In a college town that is always bustling with activity, The Chop House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, provides guests with the option of either a traditional or contemporary dining experience. The traditional is a menu full of steakhouse favorites. The contemporary includes comfortable seating worthy of a coffee house in the connected La Dolce Vita Dessert and Cigar Bar. Combined, the two offer that increasingly rare combination of a full-service restaurant with a comfortable cigar smoking option. Given the smoking restrictions placed on Michigan businesses, La Dolce Vita serves as one of the only true cigar bars in the Detroit-Ann Arbor region where indoor smoking is allowed.
On any given day, you are likely to see some of the influential and famous in the restaurant and cigar bar. Current Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has visited, and former University of Michigan football stars Charles Woodson and Leon Hall are regular visitors. Movie stars that have been in town for filming, or just visiting, have stopped in for a smoke and a drink. Scenes from The Five-Year Engagement, starring Emily Blunt and Jason Segal, were filmed in the restaurant. The Chop House is increasingly busy since it opened in 1998.
"About five years ago, having 30 people on a Sunday in the restaurant was significant," says Marcus Melendez, dining room manager. "And people will travel from miles away to come here. Now, we regularly get 100 or more diners, and many of those are using the cigar bar on a Sunday."
One of those changes is the demographics of Ann Arbor, which has always been eclectic, with a mix of corporate and class. Pharmaceutical, healthcare and technology employees are everywhere, providing La Dolce Vita a regular clientele during the cold winter months and a more consistent business in the summer when the University of Michigan's student and faculty seasonal population drops by 80 percent or more. Other employers in town include Amazon and Google.
The Chop House has the feeling of a traditional steak joint, with unique exceptions that provide an extra layer of color and flavor. The restaurant is remodeled on average every five to seven years, with the last renovation having been completed in 2012. "It's important for us to keep the look and feel fresh and so we want to make that investment on a regular basis," said Sue Burke, district manager.
Looks aside, The Chop House is considered to have some of the finest fare in Ann Arbor. The menu, at first glance, screams typical chop house. But a closer look reveals a high level of quality, with USDA Prime beef and premium seafood, including fresh fish flown in daily from Foley Fish in Boston, South African cold-water lobster, Dover Sole from England, and more.
"We've always been known as fine dining and cigars and that was how we started, but it has evolved beyond that," says director of wine and spirits Eric Arsenault. "When we opened La Dolce Vita it gave us the opportunity to provide space for business and personal and group parties. We have cigar clubs come here every month and this is clearly a destination place."
Michigan law prohibits dining while you smoke, so you can't order from The Chop House menu at La Dolce Vita. Instead, have your meal at the restaurant, then move downstairs to the cigar-friendly La Dolce Vita. The basement walls of La Dolce Vita are dark with wood panels and natural stone exposed in certain areas, adding that "cellar feel." The lighting is dim and elegant. There are gas-lit lamps along the walls and an exposed ceiling that adds to the contemporary feel. Comfortable seating is located throughout the wine and cigar bar, including everything from traditional wood tables to plush couches.
Here you can indulge in a fine list of liquors and wines and a fine selection of cigars. For the spirits, there are more than 10 types of Woodford Reserve Bourbon alone—selections that stand out among a generous drink list. A wide range of cigars are available to guests, and the smokes have suggested wine pairings presented on tablets. The tablets serve as a convenient and visual alternative to traditional menus. Popular cigar options include Arturo Fuente Hemingways, Ashton Classic and VSG, Cohiba, Davidoff, San Cristobal, Montecristo and Rocky Patel. Flavored cigars are also available.
The basement also includes a Wine Cellar Room that is ideal for private parties, with walls filled with wine bottles surrounding guests on three sides. The Napa Room has more space for individual tables and the walls are adorned with autographed professional athlete jerseys who made their mark as Michigan Wolverines.
The Chop House Ann Arbor-La Dolce Vita
322 S. Main Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Monday through Thursday: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Sundays: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.