The Internet was recently captivated by “Cat Person,” published in the New Yorker earlier this month. Although a work of fiction, its story of an ephemeral relationship moving from public flirting to confessional texts to a dismaying physical encounter was extremely relatable to today’s women and extremely noooope-that’s-not-me to today’s men.
The author, Kristen Roupenian, is a graduate of U-M, and there are just enough Ann Arbor specific details to make it clear that the story is set here. So, here are the venues where I imagine the events of the story to take place. Was anyone asking for this? Of course not — but a year ago, nobody was asking for an opinionated blog about store openings and closings in Ann Arbor, either, and, well, here we all are!
The story begins at “the artsy movie theatre downtown.” This is almost certainly the Michigan Theater:
“The Michigan Theater,” Molly Kleinman, CC BY-NC 2.0.
The Michigan’s quadroplex neighbor The State, recently reopened a few steps up Liberty Street, presents a similar selection of arthouse fare among the midnight movies and Star Wars series — but only the Michigan served wine, as Robert jokes about (and even then, only to members of its nonprofit parent). The Michigan Theater Foundation programs both venues. In August, MTF sought an alcohol license for the State for its reopening, but it was not open by the New Yorker’s time of publication, so the Michigan is most certainly the theater where Margot and Robert meet.
Their Red Vines study-break takes place at a 7-Eleven. There are now three of them downtown. Two of them — State Street and South Forest — are within a block of residence halls. In the story, Margot is a dorm dweller — this is actually kind of rare because U-M’s residence capacity is far below its enrollment, which is why high-rise apartment buildings have sprung up everywhere downtown in the past decade. Anyway, one of these is where Robert bought Margot her Cherry-Coke Slurpee™, which was almost certainly made by layering cherry and Coke flavors. Although you can sometimes find Wild Cherry Pepsi, they don’t really make a Cherry Coke flavor right out of the Slurpee tap.
Here’s the State Street store right after it opened (well, here’s me, and it’s in the background):
And here’s the South U store, courtesy of Google Street View:
If you’ve been away for a while, this is roughly where the Student Bike Shop was. And if you click through to GMaps, you can go back to 2007 and see it before it and Village Corner were leveled and Landmark was erected.
For their movie date after the holiday, Robert suggests they visit “the big multiplex just outside town.” Later in the story it is identified as the Quality 16. The Q16 is a real 16-screen theater, operated by regional exhibitor Goodrich Quality Theaters. It’s in Scio Township, which is only about a ten minute drive west of downtown and doesn’t actually require the highway miles alluded to in the story, but I suppose it’s still a difficult row to hoe if your parents didn’t send a Lexus with you.
After the depressing film at the Quality 16, Robert takes Margot out for a drink. She suggests a bar familiar to her, and to be honest, I’m not sure which one this is. A popular bar near the Michigan Theater used to have a reputation for serving students and not looking too close at the ID, but has become so popular in recent years that it can afford to turn them away. Feel free to nominate which one you think it is in the comments. I am a boring dude and didn’t drink before I was legal, so I honestly don’t know, but Robert dismisses this bar’s neighborhood as “the student ghetto,” which is your first clue to where it is, and also your first clue that Robert is ta-rash.
Robert ends up taking Margot to “an underground speakeasy type of place, with no sign announcing its presence.” Obviously the author is referring to Bab’s Underground Lounge, located in the basement of an otherwise nondescript building on Ashley Street.
As a young professional, I frequented Bab’s when it was around the corner on Liberty in a street-level space, with one pinball machine, live jazz, and copious amounts of cigarette smoke. Its space was previously the final location of The Flame and is now the Alley Bar. At some point Bab moved around the corner and downstairs. I have visited the Underground once or twice, and was utterly confused, which is pretty depressing, because it probably means I am older than Robert.
EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the bar could also be The Last Word, which would be right on their way into downtown from the Q16. Here it is below.
Bab’s the underground speakeasy type of place turned Margot away, Robert “took her hand firmly and led her to a different bar, where there were pool tables and pinball machines…” The downmarket description of this bar suggests the beloved 8-Ball Saloon, about a block from either Bab’s or the Last Word.
“Eight Ball Alley,” Ross, CC BY-NC-2.0.
The 8-Ball is the bar below the Blind Pig, which everyone in Ann Arbor will tell you is Nirvana’s Favorite Place to Play. As unpretentious as the Pig is, the 8-Ball really is even less so. Both bars were recently purchased by a local investment group who says they intend to keep them as-is, so that’s a relief.
From this point on, it’s a little difficult to identify particular venues where the story goes. There is a moment in Margot’s favorite bar, but we don’t get quite enough info to say “oh yeah, that’s definitely Good Time Charley’s” or “…the Brown Jug” or “…Rick’s.” Although the notion that Robert could be reading a book in there definitely rules out a few of the places in the student neighborhoods.
I wholeheartedly recommend reading “Cat Person,” though be forewarned it contains explicit sex and trenchant misogyny. If you are a woman, it has probably happened to you, and if you are a man, you should read it for tips, because IT COSTS $0.00 NOT TO BE LIKE ROBERT.
P.S. Let’s make 2018 the year we stop calling things “ghetto.” Not an attack on the author, just a shot across the stout, hairy bow of men like Robert.