Grand Rapids staples Cottage Bar, One Trick Pony are up for sale

Cottage Bar
The Cottage Bar opened in 1927 as the Cottage Sandwich Shop. Courtesy Experience GR

The owner of Grand Rapids’ oldest bar and an adjacent restaurant is selling the businesses.

After 40 years of ownership, Dan Verhil said today he plans to sell the Cottage Bar and the One Trick Pony Grill and Taproom downtown.

“My most important goal and first order of business is to find a new owner and curator who appreciates the history of these iconic restaurants — someone who will carry on their legacy and honor my longtime and loyal staff,” Verhil said in a statement to employees.

Cottage Bar history

The original restaurant — the Cottage Sandwich Shop — was opened in 1927 by Earl and Marie Coons. After prohibition, the owners obtained the first liquor license in the city and renamed the restaurant The Olde Cottage Bar and Grill.

Peter Varano was the second owner. John Verhil, Dan Verhil’s father, bought the business in 1967. Dan Verhil took over in 1980.

The restaurant draws diverse community groups with regulars including members of the local media, the Gay Men’s Chorus and several choir groups from surrounding churches, Verhil said. It’s also been rumored that in the 1930s, mobster Al Capone frequented the restaurant and sat in a back corner booth facing the door, he said.

The Cottage Bar had a softball team called The Cottage Fries. Lew Chamberlin of the Whitecaps played on the team, and this is where the plan originated to start the Whitecaps.

In the 1970s, several cab companies forwarded their calls to Cottage Bar, as that’s where on-duty drivers spent time in between rides. When a call came in, the driver who had the least in his glass had to take the fare, Verhil said.

Verhil started the annual Cottage Bar Chili Cook-off in 1982. In its last year in 2018, 40 cooks participated in the event, which generated over $125,000 for local charities.

Famous guests include President Gerald R. Ford; Sen. Arthur Vandenberg; 60 Minutes Anchor Mike Wallace; musician Dave Brubeck; actors Ed Asner, Michael Keaton and Bruce Weitz; comedians Ruth Buzzi and Howie Mandel; and film director Paul Schrader.

One Trick Pony history

Verhil opened One Trick Pony in 1996 with the idea of creating a venue for local musicians. At 136 E. Fulton St., it’s housed in the oldest continuously occupied building in Grand Rapids.

The restaurant also has hosted its fair share of charitable events.

In the early 2000s, Verhil was a two-time recipient of the Michigan Restaurant Association’s Humanitarian of the Year Award in recognition of the multiple charitable events hosted at both restaurants.

Memorabilia on the walls of the restaurant depicts the lineage of proprietors, books that were written at the Cottage Bar, old bowling shirts and photos from the past.

“As I make this transition, I look forward to visiting with — and thanking — the wonderful colleagues, customers, partners and community members who I have come to know as friends. I trust they will continue to support and enjoy these heritage restaurants long into the future.”

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