Wednesday, 01 November 2017 11:03

Things We’re Thankful For: Revue’s team expresses our gratitude for West Michigan

Written by  Revue Staff and Guest Writers
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Unless you take some time to reflect, you might not know what you’ve got until it’s gone. So just think: What would you miss if you moved away from West Michigan? 

That’s the question we here at Revue asked ourselves this month. Whether it be people, places or events, we all have something we love about West Michigan — otherwise, we likely wouldn’t live here. For some people, it’s the brewery where they discovered truly great beer. For others, it’s a festival full of great music and kind people. For someone else, it’s that special lake or park where they go to clear their head.

The point is, there’s a lot to love around here, so much so that we brought on some community figures to act as guest writers and give their own thanks.

Whether or not you’re thankful for the same things as us, take some time this month to really think about what you’re blessed to have around you. Then, maybe take a little more time to let those people or places know how you feel.

Kelly Brown is thankful for:

Heritage Hill

I love old homes. There is something about beautiful, sculpted, towering exteriors, and it puts a smile on my face. I suppose this is in comparison to the absolute rage I feel when I see a subdivision with house after house lined up, all the same. Same siding, same large windows, two-car garage, perfectly manicured lawn … so boring.

The Heritage Hill district is my comfort zone. It’s not only my favorite place to run in Grand Rapids, but it’s also the place I feel the safest and most “at home.” I find myself returning from vacations anxious to head out on a walk through the tall homes that welcome me with warm lights, unruly gardens and chipped paint. I wander aimlessly, looking in dimly lit windows at night, watching people lead their extremely normal lives. I wonder who they are, why they live in this mansion, why they chose to add that specific sculpture, in that specific location, on their white front porch.

Maybe it’s the fiction writer in me that is too curious to look away. Who knows what stories lie in the history of those delicate and fragile homes? If the narrative of my life pulled me from Grand Rapids permanently, I know it would somehow loop and spiral back to West Michigan every couple of years, just so I could grab a beer and walk it off through my favorite streets, saying “hello again” to the neighborhood I love.

Brewery Vivant

925 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids

In college, I was always the girl at the tailgate drinking Sierra Nevada, Founders or Bell’s. Yes, I was THAT girl. I took pride knowing that I’d grown up with a dad who enjoyed a solid beer. The women in my family didn’t venture beyond wine or cocktails, and I felt connected to my father through our similar taste in beer and music.

I heard about Brewery Vivant through a friend, though they only mentioned the fries. My first trip there was an average night — my first sip of Undertaker was anything but. The pitch-black beer was incredibly smooth and refreshing with a sharp Belgian ending, full of clove and spice. I was in love.

So then I became the girl who only drank Undertaker. Ever.

When I met my husband, Caleb, we were both home for the summer in Traverse City. He was a Bell’s Two Hearted kind of guy. I was spending most evenings trying to find any bar that carried my favorite beer. Finally, The Franklin restaurant opened downtown, and sure enough, my beloved suds were featured on their Michigan tap list.

You might say it became the drink of our courtship. We spent lots of late-night swims, cookouts and wedding receptions sipping on Undertaker. When I moved back to Grand Rapids and took Caleb to Vivant for the first time, he could not believe it existed. The smell, the atmosphere, the vibe … it didn’t belong in any earthly plane, much less GR — yet here it was.

In fact, he ended up loving Vivant so much that a year later he would surprise me with a special Undertaker chocolate cake for my birthday. And a year after that, he proposed to me in one of the booths while we sipped on our favorite sours.

Vivant holds the most special place in my small craft beer heart. Each season, each event, each new employee, they’re all just beautiful, good, solid things. I believe I live an ordinary life. But trips to Vivant — in the crisp autumn air, when a seasonal sour like Paris is released, drinking out of my Monk Club chalice, tasting a delicious new menu item for the first time — make it feel extraordinary.

Kayla Tucker is thankful for:

The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newstand

1035 Wealthy St. SE & 442 Bridge St. NW, Grand Rapids

One of my favorite spots in Grand Rapids is The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newstand, a cozy cafe located on Wealthy Street near Diamond Avenue.

This year marks the shop’s 10th year of business, and also its first year serving its own ROAST. Just last month, the doors opened to Sparrows’ second location on the West Side. With a decade of business under her belt, owner Lori Slager Wenzel is excited to introduce the cafe’s evolving brand and original brews to more people.

“I think it was just our opportunity to grow up and kind of do our own thing and become a coffee company and be more in control of what we’re serving,” Slager Wenzel said. “We get to choose exactly what we want to serve and that’s a good feeling.”

Walking into Sparrows in either location, you feel instantly at home. The interior is artistic, comfortable and practical for a group of friends out for coffee or a college student at work. The baristas are warm and personal, and make a good latte. Slager Wenzel said the staff all feels at home.

“We make sure our staff feels heard and supported, and we feel like a family,” Slager Wenzel said. “So if anybody’s struggling, we make sure we’re really communicative.”

When you stop into either location, try my favorite drink: The Dirty Harry. It’s earl grey tea, honey and soy milk — and it’s unforgettable.

Sam Napolitan is thankful for:

Festival of the Arts

In 1969, Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse was installed in front of the Grand Rapids City Hall as the first-ever public project funded by the National Endowment of the Arts. Several indispensable players in our arts culture today (Grand Rapids Ballet, UICA, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Avenue for the Arts) were merely a thought or a dream. Since I am thankful for the many ways these organizations enrich my daily life, I extend that gratitude to the Festival of the Arts — the downtown summer staple that embraced a significant moment for our arts community.

Community organizers first created Festival of the Arts to celebrate the installation of the Calder stabile, and all of the transformative energy that arrived with it. I’ve read that Calder himself was a fan of community festivals and designed the sun logo for the event that is still in use today. I hesitate to call that gesture a blessing, but there’s an undeniable feeling of camaraderie, positivity and ownership during the three-day event. When Festival organizers say it welcomes and values diversity, inclusion and alternate forms of creative expression, it feels earnest. There isn’t any other time in Grand Rapids when you can be immersed in so many different kinds of music and dance within a few city blocks. When you consider the boundless supply of delicious ethnic street food, it’s almost too much to handle (in a good way).

I’ve attended Festival of the Arts as long as I’ve lived in Grand Rapids, and the memories are consistently warm — cheering on my younger sister as she danced on the Calder stage; observing a police officer share a laugh with another festival-goer while waiting in line for a chicken skewer; singing along to a Mustard Plug show with my high school buddies; watching an older couple bust out some spirited and well-coordinated dance moves during a funk set. I typically do all I can to avoid crowds, but that stress evaporates when I see people of all ages and walks of life genuinely enjoying themselves and letting their inner freak shine. Besides, the spring rolls and deep-fried Oreos are worth bumping into every last person who lacks spatial awareness.

Josh Veal is thankful for:

The Meanwhile Bar

1005 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

If it weren’t for The Meanwhile, I might not be in love. Or, more specifically: If it weren’t for The Meanwhile’s $3 Long Islands on Tuesday, I might not have ever had the courage to express my feelings many moons ago. It may be known to some as a “hipster” or a “dive” bar, but I don’t see a need to put a label on it — I just love the place. The drinks are cheap as hell, the draft list is killer, the bartenders are chill and the patio is one of the best around. All in all, it’s my favorite place to grab a drink or three while accidentally running into everyone I know.

White Pine Trail

I try not to let the time I was attacked by red-winged blackbirds mar my view of the White Pine Trail. They didn’t do any lasting damage to my body, just my psyche. And besides, that was all in the past — I’ve ridden the trail hundreds of times without being suckerpunched by the devil's flying servants. In fact, my love for biking likely wouldn’t exist without the 92-mile flat, paved trail. The complete lack of hills is key, but just in terms of dog-to-trail density, the White Pine is at the top of its class as well (an important factor for me).

Vault of Midnight

95 Monroe Center St. NW, Grand Rapids

Vault of Midnight is an incredibly special place: a comic book shop where everyone feels welcome. The staff is overwhelmingly kind, the store itself is actually enjoyable to be in, and the culture clearly celebrates underrepresented creators. I’ve found so many amazing graphic novels (e.g. This One Summer), new comic series (e.g. Saga) and gifts (e.g. kitten keychains). My favorite section, however, is the wall-length shelf of incredibly complex board games that no one will ever play with me, because they all take three to five hours per session. If I could, I’d spend just about all of my money at Vault of Midnight — and believe me, I’ve come close.

Oasis Hot Tub Gardens

5041 Alpine Ave. NW, Comstock Park

For me, Oasis Hot Tub Gardens is the only reason winter in West Michigan is even somewhat bearable. Sometimes you and your friends just desperately need to sit in a pool of 100-degree water while snow falls around you, surrounded by design vaguely resembling some foreign culture. There’s the Borneo Rainforest room with its waterfall, Santorini with its Greek columns and statues, the British Isles has a fireplace, and so on. We like to put together a playlist to set the mood, but you do you. And don’t worry — they cycle the water every 15 minutes and clean between groups.

Missy Black is thankful for:

Cannonsburg Ski Hill

6800 Cannonsburg Rd. NE, Belmont

Brutal truth: I would rarely leave my home in the winter if it weren’t for the Cannonsburg Ski Hill. I’m in one of the many winter families that spends its weekends there, making memories and making peace with the weather. While the family snowboards, I sit in the lounge with comfort food favorites such as sweet potato tater tots and gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese, and I’m there for the live music and half-off martinis on Friday nights. The strong sense of community is magnified by the dreamy, snow-filled backdrop, contagious energy and smiles, and seeing all your neighbors in one happy spot — skiing, snowboarding or tubing in this little corner of the world that’s in love with cold weather fun. Even in the summer, there’s Taco Tuesdays, trail running events and mountain biking, all of which make the hill a multi-season area of recreation.

Nick Macksood is thankful for:


I graduated from GVSU in 2014 — back when Bridge Street was seemingly off-limits — and left for parts unknown, hopping around looking for a place to land. I came back to live and work in GR two different times before finally deciding to settle here. Each time, parts of the city had undergone near unrecognizable change.

There is now good reason to wander around Bridge Street after 10 p.m., and the word Creston means something more than just a neighborhood north of town. Eastown might still be “weird,” but each neighborhood, at its own pace, is starting to take on a personality of its own.

Even as the city grows, it still maintains that livable feel. You could hoof it from end to end if you really felt like it, while commutes to and from town hardly take longer than 30 minutes in any direction. But in my opinion, nowhere is that closeness felt more acutely than in Grand Rapid’s various concert venues.

As the city growth has gone off the charts in recent years, the size of these venues in comparison has not. Even 20 Monroe Live seats 2,600 at most. So as a hot city brings in hotter acts, we have the pleasure of watching them in an intimate setting.

I just saw Peanut Butter Wolf at the Pyramid Scheme in September, standing like, 10 yards away from him. Dinosaur Jr. was at Founders on Oct. 28th. And what about Dave Chappelle? Remember when Hannibal Buress just popped up before Chappelle’s set at DeVos? And then the two of them played a DJ set at the Pyramid Scheme afterward. And then, Buress ended up sticking around to do his own set at the Scheme the next night. Sure, maybe part of it had to do with the snowstorm keeping their bus from going anywhere ... but he could’ve just sat in his hotel room, right?

Of course, there are a million other acts and personalities that have, and will, eclipse the ones I’ve chosen to remember here. Well and good! Keep bringing them on, GR booking agencies. Be it giants in the form of Live Nation or our more homegrown talent, let’s all be thankful that we have such small concert infrastructure (parking be damned).

Dwayne Hoover is thankful for:

Wheatland Music Festival

We’re all familiar with music festivals — lots of people, open spaces and a musical lineup that provides an experience nothing less than freaking magical. But there’s one event that sets itself apart from the others, and it’s 160 acres of traditional arts madness.

While I could explain the specifics of the awesomeness of Wheatland Music Festival, I know you’re already acutely aware of all that. It’s a congregation of likeminded patrons, who dig everything blues and bluegrass and folk and hell yes.

The festival is more than four decades in the making, a place where the best in traditional music can be experienced. Transforming itself from a one-day fundraiser to a three-day event attended by tens of thousands of fans, Wheatland is nothing short of a holiday for its attendees.

And more so than the event itself, what sets Wheatland apart is the people. To illustrate, I’ll share some of my experiences, which will shed some light on the atmosphere of this event.

My first romp around the large farm in Remus resulted in a night of getting lost. I abandoned my friends in search of … adventure, I guess (at like 1 a.m.). The result was getting lost, trying to meet and talk to people, and feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the whole thing.

I eventually ran across a woman who I assumed might help me find my way back to my camp. And while that idea was inherently stupid, I decided — having imbibed a few beverages — to call out to her anyway.

“Misses! Misses! Can you help me find my way back to my camp?” I asked. She took one look at me, not with pity, but with compassion.

“Do you have a flashlight?” the Wheatland Angel asked.

“No,” I said.

“Do you have a beer?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

She removed her backpack, dug out a flashlight, turned it on and handed it to me. Then she dug out a can of beer for me too. She threw her backpack over her shoulders and said, “All right, let’s go.”

The Wheatland Angel helped me find my camp, but not before I leapt into another camp I thought I was mine, cheering and pumping my fist and screaming, only to realize it wasn’t mine. But the present company didn’t give a shit. In fact, they offered me jello shots and asked me to hang out.

I spent the next couple of nights wandering the campgrounds, performing mandolin with talented people I never knew — musicians I felt inferior around, because I suck at mandolin, but once again, they didn’t care. It was all about the music. People would randomly hand me their $2,000 instruments, and when I balked, they would reply, “Just play. We’ll follow along.”

It was amazing, and eventually my friend strapped a map to my back that read, “If lost, return here,” with crude directions to our campsite.

Yes, Wheatland is all about traditional arts. But it’s also about the people — people who don’t fight. People who aren’t assholes. People who realize Wheatland is a staple in our culture.

I couldn’t do without it.

Elma Talundzic is thankful for:

Horrocks Market

4455 Breton Rd. SE, Kentwood

Grocery shopping may be a chore, but it’s never dull at Horrocks Market. You’ll find fresh flowers that stretch from the greenhouse entrance to the market’s heart, a tavern stocked with an overwhelming amount of beer and wine options, and aisles that house unique gourmet and specialty finds.

The store opened its doors back in October 2002, offering visitors a unique shopping experience. You can get the everyday essentials for your home and kitchen, along with specialty and international products, guaranteeing you’ll find that one rare ingredient for the new recipe you’ve been wanting to try out. I’ve spent more than a fews hours roaming the shop for ingredients I needed and items I didn’t even know I wanted.

The revamped Horrocks Market Tavern is a must-visit for those who haven’t. Its menu is always changing with 30 rotating craft beers on draft, and the friendly and knowledgeable beer and wine specialists are there to help you find your favorites or turn your tastebuds toward something new. For indecisive beer lovers like myself, the store offers every bottle individually priced so you can create your own variety pack. Horrocks may also be the only place in town where you can grab a glass of wine or beer while you do all of your shopping.

One of my favorite aspects of Horrocks is the smell of fresh flowers that cuts through the air. There’s something relaxing about being surrounded by hundreds of flowers while you shop. The store has unique greenery and floral supplies for every season, and you can put together your own little bouquet to add a pop of color to your home. After all, it’s important to “treat yo’ self” to flowers from time to time.

I’ve only scratched the surface of why I love Horrocks Market, but all in all, the hospitality and uniqueness is just unbeatable.

Troy Reimink is thankful for:

The Great Lakes

I am thankful for the Great Lakes, which I will now rank from best to worst:

1.         Lake Michigan (Obviously the best beaches.)

2.         Lake Superior (Whitefish, Pictured Rocks, admirable indifference to human life.)

3.         Lake Huron (Lovely sunrises, probably?)

4.         Lake Ontario (I went to Toronto once. It was fine.)

5.         Lake Erie (This one has Cleveland next to it.)

With that out of the way, let’s talk strategy. Ponder, if you will, how the apocalypse might unfold. The President of the United States could tweet something idiotic — hard to believe, I know — and start a nuclear war. Russia could attack our power grid and instigate a new Dark Age. A great pandemic could overwhelm our decaying social fabric. Or, things might just proceed gradually on their current trajectory until America collapses on its own for any of a hundred reasons.

When this happens (not “if”), Michigan is going to be the most desirable piece of real estate on the continent. No joke. Popular Science magazine in March ran a report about what America as a whole will look like climate-wise in the year 2100, and it’s … not particularly comforting.

Sea levels will rise by more than six feet, which means anything ocean-adjacent is a no-go. The number of Category 4 and 5 Atlantic hurricanes will double, which makes living in the southeastern United States an even dicier prospect than it already is. An uptick in tornado frequency and severity will afflict much of the heartland. Average temperatures in the West will increase by more than six degrees, which will basically pour gasoline onto wildfires. Virus-carrying mosquitoes will terrorize the countryside.

The magazine’s video presentation on the subject ends with a line that is edifying but also somewhat chilling: “Looks like we’re all moving to Michigan.” Like hell you are.

In any dystopian scenario, Michigan is pretty much the only part of the U.S. that will remain unmolested by unforeseeable calamities, surrounded as we are by 21 percent of the world’s freshwater. So let’s appreciate the precious, taken-for-granted resource that surrounds us, before we begin mobilizing to defend it against the coming hordes. I hear it’s not difficult to procure guns in this country.

Kale’s Korner Bar

511 Bridge St. NW, Grand Rapids

Back when I was on a weird shift in Detroit, my nightly after-work ritual was to hit a Cass Corridor dive bar, catch whatever was left of the Tigers game and make superficial conversation with strangers who were there for the same reason. My favorite was the Comet, a legendary karaoke bar long since torn down to make way for the stupid Little Caesars Arena.

When I returned to Grand Rapids a few years ago, I thought the Comet part of my life was over. But then I stumbled into Kale’s Korner Bar, the city’s greatest karaoke bar, and also greatest dive bar, and also greatest bar. Its Bridge Street neighborhood on Grand Rapids’ west side is now saturated with upscale concrete-box restaurants and superfluous breweries, but Kale’s rigorously abstains from all trendy nonsense.

If you come more than once in any given week and are polite, the badass women behind the bar will treat you like family forever. (I have only ever seen women working there.) But they will not take your credit card. Nor will they serve you food other than bowls of assorted pretzels, nuts and cheese puffs — affectionately known as a “Kale’s salad.”

My ideal Saturday night is entering the saloon-style front door at Kale’s just after sundown with a to-go meal — Taqueria San Jose, preferably — to enjoy over bottles of Stroh’s and blindingly stiff vodka sodas. Next, settle in for a few hours of karaoke and tremendous people watching. There is usually a well-coiffed older guy in a sequined blazer who is fond of Sinatra, a lot of millennials ironically performing the ’90s songs I grew up on, and then a free-for-all in which people of almost every age, race, shape and gender un-self-consciously sing their asses off to appreciative audiences.

There are plenty of good dives in Grand Rapids, but none of them are Kale’s. It needs you, but not as much as you need Kale’s.

Eric Mitts is thankful for:

Asylum Lake Preserve

3836 S. Drake Rd., Kalamazoo

Like a lot of writers before me, I probably belong in a good old-fashioned insane asylum. So it only makes sense that I find my greatest sense of personal calm and tranquility at the Asylum Lake Preserve in Kalamazoo. Actually named after the Michigan Asylum for the Insane built there in 1887 — and ultimately demolished in 1972 — the nature preserve now protects one of our area’s most beautiful natural wetlands. The whole property is closed off to motor vehicles, so after a few quick moments it’s easy to lose yourself in the wonder that is Michigan’s pure natural beauty. Hiking, running and fishing directly from the shore bring a variety of visitors throughout the day, while in the summer months some even set up day camps to enjoy the fresh air and peaceful vibe. If you’re like me and you sometimes require solitude and personal reflection while gazing out over serene still waters, this remains a true gem for blissful contentment.


Grateful Locals

What West Michiganders love about home

Rosalynn Bliss

Grand Rapids Mayor

If I moved away — which I never plan to do — I would miss walking through the Fulton Street Farmers Market on a Saturday morning with the smell of fresh coffee and produce in the air, crowds of people making their way past each vendor and our farmers’ colorful displays of local food. I also love where I live in the Fulton Heights neighborhood. I love walking through Aquinas College‘s beautiful campus, often making my way to work out at Allegro Coaching. Afterward, I head to Terra GR, where I am greeted with a smile by the manager, Chris. I often sit at the same table where I enjoy a cup of strong coffee and a delicious mushroom omelet for brunch. These are some of the routines and moments I treasure and for which I am so deeply grateful.

Tami VandenBerg

Well House Executive Director and Meanwhile Bar/The Pyramid Scheme Co-owner

I’m grateful for Lake Michigan. I love going out to Kirk Park and Olive Shores. My favorite restaurants are Little Africa Ethiopian Cuisine (I order the spicy combo), Grove (their patio is fabulous) and San Jose tacos.

I live in Eastown, and I’m very grateful for my neighborhood. We visit Wilcox Park very often, and the Eastown Streetfair is a favorite event of mine. Years ago, I co-founded the Eastown Bizarre Bazaar, and I’m thrilled that it lives on.

Of course I love The Meanwhile (especially the patio), and The Pyramid Scheme (hip hop shows are my favorite). The Apartment is also wonderful, and I’m thankful it exists. The Hispanic Festival and the Mexican Festival are always a blast.

Finally, I’m grateful for organizations working to make our city a great place for everyone — Well House, the Red Project and Spoke Folks, to name a few.

April Zimont

Kalamashoegazer and Tambourina

My friends Ann Hensley and Emily Kastner have a great program for kids: RAWK (Read And Write Kalamazoo) that I think is pretty amazing.

I’m thankful for all the local coffee shops that I frequent in the Kalamazoo area. A new favorite is Fido Motors Café (1415 Fulford St., Kalamazoo), which has incredible coffee and is also a fully electric scooter company. 

I love record shopping and one of the great undiscovered secrets of the Midwest is The Corner Record Shop in Grandville (3562 Chicago Dr. SW), with new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs and a room with more than 80,000 45s.

Erica Lang

Woosah Outfitters

If I were to move away from Grand Rapids, I would miss so many familiar faces and places. Owning a storefront and meeting so many people has really made this community feel more like family. I’d like to start with, most importantly, the FOOD. I would miss meeting up with my best buds on Monday at Donkey for their classic 2 tacos + beer deal, early morning runs to GR Bagel and quick trips to Marie Catrib’s to load up on their deli foods. While the food is amazing, it’s the people that make it memorable. I’d miss seeing familiar faces and getting inspired at Drunken Retort on Monday nights at Stella’s Lounge and working with so many local businesses on fun projects, like Harmony Brewing, Founders and Merrell. While Grand Rapids looks big while cruising through those annoying S Curves, it’s really not. It’s a pretty small-big city and I dig that.


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