About Us

About the Northside Grill and Lower Town

The Story of the Northside

Once upon a time in the town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Owner Jim Koli decided to start a business. He said he had two reasons. First: "Mental illness runs deep in the family". Second: " I realized I'd be counting the rings on the operculum bone of a perch.

After receiving a Fisheries Biology undergrad degree from the U-M School of Natural Resources in 1984, Jim realized he would need yet another degree to do the work he wanted, otherwise, he'd probably end up doing less gratifying work like counting the rings on the operculum bone of a perch. Fortunately, by the time this revelation occurred, he already was working in the food service industry.

He opened the Northside in July of 1993. The rest is history.

The Story of Lower Town

Huron and Potowatomi Native American tribes lived, hunted and traveled in the Northeast Area prior to European settlement in the early 19th century. Although no evidence of permanent Native-american settlement in Lower Town exists, two Native-American trails were found in the area when European settlers began arriving in Ann Arbor in 1824. On March 7, 1825, settlers made the first purchase of land in Lower Town near what today are Maiden Lane and Broadway. In 1828, the first Broadway Bridge was constructed over the Huron River. The area on the north side of the bridge became known as "Lower Town" since topographically it was a low point in Ann Arbor. In 1830, Anson brown bought the water rights and dammed the north side of the Huron River to build a flour mill. Brown named streets in the area after those in New York City, such as Broadway, Wall Street and Maiden Lane.

Anson Brown Building, 1832

This building, the oldest surviving commercial structure in Ann Arbor, has a symmetrical front facade, and parapet end walls characteristic of eighteenth century Dutch-influenced buildings on the east coast. Hand-hewn timber framing of oak is visible in the attic.

Anson Brown had worked for seven years on the Erie Canal before he arrived with his fortune in Ann Arbor, where he became the principal landowner of Lower Town, north of the river. He wanted his business district to be the commercial center of a fine metropolis, and he named his streets Broadway, Wall, Maiden Lane after the major avenues of the Empire City of his native state. He erected as a merchandising center this building and two similar blocks (The Exchange Building and, across the street, the Ingalls Block, replaced in 1959 by a motel and restaurant). The Washtenaw Hotel nearby was one of the largest hotels on the route from Detroit to Chicago, a comfortable stop before crossing the Huron River. The new buildings were an attraction to trade, and Brown was successful in securing an appointment from the Territorial Governor to be postmaster of the town. His brief but intense rivalry with the "hilltoppers" for control of Ann Arbor's development ceased abruptly when Brown died in the cholera epidemic of 1834.

The upper town regained political dominance, the new University of Michigan drew development in that direction and the railroad came through on the south side of the river. Brown's building outlasted all the other commercial structures of his time and is the only survivor of the town he envisioned and partially built.

The well-maintained building, somewhat European in flavor, was owned by the Colvin family for more than sixty years until it changed hands in 1989. It is currently owned by Jim Koli.