We all have our watering hole — the local bar we visit for a drink without thinking, where we know all the bartenders, the specials and what’s on the jukebox.
For me, that’s The Meanwhile. It’s my Moe’s, my Paddy’s Pub, my Cheers. It’s my comfort food.
But what about when you want something different? First dates, friends in town, special events — for these, the watering hole may not do.
Lucky for us, Grand Rapids is chock full of bars. And I don’t mean breweries, distilleries and restaurants. I mean bars. Sure, they might have food and craft beer, but these places exist primarily as a space to hang out and have a drink. Next time you’re wondering where to do just that, check out one of these crowd-pleasers.
FRIENDS IN TOWN: IDC
187 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
IDC bills itself as the place you go when you don’t know where you want to go. Unfortunately, they have too much pizazz and personality to be that kind of afterthought. In fact, if you’re looking to show your friends in town what downtown GR has to offer, IDC is ideal.
Of course your friends will want to visit legends like Founders and HopCat, but IDC is how you truly impress. This bar hidden in Amway Grand Plaza is for those “in the know,” meaning it requires a secret password to get in. Obviously, this alone will impress your friends — even if it just means signing up for IDC’s monthly emails — but the disco décor, margarita popsicles, fancy cocktails and heated patio will have them planning a move to the mitten.
Sorry for letting the secret out, don’t all go at once!
GIRLS NIGHT OUT: Social House
25 Ottawa Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Let’s say your friends are already in town, and those friends happen to be girls. Wednesday nights at Social House are for you! This relatively new spot combines a full bar with great food, music and fun in a casual yet modern setting. Above all, this is a place to gather.
If you want as much fun as possible, head here on Wednesdays for Girls Night Out, with specials on wine, margaritas and more! Social House’s prices are already lower than most, so any deals on top of that are practically a steal. Grab a bite, enjoy the patio and drink up before heading to a dance party or karaoke night.
MEETING A FRIEND: Logan’s Alley
916 Michigan St. NE, Grand Rapids
If you’re meeting exactly one friend, Logan’s is right up your alley (sorry).
This bar is the perfect mash-up of a dive and a craft beer bar in both atmosphere and offerings. Do you want a healthy selection of hazy, juicy IPAs? What about a shot and a lager, a.k.a. the Blue Light Special?
Whatever you’re drinking, you can easily find a seat for two here, but it’s just busy enough to avoid any awkward silences and just loud enough to keep out eavesdroppers. No matter who you’re with, you’ll find something to love at Logan’s.
LAYING LOW: Monarch’s Club
646 Stocking Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Founded as a speakeasy in 1925 and reborn as a pub in 2006, Monarch’s Club is a historic neighborhood bar worth traveling to, especially if you’re feeling chill. Maybe you’re even grabbing a drink all on your own — I’ve done this many times.
Whether alone or with friends, Monarch’s is the place to get some cheap drinks and lay low. I’ve never seen it empty and never seen it overwhelmed. No matter the time of day, it’s always just a few groups relaxing and having nice chats on the patio or shooting pool.
That’s not to mention the classic Red Lion hot dogs — if you know, you know — and 28 craft beers on tap. Vibe out!
DATE NIGHT: GRNoir Wine and Jazz
35 S. Division Ave., Grand Rapids
Maybe your friend isn’t a friend at all. Maybe they’re an attractive person you’re trying to simultaneously get to know and impress a little bit. Maybe you need a place to chat, snack and sip wine, with built-in conversation breaks for live jazz.
If these maybes are your reality, head to GRNoir. The atmosphere is plush but extremely welcoming, fitting with the bar’s mission to help introduce “regular” people to wine and jazz, two pursuits often seen as high society in today’s world. Essentially, the whole place is a conversation piece.
GAME NIGHT: House Rules Board Game Lounge
404 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Craft Beer Cellars is dead — long live House Rules! This new board game lounge is for absolutely everyone. Whether your friends like Cards Against Humanity, Settlers of Catan or Twilight Imperium, there’s no better place to have incredible craft drinks along with your game night.
Bring your own game, buy one off the shelf, or borrow one of 200+ plus games from the Lounge Library. Then, choose from one of 20 drafts, which feature not just craft beer but craft soda, root beer, build-your-own seltzer and more! On top of that, the cooler has hundreds of CBD, kombucha, seltzer, tea, coffee options and more. Game on.
BAR FOOD: Turnstiles Bar
526 Stocking Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
After years of vacancy, the old Royal Palace of India is now Turnstiles, a unique bar focused on music. A stage for live music, traditional jukeboxes and a jazz band mural set the theme in this super welcoming new bar with a classic feel and craft cocktails.
And yet, you might notice our suggestion says “craving bar food.” That’s because every person who’s eaten at Turnstiles can’t stop raving about it! Turnt Fries, Mayhem Chicken Mac N’ Cheese, The Tunabomber, these are just a few highlights of a menu that takes bar food and turns it up to 11. Quite frankly, I’m getting hungry.
BACHELOR PARTY: BOLD Cigar Bar & Lounge
144 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
When you’re hosting bachelor festivities, you want to start off somewhere classy and drink your way toward the party. BOLD is a cigar lounge downtown with a huge walk-in humidor, amazing cocktails and extremely helpful owners. Whether you’re an expert or have never touched a cigar in your life, they’ll lead you to the right smoke and even cut it for you. Then you can sit around and talk about bachelor stuff, with a drink and tobacco in hand. Just remember to dress business casual!