commute was too taxing and he wanted to work closer to home.


Mon, Jun 21, 2010 : 11:30 a.m.

I didn't know this was happeneing either; it's a shame. Although I personally thought this place had gone way downhill since 2007, it's always a good idea to have places like Elbow Room around.