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Downtown's Belt Alley Bar Duo Set Sights on September Debut

Chef Brendon Edwards and bartender Joe Robinson talk collaboration at The Skip and Standby.

The Belt alley.
The Belt alley.
Brenna Houck
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Next month, two new bar concepts will invade the art-filled Belt alley near The Z parking garage. Chef Brendon Edwards and bartender Joe Robinson are currently in the throes of prepping for the opening of The Skip, a casual three-season outdoor bar, and its slightly more upscale Cary Building counterpart, Standby.

Named after the British slang term for "dumpster, The Skip will be located in a space originally reserved for garbage bins. Now, however, the area is dressed up with a large, black and beige mural by controversial street artist Shepard Fairey. Plans call for a simple L-shaped concrete bar to jut from the edge of the mural where bartenders will serve inexpensive drinks. "It's going to be super laid back, low brow, frozen drinks, frozen negronis, daiquiris, buckets of beer, a few simple cocktails," Robinson explains. The remaining space will be filled with tables and chairs seating between 50 and 60 customers.

While both The Skip and Standby share a liquor license, Robinson says they chose to treat them as discrete projects with separate identities. "[They're] far enough disconnected that it wouldn't make sense to do intricate cocktails here." While not in the immediate future, the pair hope to eventually bring food service to the outdoor venue.

The Skip will be a casual, outdoor bar. [Photo: Brenna Houck]

Strolling down the alley, Standby is undergoing major interior renovations including cleaning up the tin ceilings that have accumulated several decades worth of dust and debris. The bars entrance may prove its stand-out design feature — a pair of bi-fold, tin doors from the old Cary Building service elevator, that partner Anthony Curis rescued from the waste pile. Edwards imagines people strolling through the alley in the summer and taking notices of the bi-fold doors: "[It might] intrigue people to walk down this rabbit hole of a bar," he says.

Standby will be "dimly lit" with earth tones, original tin ceilings, and wood floors and a wooden mezzanine extending out from the entrance. Large art pieces including a 6-by-20 foot panel by LA-based artist Cleon Peterson will hang from the walls. The restaurant will offer table and bar seating as well as a lounge area with space for approximately 50 diners.

Robinson and Edwards are collaborating extensively on the menu and drawing on both bartending techniques and chef skills for inspiration. Campari Cockles is one appetizer Edwards feels strongly represents their approach to designing Standby's food and beverage offerings. While the chef was interested in pairing Campari with the small bivalves, he sought out Robinson's expertise with liquor for added inspiration. "It came out of a classic combination of Campari and grapefruit," but now features sausage and olive oil braised fennel. Overall, the menu will be progressive American, with bar snacks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

"My idea with the beverage program is to more highlight the last decade and craft cocktail renaissance rather than the modern-day speakeasy."

For his part, Robinson plans to bring an extensive beverage program to Standby, with 50 original and modern classic cocktails. "My idea with the beverage program is to highlight the last decade and craft cocktail renaissance rather than the modern-day speakeasy," he says. "I'm going to use different liquors, different ingredients, different techniques — centrifuges, liquid nitrogen and a bunch of equipment chef Brendon uses on a day-to-day basis." In addition to these special techniques, Standby will cater to more traditional palates with "standby" cocktails like negronis, whiskey sours, and old fashioneds at a lower price as well as a nine-beer tap list and wine by the glass.

The pair aim for both venues open in September. Until then, the Edwards and Robinson are getting back in the habit of preparing food and drink with a few ultra-exclusive menu tastings. "It's been a little while since we've really been in the deep water so," Edwards admits. "[We want to] stretch before we jump in and do this for real."


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