The Brief but Powerful Role of Keystone Underground: How Kelly Met Bethany

6 02 2016

It had been a bitterly cold week, especially for so early in December, and filled with frustration at the office. The guy in charge was exercising his newfound power by declaring their startup nonprofit of five “NOT a democracy.” By Wednesday Kelly was already thinking about the weekend, and she texted Lisa to see if she wanted to go out dancing Friday or Saturday night. It’s good to help blow off steam, and prevent herself from becoming a complete hermit crab, Kelly decided. Lisa is pretty much always interested in dancing, and surprisingly available last minute, which made her Kelly’s favorite dancing buddy.

Me: We could try Elks Lodge Friday night

Lisa: Well, I’m actually supposed to go on a sort of date Friday night, which might be fine, because we’re meeting at 6:30, but I probably shouldn’t plan on being done early.

Me: Oh, nice! Well have a good time on your maybe date. What about Saturday?

Lisa: Saturday’s wide open, I think. And I’m pretty sure that is the night my friend was telling me about something going on in Ypsilanti at some new place that opened up there.

Me: Oh? I’ve never really been to Ypsilanti, except to buy art supplies once.

Lisa: Yeah, I’m trying to remember what the place is called… I’ll have to look it up. But she did say that it’s a completely smoke free venue, which was why I want to try it!

Me: That sounds great. Sure, let’s try it! I’ll meet you at your house at 9 so we can carpool?

Lisa: Sounds like a plan.


Saturday evening Kelly put on some comfortable jeans, knee-high striped socks that she could push down if she got too hot, and a tan v-neck t-shirt with a thin brown sweater over the top. Layers are critical when you go out dancing in Michigan winters! She bundled up her long brown hair into four loose quadrants, then secured them to the crown of her head with elastic bands, so that she could dance freely without a care. Just before she left home, she opened the drawer to the right of the sink, pulled out a clear glass vial an inch in diameter, closed her eyes, and sprinkled glitter over the top of her head. It fell softly onto her shoulders, across her collarbone, and caught in her eyelashes, ever so slightly. There’s never a chance to wear glitter that gets missed by this grrrl!

Lisa greeted her at the door looking like she had just gotten home from work. “I can’t decide if I want to dress up a little, in case there are some eligible women there tonight, or just be comfortable,” Lisa explained. Kelly shrugged her shoulders, “Do both.” Lisa spent a few more minutes debating what to change into, and forgot to run a comb through her hair before putting on her eyeglasses and slipping on some comfortable shoes. Jeans and a long sleeve shirt it was then.

Kelly offered to drive, and Lisa navigated the car to downtown Ypsilanti. This town kind of has a reputation that precedes it. Although it is the next door neighbor to the affluent and highly educated Ann Arbor, it gets a bad rap as an area of poverty and high crime. Kelly had heard that there was actually a pretty up-and-coming art scene here, but somehow never made it there to check it out. Most of her friends live in or around Ann Arbor, and it’s the only place that anyone ever suggests for places to go.  Lisa’s house is in this no-man’s-land between the two towns, filled with strip malls of cell phone dealers, mattress stores, and a hidden pocket of co-op housing, built from former military barracks. It wasn’t rural, like Kelly’s home, but it wasn’t urban or suburban either. It just felt like you were lost in a grey area between two points on the map, with no tranquility and nothing to walk to, but conveniently located close to US-23, I-94, and two centers of employment.

water towerAs they drove down Washtenaw, the scenery changed from strip malls and fast food joints to a quaint and historic little downtown. They passed by the edge of Eastern Michigan’s campus, a surprisingly large university that gets dwarfed by U of M’s presence in Washtenaw county. Just across from the corner of campus, a ridiculously phallic-shaped water tower emerged with a wooden-shingled dome, dividing the 4-lane street into two boulevarded one ways. As their eastbound lanes curved right, it made room for a block of large historic homes that were now turned into student apartments.

Downtown was just a couple more blocks from campus, and looked much nicer than Kelly had imagined. There were three blocks decorated with matching acorn lampposts, like you would see in a Norman Rockwell painting, with intricate storefronts topped with apartments above. Each retail space was filled with some store or restaurant that you’ve never seen anywhere else. It held a very local charm, without a Starbucks in sight.Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti. Steve Pepple |

They found a free parking spot right out front on the main drag, and Kelly backed into the spot, waiting a minute for traffic to clear so she could open her door. She scurried to the sidewalk to wait for Lisa, turning herself around to take in all of her surroundings. She admired the diversity of the architecture, some modern, some ornate, with incredibly detailed stonework, and some simply old. “It’s really cute here,” she muttered aloud.

“I know, right? I was surprised the first time I came to Ypsi, too,” shared Lisa, “and Depot Town is equally nice. That’s where my office is, and it’s just a few more blocks that way,” she pointed in the direction of a bridge down the hill.

J_Neil's-thumb-590x384-72360“And THIS,” Lisa turned to face the crosswalk, “is where we are going!” Across the street was a large glass storefront with a corner vestibule. It looked like a restaurant, and an empty one at that. Kelly was a little bit disappointed, but followed her friend out of the cold. “So, I think this place is actually downstairs,” she posited, scanning the abundance of signage and literature that filled the entryway, looking for confirmation of this mystical venue.

logo“Ah! There it is- Keystone Underground-  Martini Bar!” Inside the restaurant, where a hostess stand should have been, a sandwich board sign stood waist-high, directing them down an open stairwell into a much darker space. As they reached the last steps, a truly unique space emerged. It was a long, narrow room, divided in half by a brick wall punctuated by arched openings. It felt a lot like an eastern European wine cellar, cozy and warm, ancient yet secretive. The underground bar had a modern flare, the bar lit dimly with neon signs that reflected off the bright orange bartop. To the left, as they walked through one of the archways, more seating appeared, and a DJ booth was set up against the back wall, not quite ready for the dance floor.

10400912_26605094757_3588_nLisa spotted her friend, and walked over to greet her with a hug. She was a short, curvaceous woman, with spiky hair. One long sweep of bangs curled in front of her left ear and framed a gigantic, beaming smile. In an instant, Kelly could tell that she’s the kind of person who can warm an entire room with her smile, which squished her wide blue eyes into dark slivers as her big, rosy cheeks reached for the moon. They walked back over to Kelly, who stood frozen in the mostly empty void, unsure of what to do. “Kelly, this is my friend, Bethany. She’s the one who is organizing the Electronic Saturdays here tonight!” “Hey there! How’s it going?” Lisa’s chipper friend asked as she greeted Kelly, then excused herself to go hug another stranger. She must be a little bit older than herself, Kelly thought, but her energy was through the roof, as she watched this pint-sized tattooed figure bouncing through the room, checking in with the DJ on equipment setup, greeting other people who were starting to trickle in the door. There weren’t many other people at this bar, but Bethany seemed to know every single one of them.

barThe bar was relatively new, and it appeared that most people didn’t know it existed yet. Kelly decided to have a drink, since there wasn’t a big enough crowd to feel comfortable dancing in yet. She asked her friend for suggestions, and had no idea what actually got ordered. A golden martini arrived in front of her, and it was tasty, but not cheap. Certainly, one $10 drink would be enough for the night. “And this is why I don’t like to go out and drink,” she reminded herself. The two chatted about work stuff, and at some point Lisa’s friend came back by to visit more. She was trying to persuade them to get out on the dance floor, where a total of zero people were dancing. “Hmmm… maybe in a little bit,” Kelly politely responded, with a suspicious feeling that there would be no dancing tonight. It was already getting late, and she was stifling yawns instead of shaking her groove thing, which meant that she wouldn’t last too much longer.


The people watching was pretty good, although the place never really did pick up much. Eventually, since the sole purpose of coming out was to dance, Lisa did convince Kelly to get up for a couple of songs. Bethany joined them, and was a welcome added distraction, not that there was anyone there watching them. Not surprising, she was a very outgoing, extroverted dancer, smiling and laughing and cracking jokes with the two. It was enough to help Kelly to relax and have some fun. “Awwww, yeah! That’s my jam!” she hollered, kicking up her heels and throwing her elbows back with excitement. Both Lisa and Kelly laughed out loud, the only two introverts to be found, both equally astonished and entertained by Bethany’s exuberance.

17474_1340610997960_7137416_nThe night turned out surprisingly well! They may not have spent hours dancing like Kelly had hoped for, but it felt really good to finally give in and get out there, even if they were the only ones dancing. Just before midnight, Corey thanked her new friend for helping them to break in the dance floor, and walked back upstairs to the street to turn into a pumpkin. “Perhaps she will be our new dancing buddy!” Kelly thought after dropping off Lisa and heading home. Cold car tires crunched over the gravel driveway. In the conifer-cloaked darkness, she quietly tiptoed through the front door, greeted by a cat along the way. She pulled her sweater over her head, sniffed it, and realized, “and I don’t smell like smoke!” When you factored in that sweet smell of success, Ypsilanti started to look like a great new option for dancing. And besides, Santa made an appearance at Keystone, and even swung around a steel column like a stripper, so, there’s always that to look forward to next time.


Update: The $10 martinis proved a bit too rich for Ypsi blood, at least circa 2009, so the venue no longer exists as Keystone Underground. Michigan passed a smoking ban that opened up all sorts of new smoke-free destinations soon after. But, that fateful night, during the brief period that Keystone Underground was in existence, Kelly met her soulmate. Kelly and Bethany rent the space they met at for their very own wedding reception when they got married two years later.



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