“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things.”
Of polls, and votes, and sentiments — of local queens and kings,
And why Grand Rapids won it all, and what this even means.
That’s right, readers — the votes are in. Revue’s inaugural Best of the West poll came to a close on June 25, meaning we’ve had a month to tally the ballots and analyze the results.
We asked anyone and everyone passionate about West Michigan to vote for their favorite local establishments and/or people in 127 categories, from New Restaurant and Best Bartender to Farmers’ Market and Best Record Store.
In an effort to keep things 100-percent reader-driven, the nominations for each category were written in entirely by you guys, starting from a blank slate on May 1. In the end, more than 4,000 nominations made it into the poll, with god-knows-how-many being thrown out in the process (we don’t really consider “Walmart on Alpine” a local business, y’all).
Now there’s a lot of numbers in this next paragraph, so brace yourself: Over the two months the survey was live, thousands of people participated in one round of voting — no brackets, elimination rounds, any of that. As for us, we’re announcing just the top three winners in each category. In the following pages, some of our writers are going to delve into what exactly these results might say about the victors and the communities they’re in. They’ll also share thoughts on who they think “should have” won (i.e. Staff Picks). But first, let’s take a look at the big picture.
GR On Top
Even though our contest spans West Michigan, maybe 15 of the first place winners aren’t based in Grand Rapids. In some ways, that’s not too surprising, given that the city’s population is larger than Holland’s, Muskegon’s and Kalamazoo’s combined.
On the other hand, according to IP addresses, only about 37 percent of respondents were voting from GR. But it doesn’t take a hard majority (more than 50 percent) to win in a poll like this. In fact, the ballot was spread so thin in one category that the first place winner garnered only 4 percent of the total vote. There were some close calls.
Similarly, we move more print magazines out of Founders’ taproom than any other single location (FYI: Revue is distributed in roughly 550 spots across West Michigan). Now guess which local brewing company brought home five first-place, four second-place and third-place wins — all without promoting itself for the contest even once: Founders.
Meanwhile, Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo is the seventh largest craft brewery in the country, producing more than twice as much beer as Founders every year, but Bell’s won a single category.
While many of the winners are what could be considered “local institutions” (i.e. Vertigo Music, HopCat, Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse), it looks like you guys are getting excited about all the new offerings as West Michigan continues to grow. Harmony Hall, Long Road Distillery and Furniture City Creamery are all new players that made strong showings already.
Even more impressive, Greyline Brewing Co. opened doors five days before this contest began and won first place in the New Brewery category.
At a glance, it seems the key to making a splash as a new establishment is either bringing something novel to an area (i.e. Furniture City’s small-batch, vegan ice cream) or having a strong reputation established by a previous business (i.e. Harmony Hall).
Still, when so many of our winners have also reigned supreme for years in other publications’ similar contests, we have to ask: Why?
Does Yesterdog really have the best hot dogs in West Michigan? Is All Day actually Founders’ best IPA? Is an established product/business/artist more likely to win because of actual quality or just reputation? Is quality subjective? Does reputation necessitate quality or are people merely comforted by familiarity and popularity? Where do nostalgia, experience and atmosphere come in?
Ah, well. I’ll save the existential crisis for another time.
All Right, Wrap It Up
We didn’t expect or require anyone to vote in all 127 categories. As a result, people hopefully only gave their opinion where they actually cared.
Here are some fun facts that resulted:
- People have some strong opinions about the Best Burger. It was the most-voted-in category by about 300 votes.
- Of the five larger survey categories, Services & People was actually the most active, probably due to bartenders/hair stylists/artists asking their friends to take part via social media posts.
- The Grand Rapids Symphony was the single most-voted-for nominee in any one category. I don’t really have an explanation for this — but kudos to them.
And there you have it. I now give you permission to scrutinize, celebrate and/or condemn the results. Just remember, if you’re upset about something, and you didn’t even vote … well, there’s always next year.