An Enduring Community Institution

After 52 years, The Apartment Lounge is still ’the place where friends meet.’
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The unveiling of the "Rainbow Road" mural outside The Apartment Lounge, 33 Sheldon Ave. NE, was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2019. Owner Bob Johnson is pictured at right.

While there aren’t as many gay bars and social venues as there once were in Grand Rapids, The Apartment Lounge is one of those community institutions that has endured. The 52-year-old gay bar is a welcoming beacon for folks from all walks of life, regardless of who they are or what they look like.

Originally owned by partners Milt Lennox and Ed Ladner, The Apartment Lounge has hosted countless customers and decades of celebrations. Perhaps it’s fate that Bob Johnson, the current owner of about 11 years, is at the helm today; he knew Lennox and Ladner well.

“I met them on my 21st birthday in the old Apartment Lounge, and Milton embarrassed me in front of the whole wide gay world by taking my driver’s license and telling everybody they had a newbie,” Johnson said. “We became friends over the next five years. We always talked about me buying it, and when he got sick, he called me in and said, ‘You know, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here; I’m worried about The Apartment’s future, and I want you to be the new owner,’ I was so excited.”

The bar’s slogan is, “The place where friends meet,” but of course, it’s also a place where couples meet. Kurt Moore and John Ruud met at the bar 12 years ago, though Ruud has been a patron since it stood at its previous location on the corner of Monroe and Fulton.

“A lot of us from our generation, we kind of grew up, and that was a special place – that’s where the gays went,” Ruud said. “I think culturally, it’s more of a touchstone because we were a group of people that couldn’t just go to any bar without being closeted, because at the time you really couldn’t.”

Though a few things at The Apartment Lounge have changed since the couple met, the core tenants are the same.

“It’s a safe place,” Moore said. “It’s kind of like my living room, with friends in it. It’s like Cheers. We love the outside part, but it’s kind of funny – gays went from being hidden in a way, to now, when we’re outside, we’re just like, ‘If someone has a problem, they have a problem,’ I’m tired; I’m 60; I’m not going to apologize for being gay.”

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Ever since Pasha Shipp could talk, she's been dreaming up colorful stories. Fantasy creatures, mysterious kingdoms, enchanted forests, you name it. As she reached adulthood, she decided to take the magic out of her head and put it down on paper. Pasha has been writing for Grand Rapids Magazine since November 2015, and has loved every minute of it. She has a master's degree in Communication and a bachelor's degree in Film Studies from Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University respectively. When she isn't daydreaming and writing stories for the magazine, she's exploring the many hidden treasures of Grand Rapids with her fiancé.