In Best of the West, there are plenty of victors to go around. Revue’s annual reader poll asks anyone and everyone in West Michigan to vote for their favorite local people, places, events, food and drinks. We spend all year telling you about the best entertainment around, so this is your chance to teach us a thing or two.
As always, we’ve learned quite a bit in our third year of running Best of the West. After two months of voting, it’s time to reflect, recap and rest. Here are a few lessons, fun facts and stray observations we’ve gathered this time around.
If You Build It, They Will Vote
When we first launched Best of the West as an experiment in 2016, we had no idea if people would vote — but boy, did they ever. Now, three years later, voter turnout has increased each year. In fact, we now have more than double the voters of year one.
Of course, we’ve tried to make voting as easy as possible. You don’t have to register a month ahead of time or wait two hours in line at your local elementary school, standing awkwardly next to your neighbors trying not to talk about who you’re voting for. Plus, every vote counts equally. There’s no electoral college or gerrymandering. And it takes about 10 minutes, unless you’re particularly pensive.
Why wouldn’t you vote? Well, don’t worry, if you didn’t make it out this year, there’s always next.
You Guys Really Like Founders
No, we don’t mean the founding fathers — we’re talking about Founders Brewing Co., the undisputed champions of Best of the West. From ambience to chili, service, stout and much more, Founders places in the top three 21 times. If we could afford it, we’d be sending founders (pun unavoidable) Mike Stevens and Dave Engber home with a pile of bronze, silver and gold medals.
We get it, the Grand Rapids brewery exemplifies pretty much everything people love about West Michigan — a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere, a beautiful patio with heaters, killer food at an affordable price, friendly service, great concerts throughout the year, and of course, solid beer that’s easy to find and easy to drink.
Everyone Has A Chance
That all being said, we have 130 categories and award at least the top three, so there are hundreds of chances to find your way onto the following pages. Sometimes, it’s not always who you’d expect. For instance, Kale’s Korner — a cheap-as-hell, cash-only bar surrounded by fancy new restaurants, bourbon bars and apartments — could be considered a bit of a Cinderella story.
And where the heck did King’s Room Barbershop come from? This local “chain” (three locations) with a .net website bills itself as the official stylist of Pop Evil and launched into first place for the barbershop category.
Take notice of the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony winning for symphony too — that’s either a testament to the youth’s talent or a sign of Grand Rapids voters never travelling far (maybe both). There are plenty more stories buried in the long list of winners this year, but we’ll let you take it from here.
People Don’t Know What “Local” Means
OK, so … this one may or may not be our fault, but we’re not that modest, so I’m going to pass the blame around as much as I can. There’s pretty much one rule for Best of the West: It has to be local. When we say “local,” we mean it’s founded and based in West Michigan.
At most, we’re willing to stretch that to businesses that began in another Michigan city, only have a couple locations and have made a strong impact locally, like Slows Bar BBQ or Jolly Pumpkin. But Wendy’s? Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse? On The Border? Those ain’t gonna cut it.
After spending dozens of hours sorting through thousands of nominations, I think it’s safe to say that it might be in our voters’ best interest to branch out a bit more. In fact, that’s kind of why we do this! Thanks to thousands of fellow citizens who live all around you, we have some pretty good suggestions for the best chili, steak and Mexican food in the pages ahead. Just once, take a night to try something new.
If you still end up preferring the national chain stuff, that’s fine … just keep it to yourself.
We Still Love Doing This
For us, Best of the West isn’t just interesting, it’s exciting — in fact, it’s fun. And now we come to our favorite part: getting to tell the world, including you, dear reader, who the winners are. It brings us genuine joy to see people get so excited about their win, because that’s what we want this to be all about.
Best of the West should make people happy, bring people together and encourage people to try new things. And that’s only possible because of all of you. Thank you.