By NATE THOMPSON
A wise man once said, “Ah, good ol’ trustworthy beer. My love for you will never die.”
OK, it was actually Homer Simpson who confessed his love of ice-cold brew — the beverage that tastes the best at the end of a hot summer’s day. Especially in the Tri-Cities.
But the area has so much more to offer than just a simple frosty mug. If a visitor wants to know where the best bar in town may be, they could be in store for a number of responses, or even a follow-up question like ‘What are you in the mood for?’
Especially in the past three years. There’s now much more diversity created in establishments and the kinds of alcoholic drinks you can find once you plop down on a bar stool — from a new winery, to microbreweries, sports bars, themed restaurants, or even a basement dance club bumping head-spinning techno music.
Here’s some of the local favorites, but as Homer Simpson would argue, is there really such a thing as a bad bar?
Odd Sides Ales (41 Washington Ave., Grand Haven), poured its first microbrew on St. Patrick’s Day 2010 and instantly added a different dimension to the bar scene in downtown Grand Haven. An aspect about microbreweries that adds allure to a visit is brewmasters are often more than gracious to let patrons sample their work and owner Chris Michner is pretty creative at Odd Side. The Honey Brown lager is mouth-watering, but what on Earth could the Tom Cruise Stout or the Kilt Spreader taste like?
They’ve been handcrafting their beer a little longer at Old Boys’ Brewhouse (971 Savidge, Spring Lake), where they feature seasonal specialties and four “standards”: Connor’s Kolshc, a German-style golden ale; Dogtail IPA, a brew with pronounced bitterness and a citrusy finish; Kennel King Imperial IPA, which is loaded with hops; and Old Boys’ Brown Ale, which features a combination of caramel, victory and chocolate malts. The dog-theme is well-established at Old Boys’. Even their menus are in the shape of dog bones.
BAR-HOPPING ON WASHINGTON AVENUE
When warmer weather hits or the Coast Guard Festival is in full swing, so is the bar scene in downtown Grand Haven, especially on Washington Avenue, where there are as many as eight bars/restaurants within walking distance.
The furthest away from the water, but the spot with the best scene for live music is Rosebud (100 Washington Ave.) Whether it’s blues, classic rock or up-and-coming local alternative rock bands (such as Grand Haven’s own Four Finger Five), Rosebud prides itself on attracting the best acts.
A hop, skip and a jump down the road is the cozy Pavilion Wharf Bar and Grill (18 Washington Ave.) Although it’s a packed house with 40 patrons inside, it’s always a fun atmosphere, their drink prices are reasonable and their burgers are top-notch. The Pavilion also finds room to feature good local musicians and karaoke to spice up weekend evenings.
Right next-door is the Theatre Bar (24 Washington Ave.), easily recognizable with its large, red and white, overhanging showcase sign that is an architectural landmark downtown. The bar is more about upscale dining and is an ideal spot for a dry martini or a glass of chardonnay.
There are three levels at the Kirby House (2 Washington Ave.), and it could be argued that they appeal to three different types of crowds. The basement has recently been re-designed into high-energy dance club, complete with bartenders wheeling mixed drinks while techno and hip-hop beats thump in the background. The main floor is the dining area, but after 9 p.m., musical acts gather on stage in front of the 6-foot windowpane wall. Classic rock, blues, and alternative rock acts typically find no trouble filling up Kirby’s other dance floor. Upstairs — which is referred to as “K2” — is more family-friendly, with pool and shuffleboard tables, arcade-style video games, dart boards, an indoor and outdoor patio bar and plenty of seating. Their specialty is wood-fired pizzas.
Just around the corner on Harbor Drive is the two-year old establishment, 22 Below. The sports bar has oodles of TVs, and has a “cool” factor with a bar top that changes colors, and installed “freeze disks” on top that keeps drinks cold.
It’s up for debate, but the bar with the best reputation among locals is Tip-A-Few (10 Franklin Ave.) — which sits about 50 yards from 22 Below. Here’s a warning (or an invitation?): the Tip does not discriminate when it comes to slinging strong mixed drinks. Enough said.
They also have dirt-cheap cans of Natural Light (like your college days all over) and their menu features notoriously good ooey-gooey Mexican food.
The newest establishment to call the Tri-Cities Home is Lemon Creek Winery (327 North Beacon Blvd., Grand Haven). Opened in 2011, the attractively designed tasting room features 29 different varieties of wine. Employee Jim Bryant said the most popular choices are a Riesling white wine or in reds, their Pheasant Run. Lemon Creek’s construction cleaned up an eye-sore that was previously on the corner, and visitors have taken notice. Bryant said they’ll serve 50 to 100 guests a day during a summer weekend.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Just because they’re not downtown doesn’t mean that the Yellow Jacket (12011 Lake Michigan Drive, West Olive) or the Embassy (10396 Lake Michigan Drive, West Olive), can’t provide a fun evening. The Yellow Jacket has a great, diverse menu with several cheap options, and an outstanding buffet. Their most popular drink is the “Pink Drink,” which is their answer to the Long Island Iced Tea. It packs a serious punch, which is why they limit two per customer.
The Embassy is just fun. Sure, it might attract a few rough-neck bikers, but the atmosphere is laid-back, their mugs of cold beer are king-sized, and if your ears can handle it, the karaoke stage helps customers feel like they’re on “American Idol.” Just don’t boo them off that stage too loudly.