After 54 years in Detroit, one year lost to COVID and one year spent as a showcase “tournament” (I use that term loosely), the Great Lakes Invitational has shifted to Grand Rapids, MI. Notably missing long-time partner Michigan for the first time since 1973, there are many positives to celebrate about the movement of the tournament to Grand Rapids. It’s a more affordable town, there’s a large number of restaurants and entertainment within walking distance from the arena and the smaller capacity should lend itself to a better atmosphere and experience at the tournament.
One of the most notable drawbacks of the new site is that decades-old pre-game plans for Huskies fans are now out the window. You’re probably wondering what to do with your days in Grand Rapids now that your generations-old GLI plans have to be shifted. Fear not, as THG’s resident Grand Rapids local, I’m here to help.
Places to grab a coffee
I’m one of those people that only drinks coffee on occasion. I love it, I think it tastes great, but I intentionally keep my caffeine tolerance low. I do this because, in the words of the immortal Steve Irwin, “the top of me head would blow off”. That said, there are some pretty stellar places around town to grab some Joe (Shawhan).
What better way to kick off your Tech hockey road trip than spending money at a Tech grad-owned business? Arick Davis (’16) opened up this Last Mile Cafe earlier this month on the southeast side of town with his fiancée Sarah. I was able to make it out to the grand opening, and these folks did a great job at restoring their building and serve a great cup of coffee. Can’t recommend enough! Directions.
Were you the “I don’t care what temperature it is, I’m wearing shorts in the winter no matter what” kid while you were at Tech? Come prove it at Outside Coffee Co. This shop off of Wealthy Street serves their drinks out of a food truck and has a cute outdoor area where you can sip your drink. There is also the option to take your drink and go, if you’re less up for braving the weather. Directions.
This relative newcomer to the Grand Rapids food scene serves up tasty drinks and Korean-inspired breakfast-centric food. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there! Directions.
Where to eat
Whether you’re in the mood for a quick bite before the game or want to sit down for something more fancy, Grand Rapids has something for you.
I’m going to try to constrain myself to near the arena. I know the event starts at around 3 and it can be inconvenient to try to find a place to sit down where you’re reliably in and out before puck drop. These places should fit the bill.
Look, I know, I know. I can hear it from our Detroit following now. Why would I get a coney in Grand Rapids? Hear me out.
This place is just absolutely tops. They serve up classic coney dogs and Chicago dogs, but they’re also constantly experimenting with all things burger and hot dog using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Plus, they have the best fries in the city and I stand by that. Directions.
Look, I’ll level with you, Metro Detroit people. This is nothing like a Dearborn-tier authentic shawarma experience. It’s almost a Chipotle-style kabab and gyro joint. All that said, if the name of the game is quick, tasty, locally owned and near the arena, this place kills it. Be sure to grab yourself some falafel and extra garlic sauce. This place is directly across the street from One Stop, but I’ll drop directions anyway.
If you’re anything like me, whenever you see a big menu you freak out a little bit. That tends to mean that they do none of those things well. Trust me when I tell you that Two Beards is not that way. There’s truly something for everybody at this well-loved sandwich shop. Directions.
This is my go-to place when I want to eat out but cannot decide what I’m in the mood to eat. The Green Well has a wide selection of locally produced menu items and I let them pick for me. This is a great place to go if you’re having trouble deciding what you’re in the mood for and just want the menu to pick for you. Directions.
When it comes to my food preferences, I’m a student of the onion. If a menu item has more onions on it, I’m going to order that item over any other more often than not. Graydon’s Crossing serves up some badass onion rings in a cozy pub setting. Recommend for a night out. Directions.
This place knocked my socks off when I visited. Absolutely unreal fried chicken, delicious sides, and a wide variety of drinks. Whether you’re feeling a fancy cocktail or a $2 Hamm’s, there’s something for you here. Whatever you do, remember to try their house hot sauce located on every table! Directions.
Where to Get a Beer
This is the right town for this question. Grand Rapids prides itself on its “Beer City USA” moniker and boy-o does it deliver with a wide variety of breweries. Here’s a list of places I like to go get a beer, as well as why I like to go there.
Listen, I’m nothing if not a homer. I used to work here and I enjoyed my time working there very much. The concept here was that the owners took an old warehouse and incorporated elements of it into their brewery. What is simultaneously the big appeal and the big drawback of this brewery is that none of their beers are mainstays. The name of the game here is experimentation, so go in with an open mind and see what you might end up with. You might just go home with a new favorite. Their original location (where I worked) is located in Kentwood, but they’ve just opened a new location on Bridge Street much closer to the arena. Directions for the original and downtown locations.
Broad Leaf West Side’s neighbor on Bridge Street, Küsterer Brauhaus takes the already fantastic concept of Cedar Springs Brewing Company and brings it to downtown Grand Rapids. For the uninitiated, Cedar Springs Brewing models their beer after classic German styles, aims to bring the feel of German brewhouses to West Michigan and they even use some of recipes recovered from the earliest known beer brewer in West Michigan, Christoph Küsterer. The kicker? This new location is less than a mile from where Küsterer lived.
The drawback of their Grand Rapids offshoot is that they don’t serve much in the way of food, outside of some fantastic house-made pretzels. If you can find the time and transportation, the 18 minute trip north to the original location is worth your time as well. Directions.
Brewery Vivant might be full-stop the most cannot miss brewery in Grand Rapids. They serve up fantastic food and European-inspired beer that’s frankly second to none. The kicker? They’re located inside of a repurposed funeral chapel. Get a load of this place and be sure to order the duck nachos during your visit. Directions.
This place just flat out rules. This place specializes in sour beers and I’ve known it to turn even the biggest sour beer haters into believers. They’ve competed in international competitions and absolutely killed it. If you’ve got the time, it’s a little bit off the beaten path from Wealthy Street, but it’s well worth your time. Directions.
I’m gonna shoot you straight. This place is just alright. But, there are several factors to this place that bring it way up the list for me. The first is the location.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you, you could fall out the front door of Van Andel and already be most of the way inside of GRBC. The major selling point to me though? They have a massive game room in the back and all of the games are free to play. Pool, air hockey, shuffle board and some classic cabinet games are usually up for grabs. It’s a natural meeting spot for me any time I’m going to or coming from an event at Van Andel. Directions if you need them, but if you need directions for this place, you might want to stop drinking for the night.
There are plenty of great places to get a beer in Grand Rapids, but I think this will give you a more than sufficient jumping-off point.
Other Places to Grab a Drink
The ‘Scheme is a staple for many Grand Rapids natives. Named for what is widely believed to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to local neighbor Amway, The Pyramid Scheme is a fun punk rock barcade featuring many pinball machines just a short walk from the arena. It has a music venue in the back, but no concerts are currently planned during GLI. Directions.
Listen. This place is unassuming, but it’s a great time. About a mile west of Van Andel sits the best karaoke spot in town, the Fulton St. Pub and Grill. They have a great operation, fun house shots, and a beer fridge that’ll make your head spin with options. If you’re looking to get after it, this is my spot. Directions.
This place takes the speakeasy concept and runs with it in a fantastic way. The best way to summarize this bar is that it’s a combination jazz and soccer-themed bar with prohibition-era flair. While these things may seem incompatible, I assure you that they are. They serve up delicious cocktails if you’re looking for a more mature crowd. Directions.
Places to Kill an Hour or Two
There are two great appeals to the visit of the GRAM; the location, and the fact that they have regular free Tuesdays. Night one of the GLI? You guessed, it, Tuesday. I can’t at this point promise that it will be a free Tuesday because their website has not posted that far out. All that said, it’s a fun place to see and often has a great traveling exhibit. Their current exhibit is an interactive exhibit about Jim Henson and the Muppets, which I have heard fabulous things about. Directions.
Just outside of the Grand Rapids Art Museum is Rosa Parks Circle. In the summertime, it’s a popular place to gather for many things including food truck rallies and other festivals. In the winter, they flood it and you can skate! Cost is $4 for adults, $2 for kids, and skate rental is included. Just a stone’s throw from Van Andel arena, this would be my top choice for an out of towner to spend time before or after the game.
Spend an afternoon learning more about the history of the Grand Rapids of yesteryear. Much like the GRAM, a fantastic traveling exhibit is likely to be there. Current exhibits include a Lego recreation of Grand Rapids from the 1920s and “The Power of Poison” Directions.
Come celebrate Grand Rapids’ biggest claim to fame: the first President that nobody voted for. On a real note, it’s a fun little spot to take in some United States history not too far from the venue. Former President Gerald Ford and former First Lady Betty Ford are buried on the grounds. Directions.
The Meijer family of grocery store fame began their business in the metro Grand Rapids area. Meijer purchased this land with the original intent for it to be used for a new superstore, but instead donated the lands to create the horticulture and sculpture park that is there today. The grounds of the park are beautiful, and there’s typically a beautiful display up for the holidays around this time as well! Directions.
Visiting Furniture City
I’m genuinely excited for the location change for GLI. Not just because I’m a local, but also because I think this venue and locale are much better for this event. Western and Ferris appear to be taking their involvement in the tournament extremely seriously, Michigan State fans shouldn’t be hard to find with their team doing well and the atmosphere around the arena should be incredible.
Whether you take my suggestions as Bible or choose to go off on your own trail, I hope you enjoy this town I call home. If you get lost or need another suggestion, please feel free to reach out to me on twitter @mcavender_THG.