Field Trip: Going to Ann Arbor for the Winter Classic
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Field Trip: Going to Ann Arbor for the Winter Classic

A short guide to the location of this year's Maple Leafs-Red Wings clash.

Michigan Stadium  Photo courtesy Gerald R  Ford School of Public Policy, via Creative Commons

Michigan Stadium. Photo courtesy Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, via Creative Commons.

When the puck drops for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, some Toronto hockey fans will watch the outdoor match between the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings from the comfort of home, possibly as they recover from the morning after the night before. Others may head to their favourite sports bar to catch the action. And some might even be five hours to our west, sitting in Michigan Stadium with over 100,000 other fans.

While the lead-up to the game includes tie-in festivities in downtown Detroit, fans headed to the annual event should set aside time to explore the non-hockey side of “A2.”

Let’s make one thing clear: Ann Arbor is not Detroit. Its geographic positioning is comparable to Guelph’s with Toronto: it’s a university-centric city of 114,000 just under an hour west of the region’s focal point. There’s no ruin porn—the closest might be the ghosts of the Borders bookstore chain once based there, and those are fading.

The University of Michigan is the heart of the city, and nearly 39,000 students attend its local campuses—don the school’s maize and blue colours, and you’ll feel right at home. Michigan Stadium, aka “The Big House,” buzzes during fall weekends when the Wolverines play at home. The stadium has held up to 115,000 for football games, which was part of its attraction to the NHL. Expect tailgate parties.

Heading into downtown along State Street, the size of U of M’s athletic facilities gradually shrinks, and soon you’ll see frat houses with front-yard beach volleyball courts. The hub of the U of M campus lies in “the Diag,” a large open space east of State used as a shortcut between the surrounding libraries and lecture halls. Legend has it that freshmen who step on the brass “M” embedded in the middle of the Diag will fail their first exam. It’s uncertain whether this curse applies to students from other institutions of higher learning, so probably best just to watch your step.

From Zingerman’s Delicatessen: the #67, Jon & Amy’s Double Dip, with corned beef and pastrami. Photo by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.

The downtown area offers a diverse range of dining options to satisfy both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Most bars and restaurants are located on or close to Main, Liberty, State, and Washington streets. Worth a trip to the north end of the core is Zingerman’s Delicatessen. From a small deli which opened 30 years ago, Zingerman’s has grown into a foodie empire. Though it boasts bakeries, creameries, a mail order service, and a full-service restaurant elsewhere the city, the original location at 422 Detroit Street remains its heart. Zingerman’s is not cheap—expect to drop $12 to $16 for a sandwich and pickle—but the high quality and decent portions are worth it. Recent renovations have diminished the cramped chaos of the ordering area, and will make time your there more comfortable—and while waiting for your order, you can check out the baked goods and gourmet groceries. Ask for samples of anything they carry onsite, from salads in the cold case to blow-your-paycheque bottles of vinegar.

A block west of Zingerman’s is the Kerrytown shopping complex (407 N. Fifth Avenue), which includes specialty food merchants, stationers, and other boutiques. We’re drawn to Found, which mixes home décor items, ephemera, and products made with recycled materials. Ancient flash cards, found photos, Depression-era astrology magazines, and bracelets made from old typewriter keys are among the changing selection of items.

Music lovers can stop at Encore Records (417 E. Liberty Street), which seems to carry every recorded format ever invented—we’ve spotted piano rolls and wax cylinders. Records and CDs are stuffed into narrow but well-organized aisles. On past visits, we’ve gawked at the towers of incoming material at the cash register, wondering how staff aren’t accidentally buried alive in discs. Unless you’re looking for a specific album, we recommend you leave plenty of browsing time.

Front window of Encore Records  Photo by Vasenka Photography via Creative Commons

Front window of Encore Records. Photo by Vasenka Photography via Creative Commons.

Other downtown attractions include two historic movie theatres (the Michigan and the State), a community arts centre, and the Gerald Ford presidential library. On weekends, a farmers’ market operates next to Kerrytown—please avoid the temptation, though, to smuggle produce across the border. Warmer months offer a better feel for the city, when it lives up to the “Tree Town” nickname it received thanks to its dense green canopy. Summer is an ideal time to explore the scenic Huron River, relax on a downtown patio, or take in the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair. Fall tree colours are spectacular, and best experienced by way of drives west through Dexter and the bizarrely-named Hell, or east along the river to Ypsilanti.

If you’re driving to the game, shuttle service will be provided from sites around the city. New Year’s Eve will be celebrated with “The Puck Drops Here,” a six-hour party downtown, which will close off Main Street. The local tourist bureau has compiled a list of some restaurants and stores open on New Year’s Day.

The puck certainly will drop in Ann Arbor, but this city also has much to offer non-hockey-minded visitors and those hockey fans in need of diversion.