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The Brakeman Detroit – Tokens, Fried Chicken, and No Waitstaff

By Nick Mattar
The Brakeman Detroit - Exterior
One of downtown’s newest bars – The Brakeman Detroit – provided several new experiences for me that were also new to the downtown Detroit scene.

As one who prides himself on checking out the latest and greatest locales in the city, I think it is only fitting to turn The Brakeman into its own list of experiences. Here are the five out-of-the-ordinary things you can expect when you visit the bar for the first time:

  1. Pay for beer using tokens

I had heard about this going in, so I wasn’t shocked. It’s The Brakeman’s calling card, and one that is really unique in the city. When you first step into the bar you stop at the box office of sorts and purchase as many tokens as you want drinks. I bought two tokens and then was given a wristband, likely because they needed to verify I was 21 years old.

The other interesting thing about the tokens is that they seem expensive at over $7 per token, but in reality it also covers the server/bartender tip. Plus, the beer selection is pretty solid…

  1. Basic cheap beer? Not here…

When I stepped up to the bar I glared up at the menu and there were about 12 beers to choose from, all from either award-winning nationwide craft breweries or Michigan destinations. Fittingly enough, most of the beers actually hailed from my favorite breweries so I had no trouble choosing a beverage.

It felt strange just handing over a token for a beer without any money changing hands, but it sure made it simpler.

The Brakeman Detroit - Token Booth

  1. Indulge in the fried chicken and biscuits at Penny Red’s

At the very back of the bar there is an entry to another part of the building, Penny Red’s. This walk-up food destination features comfort food like fried chicken and buttered biscuits, both of which are some of the best I’ve ever had. It may not be the healthiest food, but you have to try it at least once.

A bonus tip: Penny Red’s actually sells cheap beer, so if you must have the old standby, this is where you can find them at still be inside The Brakeman Detroit.

  1. Remember to clear off your table when finished

Maybe it’s an unwritten rule or maybe I’m just a neat freak, but when you’re done with your glasses or food, you should dispose of them near the bar. Not everybody was doing this, but most denizens were courteous and handling their own garbage. Ah, the wonders of a waitstaff-free bar.

  1. You can book a tap table if you want to be fancy

One of the most unique aspects of The Brakeman Detroit in addition to everything above is the fact you can book a tap table, which features a beer tap right at your fingertips. It’s pricey ($199 for the first hour) but if you have 12 people who like to drink you can get your money’s worth.

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