Last night, December 21st, 2010 we got together with our friends and headed to a new restaurant on Water Street in downtown Kalamazoo. This old building was District 211 first, a restaurant that served really odd food at really high prices, then it became Charlie Fosters, which was a smoky Chicago faux-mobster dive and that too failed. In its current incarnation it’s Kalamazoo Beer Exchange.
This new restaurant has a very nice interior and thanks to the statewide smoking ban actually is pleasant to enter. The wait staff really aren’t that interested in welcoming new diners to the restaurant, one may think that they are simply overworked, but we noticed them chatting and ignoring a build-up of new diners at the front door, so take that for what it’s worth. Once we were seated we got our menus, which were fine. This establishment serves bar-food and bistropub food, an odd high-brow/low-brow mix which is cute and innocuous. When you sit down the focus of the bar area is the market-ticker display, a giant flat panel television with the prices of every carried draft beer, and they have about 30 of them available. We asked for a menu of their beer provisions and they didn’t have a menu for their drafts. So you pretty much just had the brand and the name to go by. The gimmick is not readily apparent at first glance and it took a verification question to our waitress to figure out what it all meant. Draft beer prices are adjusted every 15 minutes by the popularity of the beer. So if Bud Light sells a LOT, the price goes up. If beers don’t sell well at all, the price drops. So each 15 minute cycle you could pay $4.25 for a 22-ounce glass of beer, or $3.25 a bit later. The gimmick is cute and does set them apart, but it eventually does lead to irritation as the popularity-feedback-loop means that value is pretty much out the window – a beer isn’t expensive because it’s good beer, a beer is expensive because townies make it one way or another. Case in point, Bud Light was 4.25 and Labatts was 3.25. Ohhh-kay.
As for the food, that was the biggest heartbreak for this place. The burger was top-notch, really well done. The soup was okay, I could have taken or left it either way, but the one thing that blew my mind and ruined the entire experience was the value-added french fries. That’s right, you have to pay an extra dollar to get fries instead of potato chips. So I was forewarned that the fries were overseasoned before and that perhaps they had corrected the problem. Well, obviously not. The dollar-more fries were HORRIBLE. Overseasoned was the weakest description possible for what was slung on a plate. The salt level was beyond anything that I had previously experienced. If I was responsible for perpetrating those french fries and charging money for it, I would be living in a constant fear of being lynched.
That being said, our first experience was a massively bad one. The gimmick is worth a chuckle at first but eventually gets very old very quickly. The food suffers from those unforgivable abominations they call French Fries, and the cost, $32 for 2 people is too high for what you get. We won’t ever return to this restaurant and it’s one of many downtown that we regard as never-agains. It ranks up there with Food Dance in over-expensive pretension trying to masquerade as anything but bottom-of-the-barrel dining. If the initial experience doesn’t drive you off, then either gastroenteritis or kidney failure will.