Jessica French

For Jessica Jane French Ypsilanti is less about what bar scenes are worth checking out and more about being invited to the latest underground cultural event. That's Ypsi. If you're plugged in, you'll find cool people and parties in the most unexpected places.

But let's cover the traditional bases first, okay?

Three years ago, the 20-something came home to Ypsilanti after graduating from Kalamazoo College. Jessica intended to apply to graduate schools while earning some extra scratch tending bar at her mom’s restaurant, the beloved Sidetrack Bar and Grill (56 E Cross St) in Depot Town. But something happened along the way. Although she's still mulling her grad school options, Jessica has been lured by the siren's call of a city finding its groove. Today she manages Frenchie’s, the catering business next door to the Sidetrack, and injects herself into the happenings of Ypsi's cultural revolutionaries and hipster entrepreneurs.

For starters, she seriously digs Dreamland Theater (26 N. Washington St.) for its crazy puppet antics, beautiful artist installations, and self-described 'curiosities'. "You never know what’s going to be going on," she boasts. And so it makes sense that Jessica would balso be jazzed that Fantasy Attic (19 E Cross St), a costume rental shop and vintage clothing store, just moved from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti. "We have a thriving creative community and Fantasy Attic is the perfect addition."

No one knows the bar and restaurant scene better than a fellow restaurateur but in the competition for where to recommend, Mom wins. Did you expect any different? Still, we kind of believe Jessica when she says,"If it wasn’t my mom’s place, the Sidetrack would still be my favorite bar in town. We have a beer selection that will make any beer geek’s head spin, and stupid cheap specials." Pushed to the mat, she offers, "The Elbow Room (6 S. Washington St.) where you can also see some of Michigan’s best music, and you can invariably find [owner] Andy behind the bar--he’s always good for interesting conversation."  

Jessica says The Bomber (306 East Michigan Ave.) serves breakfasts that would feed a small army or at least give it high cholesterol; its worth it just to see the WWII memorabilia. But she warns that it isn't a place for granola-chomping gym rats. The dining room serves a side order of cigarette smoke with every meal.

If you're looking for the holistic flipside, Beezy’s Cafe (20 N. Washington St.), appeases the inner gourmet for breakfast and lunch, specializing in house-made baked goods and soups. Jessica adds, "The owner is an amazing woman named Bee," and if her blog is any indication, an invaluable addition to the downtown Ypsilanti business cartel.

Despite lovin' the coffee at Beezy’s, for a place to plunk down to get work done, Jessica’s favorite coffee shop is The Ugly Mug (317 W. Cross Street). "It’s another place owned by young entrepreneurs, Melody Rye and Jim Johnson. And they roast their own coffee."  

 If you talk to any business owner or resident in Ypsilanti, the first thing that strikes you is the vast sense of community that grips the town. Chatting over coffee at The Ugly Mug, Jessica explains, "We all appreciate what everyone else is doing--anything that makes Ypsilanti cooler, makes it better for everyone."

And for those who know, it's the underground cultural scene that ultimately defines Ypsi. There's, of course, the twice a year Shadow Art Fair but Jessica can't recommend highly enough the lesser known "Totally Awesome Fest," a four-day event that keeps details of its existence  sketchy. The upshot is that four dozen grassroots acts are featured in venues all over town (including a private home). They range from homemade fashion to film showcases to author readings. There's no official notice so you have to watch local blogs and online publications for word. It's enigmatic marketing at its best, further adding to Ypsi's insider mystique. All Jessica could say is, "it tends to be in April." Wanna attend? Better pack your bags and start looking for a place to rent in Ypsilanti's very walkable downtown neighborhoods.
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