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Anchor Bar 

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The Anchor Bar may be best-known as one of Detroit's most legendary watering holes, but as we discovered on a recent trip, the establishment also serves up some uncommonly good grub. Although it's been through four different locations and a name change, the operation has been continuously owned and operated by the Derderian family since 1959. Now in its 18th year downtown on Fort, the bar balances a storied history with an openness to new improvements. "We're always looking for a way to keep things interesting," Anchor vice president Vaughn Derderian says. "But it's fun to be here, as sort of the old guy on the block."

That applies to everything from the food to the décor. The Anchor's focal-point accent is the huge collection of framed portrait photographs, most of them black and white, above the bar. The people in the 85 or so photos are all different Anchor regulars, added to the wall after their passing. Derderian says that alongside this tradition and the loose décor "themes" in the bar's booths, he works to keep things fresh in the bar. New Tigers-themed mirrors went up recently, and Derderian says more changes are on the way.

Hit the bar and you'll find a nice selection of about 50 bottled beers and 12 on tap. Alongside the standard tap offerings, check out the Anchor Steam, a pleasant amber ale from San Fran that shares the bar's name. The menu, too, offers some classic pub-grub options alongside innovative new twists on sandwich-and-burger fare. If you're looking for standards, the Anchor offers traditional patty burgers, patty melts, BLTs and more. But if, like us, you want a little more adventure, give the Fat Boy a try. The sandwich starts off with a 1/8-lb. burger, which may not seem like much. But then add five slices of ham, two slices of salami and some provolone, along with lettuce and tomato, and you've got quite a burger. Sweet ham, salty salami and a juicy burger complement each other to decadent–and, yes, probably fatty–effect. The Thousand Island-like Anchor Sauce is a nice accent as well.

A favorite for us was the Italian sausage pasta soup, which head cook Tom Hughes recently introduced. Hughes says it's really taken off, becoming the Anchor's house soup, and we can see why. At heart, it's a fairly basic Italian-style soup, with tomato-beef broth, noodles and vegetables. The standout element here is the addition of Italian sausage, which gives the soup a seriously spicy kick. Keep a glass of water handy as you guzzle down this tasty dish.

Another highlight to our visit was the creative appetizer the bar calls "Totchos." Imagine the cheese, tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos of a good batch of nachos; just swap out Tater Tots for the chips. You'll need a fork to handle this unique, popular and delicious spin on the bar-food staple. Derderian says Totchos were created in response to a patron's spur-of-the-moment request, and—like Hughes' punch-packing soup—they've become a signature offering at the Anchor. It's that creative new approach to tradition that makes the Anchor Bar well worth stopping in for more than just a drink. | RDW

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