Bar food has come a long way since the days of raw onions and cheese served up at McSorley’s Old Ale House. These days, you can find anything from fish tacos with champagne slaw to confit duck nachos — and let me be the first to admit that even veggie-centric dishes like the sprout tacos at Donkey are some of the best bar eats you could ask for.
But with that in mind, the bars listed here — and others not mentioned, but hardly forgotten — ride it out in a Cool City with Hot Eats and have mellowed into an effortless cool. These are bars for the blue-collared, the server post-shift, the broke college kid, the neighborhood crew that’s been hoofing it down here for years, KBS Week be damned. Besides, you’ll probably find it on tap at some of these places anyways. Cheers to bars like these around the globe: the local’s local bar.
Garage Bar & Grill
819 Ottawa Ave. NW
It smells amazing in here. You walk in the door off Ottawa and wham! It’s like 100 years of deep fryers and flat-tops cranking out burgers and onion rings. If you sit at the bar, you can almost taste the metal it’s made from. There’s also a 2009 bottle of Dom Perignon sitting on one of the shelves behind the bar. I would love to hear the story about when that was opened in here.
I ate a ton of appetizers and did not regret anything at all. Onion rings, fried mushrooms, french fries, wings — dunk it in batter and serve it up. With all those fried molecules floating through the air around me, how could I not? The highlight: the onion rings were the good kind, freshly chopped and panko-breaded instead of that bready frozen stuff you find these days. And the “blam sauce” is better than HopCat’s beer cheese. FIGHT ME.
916 Michigan St. NE, Grand Rapids
Everybody’s aware of the tots here. And they are good, no, great bar food. Throw some jalapeños on the smothered tots and some days, that is just literally all you need.
But Logan’s also serves a few breakfast options, which is awfully tempting on a Sunday morning to go along with that hair of the dog. It’s also there all day long, like a best friend — maybe your dog?
But my pick’s gotta be the Cuban, loaded with mojo pork, ham, pickles, swiss cheese, and stone-ground mustard aioli on a roll. Then I have to get the P&P (parmesan and parsley) fries on the side. It’s meaty, it’s greasy, it’s melty, and it’s charred in all the right places. And you know it’s real, because delicious red oil is dripping onto those fries.
Speaking of the P&P’s, I suggest you be a pest and politely ask your bartender if the cooks will chop some raw garlic on those bad boys. It’s a lot of food, but you’ll need it. You always need it.
646 Stocking Ave. NW
Monarchs’ is one of my favorite bars around town. West Side neighborhood spots are one of the last windows into what Grand Rapids used to be like. It’s a beautiful old bar where pretense was left about three or four blocks south. It’s also one of the older bars in the city, and one that survived prohibition by stashing the hooch upstairs while the apothecary downstairs did its thing.
For me, it’s all about the dogs. Chili dogs, Chicago dogs, slaw dogs, Greek dogs, kraut dogs, Vienna dogs. Love ’em. But the Monarch also has a solid blue-collar sandwich game: Chicago-style Italian Beef, Italian sausages and Babushka’s kielbasa. Also, you have to love a place that has an “adult lunchable” on the menu. Sold!.