Neighborhood spotlight

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The city of Grand Rapids has nearly 30 neighborhoods contained within its boundaries. Courtesy Kate Dupre (katecreates.net)

Photography by Ashley Weirenga

The city of Grand Rapids has nearly 30 neighborhoods contained within its boundaries. Beyond that, the greater Grand Rapids community counts numerous suburbs that offer wonderful amenities within their individual communities. This month, we take a look at five Grand Rapids-area neighborhoods you should be enjoying right now.

Jump to:
West Side | East Hills | Midtown | East Grand Rapids | Creston and Monroe North


 

West Side

Neighborhood association: West Grand Neighborhood Organization

The West Side is a popular spot for dining and nightlife in Grand Rapids. Thanks in part to Rockford Construction, the West Side has seen a great deal of investment over the past decade. There are more apartments, more retail and more restaurants along Bridge Street, one of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares. But with that growth, challenges also have arisen. West Grand, the West Side’s neighborhood association, is working to help the neighborhood grow strategically, without leaving anyone behind.

History lesson
According to West Grand’s Annette Vandenberg, the West Side started out as a blue-collar neighborhood filled with hardworking homeowners. Over the years, the neighborhood has transitioned, however, first in the 1960s when the highway was constructed, cutting the West Side off from neighboring downtown Grand Rapids, and then again in 2008-09 when the housing crisis hit. Many of the homes within the neighborhood are now renter-occupied, changing the dynamics of the community. Vandenberg said West Grand is working to ensure that all residents in the neighborhood see the community as their home and take pride in their neighborhood. Much like the community members living in the neighborhood in 1973 who came together to work on improving the alleyways in the area, Vandenberg said today’s neighbors are coming together to be better stewards of the environment and to bring jobs and living wages to the community.

Investment projects
The recent addition of Bridge Street Market, a community grocery store, has been a huge asset to the West Side. Additionally, Vandenberg said Ralph’s, another small grocery, has made some investments in its building, and Wingers and Brann’s both are undertaking investments to improve their properties. Spectrum Health is bringing a medical campus to the community as well, with promises of living-wage jobs. The 100-year-old Broadway Church was purchased and is being renovated into a wedding events venue, and The Mitten Foundation is helping to make Richmond Park accessible to all. “There is just so much going on and it’s really cool to see,” Vandenberg said.

Biggest challenges
“The challenge is getting renters to understand that they too are part of the neighborhood, no matter how long they are there, and they are just as important. Instilling a sense of neighborhood pride,” Vandenberg said.

Vision for the future
To continue to be a neighborhood where residents get involved in the community through volunteering, and that businesses hire from within the community and offer employees a living wage, so they are able to purchase a home within the West Side.

Happy Hour Guide

By Jamie deGraaf Tulisiak

Ando Sushi + Bar, 415 Bridge St. NW
The vibes go beyond “happy” at Ando from 2:30-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11:30-3 p.m. Saturday, and all day Sunday during its “Joyful Hour.” Munch on $4 edamame, $5 gyoza, 25% off sushi rolls, and $12 ramen bowls while imbibing select drafts, signature cocktails and wine pours for $2 off.

New Holland Brewing-The Knickerbocker, 417 Bridge St. NW
The GR home of the longstanding Holland brewery serves up a vibe for all: a nightlife-perfect, wrap-around bar; a high-ceiling, window-lined dining room; and a massive back patio with a firepit and yard games. Stop in from 4-6 p.m. weekdays for $1 off beers, cocktails and rotating food specials.

Jolly Pumpkin Pizzeria & Brewery, 428 Bridge St. NW
This Michigan brewery now boasts eight locations — its sour house-brewed beers and eclectic pizza combos keep people coming back. Stop by from 4-6 p.m. weekdays when draft beer, house cocktails and pizzas all are $2 off.

Butcher’s Union, 438 Bridge St. NW
Butcher’s Union knows meat and whiskey. It also knows a good deal. Find yourself in the neighborhood from 3-6 p.m. weekdays for $6 classic cocktails, $3.50 drafts, $4.50 glasses of wine and a solid selection of cheap bites ranging from $4.50-$8.

One Bourbon, 608 Bridge St. NW
Serving up “magic brown water for fun people” from a menu that’s 200 varieties strong, One Bourbon owns the whiskey and bourbon scene in Beer City. Its daily happy hour from 3-6 p.m. includes $2 off cocktails and half-off drafts and wines by the glass. From 3-10 p.m. on Wednesday, all whiskeys on the “brown list” are $2.


 

East Hills

Neighborhood association: East Hills Council of Neighbors

The city’s East Hills neighborhood has one of the strongest identities in Grand Rapids. Located south of Fulton Street, west of Fuller Avenue, north of Wealthy Street and east of Union Avenue, East Hills consists of seven sub-neighborhoods and encompasses three business districts: Fulton East Business District, East Hills Business Association and Wealthy Business Association. East Hills has been dubbed “the center of the universe” because it falls in the center of the Midtown, Eastown, Baxter and Heritage Hill neighborhoods.

Assets
Its bustling business districts and its green spaces are two main attractions for the community’s residents. East Hills is home to 67% renters and 33% homeowners.

Vision for the future
To build and maintain a beautiful, diverse, friendly and safe place to live, work and play.

Happy Hour Guide

By Jamie deGraaf Tulisiak

Elk Brewing Company, 700 Wealthy St. SE
With an ever-rotating selection of taps, dog-friendly patio and BYO-food policy, patronizing Elk is always a safe bet. Take advantage of deals on the daily: Sunday $2 off pints; Monday movies and free popcorn, half-off apps and beer; Tuesday mug club night and $2 off pints; Wednesday $6 for a snack menu item and a Tier 1 or 2 pint; Thursday $2 Tier 1 beers.

Brewery Vivant, 925 Cherry St. SE
The stained-glass windows, open-beamed ceiling and chandeliers may give it away, but GR’s favorite Belgian-style micro-brewery once served as a funeral home chapel. Gather at the altar of craft beer from 3-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday for food specials and select $3 beers. Thursday night is stein night — bring your own stein and get $5 liter pours of mainstay beers.

Forty Acres Soul Kitchen, 1059 Wealthy St. SE
Celebrating authentically American heritage with perfectly prepared soul food, Forty Acres turns things up from 3-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday for the “Jump Off.” Enjoy combos of greens and cornbread for $4, and wings, fried shrimp or gizzards with fries for $7. And we couldn’t forget the booze: $1 off “hip hops,” $1 off drafts and ciders, and $1 off wine by the glass. Also, check out Saturday hip-hop brunch and Sunday
gospel brunch.

Paddock Place, 1033 Lake Drive SE
Atop its sprawling grounds, this mansion has been standing sentinel over East Hills since the 1870s. Previously home to Gilmore Collection’s Gibson’s and Mangiamo, the current iteration brings it back to its roots, serving up global cuisine in the grand rooms of the library and pub. Swing by from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday for $4 wells, house wines and $2 off all beers and $5 off all pizzas. On Wednesday, come “wine down” from 4-11 p.m. for half off all wine pours.

Maru Sushi, 927 Cherry St. SE
Offering signature rolls, fusion dishes and handcrafted cocktails that redefine traditional Japanese cuisine with modern flair, we’re in for Maru. Drop by for daily specials: Monday $3 off sake pours, $6 off premium sake carafes, $10 featured rotating rolls; Tuesday $2 select drafts, $12 Crouching Tigers; Wednesday $3 off glasses of wine, $10 off bottles; Thursday $6 craft cocktails.

What is Uptown GR?

You may have noticed more and more events being promoted by Uptown GR. If you’re a little confused about what Uptown GR is or what areas of the city it entails, you are not alone. Uptown GR is a geographic district in Grand Rapids that spans four business districts: Eastown, East Hills, East Fulton and Wealthy Street, and encompasses the neighborhoods of Baxter, East Hills, Eastown, Midtown and Fulton Heights. It also is an organization that is responsible for revitalization efforts of those business districts, including maintenance, placemaking efforts, community and volunteer engagement, and district promotion.

“The Uptown Corridor Improvement Authority was created by the city of Grand Rapids in 2007 as a mechanism to support revitalization efforts in its commercial corridors,” explained Ingrid Miller, executive director of Uptown GR. “The Uptown Business Improvement District was created in 2013 to provide funding that supports the ongoing maintenance of CIA improvements and to keep the district clean and inviting. In 2018, the city created Uptown Grand Rapids Inc. to oversee the efforts of both the CIA and BID and to expand work and collaboration with our neighborhood groups.”

Uptown GR works with each of its partners differently, providing event sponsorship, board seats, board training to its neighborhood association partners, and hands-on relationships with its business associations “helping to support our commercial corridors.”
Miller said the organization’s vision is to be “widely recognized as a thriving, dynamic and eclectic area in Grand Rapids encompassing four distinctive business districts surrounded by diverse, safe and desirable neighborhoods.”


 

Midtown

Neighborhood association: Midtown Neighborhood Association

The Midtown neighborhood is a popular spot for college students and empty-nesters alike, thanks to a plethora of living options. It also offers everything from coffee and pastry shops to a quaint upscale market, and it’s walking distance to the Medical Mile. You’ll find a handful of small-scale restaurants here, all of which offer a comfy, home away from home vibe.

History lesson
The Midtown neighborhood has a long history of folks coming together to improve the neighborhood. The Midtown Neighborhood Association was formed in the early 1980s after a fire gutted the Baxter Laundry. Madison Smith-Jacoby, executive director for the Midtown Neighborhood Association, said, “Neighbors united, and successfully rallied to turn it into a green space, which became today’s Midtown Green Park.” And nearly a decade ago, neighbors came together to raise funds to improve the more than 100-year-old Fulton Street Farmers Market.

Who lives in Midtown?
The neighborhood consists of a mix of renters and homeowners, with students, young professionals and new families. “We also seem to have a lot of dogs and kitties around,” Smith-Jacoby said.

Vision for the future
“We want to maintain the character of the traditional American neighborhood that has a variety of resources for its residents,” Smith-Jacoby said. “We hope to continue advocating for this mixed-use way of living as long as we are around. We want to protect the history we have in Midtown that is captured so well in the beautiful variety of colorful, well-built homes.”

Upcoming projects
“Some of our upcoming projects have been shifted due to the current climate of sociability. Typically, we gather for picnics or yard games with music at our green or host neighborhood clean-ups,” Smith-Jacoby said. “This summer we are excited to begin dreaming up an improved Midtown Green alongside our neighbors as we anticipate our parks millage dollars getting put to use in 2021! We can’t wait to see how our green space visions will be brought to life. We have some other programs up our sleeves that neighbors should stay on the lookout for, including a neighborhood-wide collaborative art project.”

Neighborhood highlights
The neighborhood includes the oldest cemetery in the city, Fulton Street Cemetery, and a local oasis of vibrant city life on the corner of Lyon and Union streets thanks to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Bakery and Lyon Street Cafe. East Fulton Street also is a vibrant area thanks to Van’s Pastries, Rakowski Market, Madcap and Spike & Mike’s.

Happy Hour Guide

By Jamie deGraaf Tulisiak

Duke’s, 700 Michigan St. NE
There’s a happy little stretch of Michigan Street where a chain of dive-like neighborhood bars keep things simple with delicious no-frills food and cheap, ice cold domestic drafts. Start your happy hour hopping at Duke’s from 3-7 p.m. weekdays for $2 wells and $2 domestic bottles — plus, Tuesdays and Thursdays domestic beer buckets range from $5-8.

The Friesian Gastro Pub, 720 Michigan St. NE
Making your way down Michigan, your next stop is The Friesian, a gastro pub whose name gives a nod to Grand Rapids’ rich Dutch heritage. From 3-5 p.m. weekdays get in on its grub specials — $8 per pound fried chicken wings and 20% off salads and charcuterie — and drink deals — $3.50 Tito’s, $2.50 wells, $1 off all drafts and $2 off all wine pours. Enjoy all this on the back patio or rooftop deck — a rarity in the Midtown bar scene.

Birch Lodge, 732 Michigan St. NE
Next, pop into Birch Lodge for more of what you love and expect from a low-key neighborhood bar, including pub grub, TVs broadcasting the game and a familiar, welcoming vibe. Its rotating happy hour deals on food and drinks are available 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, in addition to daily specials.

7 Monks Taproom, 740 Michigan St. NE
This Traverse City-based craft beer bar blesses Michigan Street with 50 tap handles — including sparkling wine and craft cocktails for those not as into the brews. Its expansive happy hour menu includes $5 wells and $2 off all wine, whiskey pours and Michigan drafts. If you’ve got an appetite, score $2 off any burger or cheap apps including $5 cheese curds, fried pickles and egg rolls, and $7 wings and sliders. Get it while it lasts: 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, or Tuesdays, when it’s happy hour all day long.

Logan’s Alley, 916 Michigan St. NE
End your Tour de Midtown at Logan’s Alley whenever you fancy, because here, it’s always happy hour. Drink all day (and night) on discount — ranging from $1 to 50-cents off all drinks at all times. Keep coming back for daily specials like $3.75 Bloody Mary Sundays or weekday afternoons with half off craft bottles and $4 apps.


 

East Grand Rapids

Just outside the Grand Rapids city limits is East Grand Rapids. This GR-adjacent neighborhood is a popular place for families to live thanks to its many amenities and walkability. John Collins Park is also a big draw, offering boaters a place to dock in the summer and ice fishers a place to drop a line in the winter.

History lesson
The city of East Grand Rapids sits on the border of Grand Rapids, often feeling like an extension of the city. But this upper-class suburb has claimed its own identity since 1891 when it was established as a village, and later, in 1926, when it officially became a city. East Grand Rapids was originally a resort town, with Reeds Lake at its heart. “During the late 1800s, Ramona Park was built and became an extremely popular amusement park,” said City Manager Doug LaFave. “Additionally, in the early 1900s, many men worked right on Reeds Lake harvesting ice for the surrounding area.”

When Ramona Park was closed in 1955, it was replaced with residential apartments and a new commercial shopping center. The land was eventually developed into the current Gaslight Village, which has become a retail and dining destination for the greater Grand Rapids area. The community also saw extensive homebuilding periods in the 1920s and 1950s, and “neighborhoods throughout the city now include a mix of historic, traditional and modern designs.”

Neighborhood vision
“While nearly all physical land in EGR is developed, we continue to see new and unique ways developers and families are engaging with the city. Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in new residential construction and an even larger increase in renovations,” said City Clerk Karen Brower.

Development projects
“We continue to move forward with our plans to fix the 47 miles of streets and 80 miles of sidewalks within our community. In 2015, our residents voted in favor of a road millage that will allow us to fix our roads and get them where they need to be,” said LaFave. “Additionally, Blodgett Hospital’s campus investment continues to move forward, and several planned-unit development projects have begun their approval processes through the planning commission.”

Housing needs
A densely packed residential neighborhood means new housing options have been a challenge for the community. East Grand Rapids continues to work on solving this issue. “Changing housing needs is something we’re looking at,” said Brower. “We continue to look at what trends will be in the coming years … during our master planning process, there was much discussion about making it easier to age-in-place when you no longer need a large family home. Or, having options for singles and couples who may be looking for condo or townhome options.”

Neighborhood today
The community has become known for its scenic views, top-notch school district, excellent municipal services, safe neighborhoods, close proximity to downtown Grand Rapids and the wide range of homes with varying price points. In 2019, EGR was voted as a “Best
City to Live in” by USA Today.

Happy Hour Guide

By Jamie deGraaf Tulisiak

Carolina Lowcountry Kitchen, 2213 Wealthy St.
This seafood-heavy kitchen pays homage to the laidback foods of the South Carolina coast. Swing by from 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday or 3-6 p.m. on weekends for half-off domestic drafts and house wine by the glass, $2 fresh oysters on the half shell and $4 select starters.

Rose’s, 550 Lakeside Drive SE
Wind down watching sailboats bob on Reeds Lake with a cocktail in hand on indisputably the best patio in town. From 2-6 p.m. daily from you can sip on $4 select drafts, house wines, sangria and cosmos while noshing on 20% off apps.

Jose Babushka’s, 2232 Wealthy St. SE
The idea of Polish-Mexican fusion may give you pause, but once you try a bite, you won’t stop. This hotspot does happy hour right with 2-6 p.m. daily specials of $3 wells, house wines and domestic drafts. Thursdays mean $3 off margaritas and Mexican beers, and Fridays are all about the $5 sangria.


 

Creston and Monroe North

The adjacent neighborhoods of Creston and Monroe North harken back to the city’s industrial boom. Both neighborhoods are transforming from those industrial roots to become modern-day hubs for living and working. Monroe North, in particular, has seen an influx of apartments as old manufacturing buildings are repurposed.

Monroe North
Known more as a former industrial corridor than a neighborhood, the Monroe North area has been undergoing a transformation for the past decade or more, with a handful of restaurants and bars, retail shops, fitness businesses and more popping up. There’s even a pet store and a hotel in the evolving neighborhood. There also has been a significant number of apartment and condo projects as the area seeks to attract residents and become a true neighborhood within Grand Rapids. The neighborhood stands to benefit from even more investment as the city’s Whitewater project continues along the Grand River. This is one of Grand Rapids’ “up and coming” neighborhoods.

Creston
Monroe North borders Creston, a historically blue-collar neighborhood that also has been undergoing investment efforts to attract more residents and businesses to the community. It’s been a bit of a rocky road for Creston, with a handful of projects announced that never came to fruition, but efforts still are underway to attract development.

Grand River connections
Its proximity to the Grand River is a huge asset for the Monroe North neighborhood, especially with the Whitewater project underway. The project calls for extensive investment in the Monroe North neighborhood, including river access, which will surely attract more residents and visitors. In the meantime, Sixth Street Bridge Park offers an opportunity for workers and residents in the neighborhood to relax.

Green space
The Creston neighborhood includes many parks, including Riverside Park, a 100-acre expanse located alongside the Grand River. This area is filled with recreational opportunities. It offers everything from baseball diamonds and a disc golf course to tabletop ping pong and picnic spaces. Another local park, Aberdeen Park, offers an impressive splash pad that was recently installed, and Creston is one of only three neighborhoods that still has a community pool, Briggs Park pool.

Arts hub
Creston is becoming a hub for artists in Grand Rapids. You’ll find several murals located in the neighborhood. There also are a handful of galleries, and each year the Creston Neighborhood Association hosts Art Bash for Creston, a fundraiser where artists create work live and then auction it off at the end of the night to raise funds for the community. Creston Brewery also hosts live music, spoken word poetry, drum circles and more, and counts as part of its mission to be a space for artists. The neighborhood also is the expected home of the DAAC, a music and arts space formerly housed along Division Avenue, and Gaia, a restaurant known for its vegetarian and vegan offerings that was formerly located in the East Hills neighborhood.

Happy Hour Guide

By Jamie deGraaf Tulisiak

City Built Brewery, 820 Monroe Ave. NW, Ste. 155
With a “know your name” kind of vibe, this GR-proud microbrewery has a constantly rotating tap list with unique flavor explosions and delicious Puerto Rican cuisine. It is happy hour from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays, which means $2 off beer, cider and mead, and $5 wine. Snack specials include $1 bori balls, $3 chicken pastelillo, $5 pork pupusa and $6 queservesa beer cheese.

SpeakEZ, 600 Monroe Ave. NW
Serving up that Prohibition charm with a handcrafted cocktail on the side, this classic joint is your answer to the workday blues. Slip in (no password required) from 3-6 p.m. weekdays for $1 off draft beers, $2 off glasses of wine, $3 off signature cocktails and half-off all starters.

Eastern Kille Distillery, 700 Ottawa Ave. NW
Another change of pace from the hop-saturated scene, Eastern Kille crafts authentic small batch whiskey and spirits. Its name is a nod to the river it’s nestled next to and the Great Lakes water from which its spirits are made — “kille” being Middle Dutch for “waterway.” Happy hour means $2 off all cocktails from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 1-6 p.m. Saturday, and 2-8 p.m. Sunday.

Creston Brewery, 1504 Plainfield Ave. NE
Creston Brewery gets 10 out of 10 for ambiance. Its historic building has high, tin ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and striking pillars, and is decorated with local makersr’ Art Nouveau murals and artwork for purchase. Soak it all up from 3-6 p.m. weekdays when its aromatic beers are $1 off and snackables, including mini chimis, veggie egg rolls and deviled eggs, are $5.

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