Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Old-School, Local Watering Holes ~ Greater Grand Rapids Area

We have been talking about doing this for well over a year and finally started our official visits in February, 2018. As much as we enjoy experiencing new restaurants and breweries, we also love finding neighborhood favorites that have existed for years and are filled with regulars in the know. These places are scattered throughout all of our neighborhoods, and our mission is to find them all.


5. The Holiday Bar, 801 5th St NW, Grand Rapids ~ 12/6/18
This place originally opened in 1905 across the street at 585 Stocking NW, where Arsulowicz Brothers Mortuary currently sits. When Prohibition hit in 1920, Holiday Bar closed and didn't re-open until 1959, in its current location. So with a gap of almost 40 years, it is a little misleading to claim they've been in business 113 years. But nonethess, it is a Westside staple.
The vast space is broken up by the large horseshoe bar in the middle. Tables and/or booths, and a lot of TVs, run along either side and we took a table at the front windows.
Our server was prompt but very diffident in her dealings with us. She was eager for us to put in our orders so lack of attention was not a problem but she was not friendly or personable and we had the feeling she wanted to get us out of there as soon as possible. But we held our own and ordered when we were ready, starting with Titos, Peary Manilow, Winter White Ale, and Blackberry IPA.
 
 

4. Nighthawk Food and Spirits, 6950 Whitneyville Rd, Alto ~ 10/25/18
Nighthawk has been around for many years and you'll find it set back from the road, with the best name ever.
If it's not named after the famous 1942 Edward Hopper painting, that would be a major disappointment. (Photo from Wikipedia and detail from a 2009 visit to the Art Institute in Chicago.)
This Nighthawk doesn't have the atmosphere either of the painting or of other places we've visited but it was worth visiting. The entrance hall divides the space into two distinct areas. The space to the right is a dining area that also contains the restrooms.
On the left, which is where we were seated, the bar is located, as is a pool table.

This chalkboard greeted us upon entry and The Railtown beer special (Peanut Butter Coco Time) was promptly ordered, along with a Stella, a Bonfire Brown, and a Vodka on the rocks. We all tasted the Railtown brew and agreed that we each should have ordered it :-)
We learned from the menu that Chicken Gizzards were the House Specialty ~ that was a new one. And note that any dip or sauce added will cost you an additional 50 cents. Would you want to eat these without any dip or sauce? I don't think so. We felt compelled to try the gizzards, however, and, surprisingly, they weren't half bad.
In a beautiful example of bar food, the Hawk sampler platter allows you to pick four from an offering of eight. Our delectable selections were potato skins, southwestern egg rolls, boneless chicken wings, and onion rings.
With all of that food to start, we each split our next items. The grilled chicken burrito came in a lot more liquid than expected (it looked like soup) but was good nonetheless.
And as is our habit, we split an order of fish (cod) and chips. The cod was nicely seasoned and tender to taste.
The TouchTunes jukebox was right next to us but music played rarely. Nighthawk has a large catering business and since they have been in business for over 30 years, they obviously have a local fan base. Check them out if you're in the area.


3. The Elbow Room, 501 Fuller Ave NE, Grand Rapids ~ 9/5/18
Back in the 1940s, this place was Walt's Pub. In the 1950s, it was The Frolic Garden. And since 1995, this iconic spot just off the highway has been known as The Elbow Room.
There's a large round table in the back where the main entrance is. This is also where the free popcorn can be found.
This is a cozy space with four tables, four booths, and a long bar.
With Cedar Springs Brewing on draft and fresh popcorn to begin with we took our time choosing from the menu (Jagermeister is also on tap if that's your thing).
Two of us ordered the perch basket with a side of slaw and the fish was well prepared.  Especially notable was the tarter sauce that had mustard added. I don't think we can enjoy tarter sauce any other way from now on.
The bacon cheeseburger arrived as ordered and was juicy and flavorful.
The special of the night was a Southwest chicken sandwich: bacon, bbq sauce, jalapeno, and pepperjack cheese. The sandwich was moist and cooked to perfection and was claimed to have been the best chicken sandwich ever eaten. High praise indeed!
Service was superb on this night with some management oversight. After we had ordered, our menus were still out on the table and the manager stopped by to see if we had placed our orders or if we needed service.
The Elbow Room was friendly and crowded but not overly noisy. One tip for women patrons: don't look for the restroom in the back hall (entry) where you would expect it to be. It's tucked in the corner of the main eating area. (The Men's Room is in the back hall.) The Women's Room was serviceable but a little rough.
There's also an Elbow Room entrance off Fuller but we didn't see anyone use it. The parking lot has just one handicap spot, at least that we saw. Happy Hour runs 3-7pm all week and starts again 9-midnight Sunday through Wednesday. We can safely recommend spending an evening in the ER!
   

2. Birch Lodge, 732 Michigan St NE, Grand Rapids ~ 7/31/18
Tucked in next to the shiny new 616 Lofts and 7 Monks Taproom building is where you will find Birch Lodge. The contrast between structures makes us want to declare Birch Lodge a historic landmark.
The main entrance is on the side of the building, and we walked into this long narrow space, with a bar that seats about a dozen, and the rest of the place filled with various sized tables, most of which were full. Happy Hour!
The decor here is unique with outdoorsy paraphernalia like animal heads and sporting equipment on the walls and the not-so-unique TVs everywhere.
They've also acquired lots of signs.
And what's not to like about a wagon wheel chandelier?
Our promised $1.99 happy hour beers were Old Style and Miller High Life, old school indeed.
Joining our beverages were Fried Zucchini and Mushrooms (stout battered and homemade). So delicious and so greasy.
Every night here has its specials and Tuesdays offer complimentary Chili or Soup, but you have to ask for it. If you are not pro-active enough to read through the menu, that is your loss. So since we read the menu, soup and chili were ordered.
We tried four more items from the menu, two of them burgers. The Lodge Burger came with  American cheese, grilled onions and bacon, and the Olive Burger combined green olives and Havarti. Both were consumed without complaint.
The Fish (cod) and the 'chips' were greasy like the appetizers and the fish was slightly overcooked but still tender.
The Parmesan encrusted patty melt sound better than it tasted. The promised 'light rye' bread wasn't rye and the sauce, although described on the menu, was not the traditional sauce. So just take that into consideration.
Back on July 8, 2017, this place suffered a devastating fire that destroyed its kitchen but thankfully spared the rest of the building. In May of 2018 the Lodge re-opened and we think the neighborhood is better for it. Birch Lodge is still standing.

1. River Bend Bar and Grill, 8124 Fulton St E, Ada ~ 2/23/18
Formerly known as The Dirty Shame, the place changed owners and names some time back but has a very long history as The Shame. It apparently cleaned up a bit from what it was but is still popular with locals. On this Friday night, there was one table open at 5:30 and Happy Hour was in full swing.
Beer is the beverage of choice with the 24 oz tall a favorite. If you choose wine, your  selection will arrive in a little bottle.
Being a Friday, fish was the special of the night, an all-you-can-eat pollock, and cod was also featured on the menu. Both were well-prepared, tender and tasty.
There is a lot of activity in this place and the pool table was busy. We watched the live music setting up but didn't stay for the performance. Beatles' music was promised, however, and we liked the iPod rigged up :-)
Other nights will bring different music and other specials, like this Thursday night Polish platter.
But the noisy crowd will be here whatever night you stop in, especially at Happy Hour, enjoying the food, beer, and each other's company.