One day out of the blue, my friend and co-worker, Jamie, said to me, “I want to go to Grand Rapids. Take me there!”
I’ve traveled to Grand Rapids a number of times over the last few years. After hearing me talk about it so much, Jamie knows that the city has become one of my favorite Midwest destinations and she wanted to experience Grand Rapids for herself. Home to phenomenal craft breweries, unrivaled public art displays, and brilliantly diverse dining, Grand Rapids is a top choice for a friends’ weekend getaway.
So, without hesitation, I enthusiastically replied to Jamie, “Okay!”
We ate, we drank, and we relaxed. Our late-summer friends’ weekend getaway to Grand Rapids turned out to be just what these two working moms needed.
Where to stay in Grand Rapids
A member of Historic Hotels of America, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is the place to stay for a weekend getaway to Grand Rapids. In addition to its elegance and historic charm, the location of Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is unbeatable.
The original hotel building first opened in 1913, known then as Pantlind Hotel. Known for its luxurious accommodations and exquisite cuisine, the Pantlind Hotel became the place to be. As the years went by, however, the hotel, along with the city of Grand Rapids, fell from favor. The building and the downtown area were in a state of decline. But in 1979, The Amway Corporation acquired the hotel and began its renovation, adding a modern glass tower in 1983. So began the hotel’s revitalization, which ultimately sparked the rebirth of downtown Grand Rapids.
Through careful planning and restoration, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel today blends historic luxury with modern sophistication. The historic Pantlind Wing features classic and superior guest rooms; as well as junior, luxury, and executive suites. In the contemporary Glass Tower, choose from classic guest rooms; river-view rooms; or junior, luxury, and grand luxury suites. Over the years, I have been lucky to stay in both sections of the hotel. On this most recent trip, Jamie and I enjoyed a classic guest room in the Pantlind Wing. It was quite comfortable and spacious, with two queen beds, a sitting area, and armchair with large writing desk. Our location at Amway Grand Plaza Hotel also allowed us quick and convenient access to the city’s best food and drink. I parked my car in the Amway parking garage when we arrived in town and didn’t see it again until we departed for home. We either walked or took a short Uber ride wherever we needed to go.
Where to eat and drink in Grand Rapids
Have I mentioned that we ate and drank very well? While I have plenty of favorite dining and drinking establishments in Grand Rapids, our friends’ weekend getaway was about trying new places and we focused our attention on the revitalized West Side neighborhood.
To know me is to know of my obsession with Scandinavia. So it should not surprise you to know that the one place in Grand Rapids I wanted to try most was Scandinavian-inspired The Søvengård. Based on the Danish concept of hygge, patrons are encouraged to “check the luggage of worry and care at the door” and just enjoy. Listen here, The Søvengård: You don’t need to tell me more than once.
Waves of giddiness washed over me as I entered The Søvengård dining room. With its contemporary, minimalist design, and white-washed, exposed brick walls, it felt like I was walking into a restaurant back in Stockholm. Then we walked out to the biergarten where I laid eyes upon the storage-container-turned-outdoor-bar and immediately recalled Stockholm’s Spritmuseum (Spirits Museum), the only other place I’d witnessed such genius. Cool, urban setting with Scandinavian influence? I was definitely in my happy place.
Let’s not forget the food and cocktails, both consisting primarily of new and local products. One of the highlights of our experience at The Søvengård was sitting at the bar, while waiting for a table, and chatting with the bartenders about the fun names of the cocktails (such as “Gardenhead” and “Andre Agassi’s First Wife”). I also tried my first beer from Estonia: Öö Imperial Baltic Porter by Põhjala Brewing in Tallinn. For dinner, I had the house-smoked trout fillet, served warm with potato salad, boiled egg, greens, and Blis wild char roe. Served on a wooden plank, it was as pretty as it was delicious.
To know me is to also know I love my bourbon, and that is why a visit to One Bourbon was on my list of must-dos for the weekend. Opened in April 2017, One Bourbon features more than 120 different bourbons and whiskeys. Not a fan of the brown spirits? Not to worry, for One Bourbon isn’t “that” kind of place. The owners wanted to create an environment where bourbon and whiskey are celebrated, while still welcoming patrons who prefer to “sip on a Bud Light without judgement.” In line with wanting everyone to feel welcome is One Bourbon’s menu of familiar, comfort foods. As the owners state, while Grand Rapids is full of amazing restaurants with creatively delicious menus, sometimes “…we just want a burger. Or fried chicken. Or homemade pie. Nothing fancy.” We didn’t try any of the food but I can tell you that our cocktails were rather tasty, and I especially enjoyed the whiskey sour.
I have two young kids at home; I never get to go out for brunch. My kids weren’t with me in Grand Rapids, though, so Jamie and I met a group of my local friends at Butcher’s Union for brunch and cocktails on Sunday morning. Our party of five arrived at 10:00 am, as the restaurant was opening, so we had no trouble getting a table. Much like The Søvengård, Butcher’s Union sources local ingredients to support the surrounding communities. And much like One Bourbon, Butcher’s Union aims to create a warm and friendly environment where everyone is welcome. Butcher’s Union also houses an extensive whiskey collection. After an appetizer of hot elote corn dip, I ordered chilaquiles for my entree: fried corn tortillas, Butcher’s Union chorizo, fried egg, salsa roja, cheese blend, and crème fraiche. I can’t pass up chilaquiles when I see it on a menu, and the Butcher’s Union version did not disappoint. Instead of opting for a mimosa or a Bloody Mary, the more traditional brunch cocktails, I chose the Peruvian Daiquiri. Made with Capel pisco and maraschino liqueur shaken with fresh lime juice, ruby red grapefruit juice and Butcher’s Union honey syrup, it’s way more my speed. And if I didn’t have to drive more than three hours back home to Chicago that afternoon, I’d have had several more.
The end of brunch sadly signaled the end of our weekend getaway to Grand Rapids. I think it’s safe to say that Jamie enjoyed her first trip there. I, of course, look forward to visiting every chance I get.
Jamie and I were hosted for the weekend by Experience Grand Rapids. All thoughts and opinions contained herein are, as always, 100% my own.