With the beautiful summer evenings making it easy to stay up well past bedtime, options abound for where to spend those “extra” hours.
While Grand Rapids has a relative lack of traditional nightclubs, there are many amazing establishments for most moods.
The 2 a.m. closing time is out of reach for many bar-goers in West Michigan, and downtown still tends to largely clear out by then, but even for those wanting a late-night tipple, there are options.
For our nightlife purposes, this time around we’ll avoid the breweries and distilleries that help shape what Grand Rapidians drink. (Editor’s note: They’re the focus of our November/December issue.)
Instead, we’ll shine a light on some of the places that put an emphasis on various aspects of a great night beyond dinner.
Sometimes, a great dinner calls for a light stroll to a new location and a fancy cocktail to top off the meal. Sure, a fantastic restaurant will likely have a nice pour of your favorite whiskey or digestif, but a change of scenery really helps digestion.
SideBar, 80 Ottawa Ave. NW
When SideBar first opened in 2015, it was at the front end of a new cocktail movement in Grand Rapids. Since then, it has continued the boundary-pushing beverage vibes. The 18-seat bar is cozy, but the vibe is lively and helps foster conversation.
The menu changes each season, but you can count on a wide selection of modern and classic cocktails. The talented bartenders also will happily craft a cocktail to individual tastes.
The Lumber Baron, 187 Monroe Ave. NW
This small bar in the Amway Grand Plaza calls to mind drinks inside a cozy study located within a stately mansion. The atmosphere is warm, and while it can at times feel a little stiff, it also screams “after-dinner drink on a fancy date night.”
The menu has all the classics and some new twists, while also providing an extensive whiskey list. Plus, they cap off the experience with little chocolate coins!
There are some people who just can’t help wanting to perform. There are likely dozens of places in the Grand Rapids area that allow patrons to belt out their favorite tunes, but these two spots in the heart of downtown do so with style.
K–Rok, 169 Louis Campau Promenade
A recent addition to the Grand Rapids dining scene, the Korean BBQ and karaoke joint is a perfect spot to let the tunes fly.
Unlike American karaoke, Korean karaoke puts groups in private rooms for more intimate performances.
Z’s Bar & Restaurant, 168 Louis Campau Promenade NW
Z’s is a staple of the downtown bar scene, and its karaoke is a major reason why. It’s also one of the few bars in the area to stay open until 2 a.m. almost every night of the week — except Sunday, when it closes at 1 a.m.
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, karaoke is center stage from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Z’s. The bar also offers trivia at 7:30 p.m. on Mondays.
For those who don’t want to sing and would rather listen, these spots are great for the wallflowers.
Grand Rapids has a great music scene, whether its local bands or touring acts making a stop in town. Here are a few of the great venues in downtown offering up live tunes.
The Intersection, 133 Cesar E. Chavez Ave. SW
A staple in the Grand Rapids music industry since it was located in Eastown, its downtown location is a touring stop for many bands across the country.
Whether it’s hip-hop, rock, country or metal, the shows at the Intersection run the gamut. There are five stages with varying capacities, so you never know what kind of atmosphere might be rocking on a given night.
Turnstiles Bar, 526 Stocking Ave. NW
A recently opened neighborhood haunt, Turnstiles provides Grand Rapids with “live music, craft cocktails and friendly faces.”
The bar offers live bands on the weekend, open mic night on Thursday, a singer-songwriter series on Tuesday and a variety of other themed nights throughout the month.
The Pyramid Scheme, 68 Commerce Ave. SW
In the front, The Pyramid Scheme is a heck of a bar in its own right, complete with a massive collection of pinball machines that host the Grand Rapids Pinball League on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. There also is all-ages pinball from 4-8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
But the real draw to The Pyramid Scheme is the music. Since its opening in 2011, many great bands, artists and comedians have hit the stage at the venue.
Time for a cold one?
There are plenty of bars in the downtown area and all of them offer up cold beer. These are particularly atmospheric spots to grab a pint. Whether it’s one of the oldest establishments in Grand Rapids, a goofy take on a dive bar or a true craft beer hot spot, these are favorite downtown stops for a brew.
Garage Kitchen & Bar, 819 Ottawa Ave. NW
A bit off the beaten path from the core of downtown, the Garage is a cool dive bar without being a real dive. The location has been a bar for decades (remember Teazers?), but its time as the Garage started in 2014.
The Garage has a 2-3-4 special all day, every day — a $2 draft beer, $3 well drink and $4 glass of wine. The food is good and the drinks are cold. The best part? The beers are served in reusable red plastic cups.
HopCat, 25 Ionia Ave. SW
What’s a better spot for a beer than the place that made Grand Rapids Beer City? HopCat has in many ways grown beyond what once made it special, but the roots are still there.
The beer menu is still large with plenty of great options not found in most bars downtown. It’s well worth the stop if you’re looking for a special beer.
Cottage Bar, 18 LaGrave Ave. SE
The oldest pub in Grand Rapids is a must-stop for Grand Rapidians. It opened as a sandwich shop in 1927, but it’s been licensed for beer and wine since the repeal of Prohibition.
Now, it’s still one of the coziest, warmest places to grab a beer or cocktail in downtown.
Up for an adventure
There are some unique spots downtown that offer visitors everything from international flair to intentional intrigue.
Max’s South Seas Hideaway, 58 Ionia Ave. SW
There’s something about a tiki bar that screams “good time” for a significant portion of the population. This place has three separate bars and plenty of room to check out the various vibes.
Be aware, however, that the drinks are high octane — as is the tiki way. But they are delicious and created by award-winning cocktail author and rum expert Martin Cate.
Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW
This hip spot is full of entertaining attractions. From giant, stuffed burgers to its equally giant list of whiskies, Stella’s keeps visitors happy in a variety of ways. Enjoy the vintage arcade games and TVs featuring classic shows, and don’t miss Thursday Burger Nights when the signature sandwiches are $5 off with the purchase of a drink.
IDC, 187 Monroe Ave. NW
To get into IDC, you need a password. To get that password — one that changes monthly — you need to sign up on the website.
It’s a private, covered balcony bar that’s part of the Amway Grand Plaza. That’s all we’ll tell you for now.
Knoop, 131 Ionia Ave. SW
Knoop is one of the swankiest spots in Grand Rapids. The location is awesome, at the top of a building in Studio Park. The design is chic, basically made for Instagram.
But aside from the great location, the food and drinks are pretty awesome, too, once you get there.
This is the category many younger professionals might be thinking when they want a night out on the town. The closure of The B.O.B. really put a damper on a central place to congregate for a fun night out. But these stops are fully up to the task of keeping the party alive.
Flanagan’s Irish Pub, 139 Pearl St. NW
Downtown’s classic Irish pub has been a local watering hole for ages. The pub is a restaurant by day, with all the Irish fare one could hope for (try the shepherd’s pie).
While the food is tasty, this place — like most Irish pubs — cranks up the fun meter after normal dinner hours. Of course, one should be drinking Guinness and Smithwick’s at Flanagan’s, but shots of Jameson and Bushmills probably aren’t far behind.
Mojo’s Dueling Piano Bar, 180 Monroe Ave. NW
Mojo’s is among Grand Rapids’ longest-standing nightlife staples now and is the definition of socialization. It opens at 6 p.m. and the music goes all night long. (It is a piano bar, after all.)
Dueling pianos start at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with a $5 cover charge on Friday and Saturday starting at 9 p.m.
The second floor has a DJ on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights.
One thing is for sure: The drinks are priced right, from a $4 tequila sunrise to the $7 martinis.
Social House, 25 Ottawa Ave. SW
A self-described new-American pub, Social House is a solid restaurant during lunch and dinner hours. Happy hour is a heck of deal as well, with $4 draft beers and house wines, $6 martinis and $5 off appetizers. Sundays serve up a tasty brunch.
Once 10 p.m. rolls around, however, the party starts. On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, a DJ takes the stage, while Thursdays are reserved for live music.
Grand Woods Lounge, 77 Cesar E. Chavez Ave. SW
Like most of the late-night hot spots in Grand Rapids, Grand Woods Lounge also serves up a variety of lunch and dinner options.
But the Woods ends up being a place people line up for late into the evening, and like some of the best college bars in the state, it serves up 84-ounce buckets of cocktails.
This story can be found in the May/June 2022 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.