Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Too Legit to Quit: Girls Weekend in Grand Rapids

After a memorable weekend in Western Michigan a few months ago, my roommate and I had planned to return with our friends. This past weekend, we made good on our promise and headed to Grand Rapids with three girlfriends in tow. My roommate and I had a pretty interesting trip last time, but with this crew of girls, we knew we were in for some crazy times.

The journey began on the road from Chicago to Kalamazoo, where we planned to stop for lunch and a beer at Bell's Brewery. From the minute we hopped on the highway, the chatting, storytelling and playful digs began and just kept going. Within the first hour, we had at least three quotes for the trip (one of which is in the title of this post).

After a short two-hour drive, we arrived in Kalamazoo and found Bell's Brewery. It was surprisingly busy for a Friday afternoon. We figured most people would be working and we'd have the place to ourselves. But then it hit us that it was Good Friday and a lot of people probably took the day off. Since there were no servers, you had to order food and drinks at the bar, and with all the people, the line was incredibly long. But we were patient (for the most part) and waited with everyone else to put in our orders. There were a wide variety of options that we couldn't get in Chicago, so we made sure to try as many of those as we could. (see: Special Double Cream Stout and Consecrator Doppelbock Beer, just to name a couple.)
After a few brews and a quick bite, we got back on the road and drove the 45 minutes to Grand Rapids. Amanda's sister Lindsey had a lot of Marriott points, so she landed us on the concierge level of the J.W. Marriott. Incredibly nice rooms, with large bathrooms and even a separate bathtub. Another bonus: Complimentary happy hour drinks and snacks in a concierge lounge on the top floor. So, of course, we had to take advantage of that. After we dropped off our bags and cleaned up a bit, we headed to the lounge and enjoyed some wine and delicious treats, like salmon filled deviled eggs, brie cheese and crackers, dried fruit, and spicy trail mix.

The weather was particularly pleasant, so we walked about a mile and a half to Brewery Vivant, the church-turned-brewery-and-bar establishment that Amanda and I had visited last time and absolutely loved. Unfortunately, everyone else in Grand Rapids has the same sentiment, so the wait for a table was pretty long. We managed to squeeze into a small spot at the bar and ordered some drinks, along with a charcuterie plate, which I couldn't try since it was Good Friday. But I happily munched on bread while my friends noshed on some lovely looking meat. We also gave our friend Meredith a memorable first time experience: pickled cauliflower. (She had never eaten cauliflower before, so we made it extra special with the pickled aspect.)

After about an hour, we eventually got seated and ordered a couple more beers and snacks. It was pretty late when we left, so we thought we'd call a cab. Unfortunately, Grand Rapids is small enough, and we were far enough away from downtown, that cabs were in pretty short supply. In fact, the cab company couldn't even give us an estimate as to when one would arrive or if one was even coming to get us. So we braced the chill of the late evening and trekked back to the hotel.

In the morning, I decided to explore the city via the running path. I laced up my running shoes and ventured out into the cool morning air. I jogged on the riverwalk that runs along the Grand River. I ran through Ah-Nab-Awen Park, adjacent to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, and 6th Street Bridge Park. I noticed a number of fishermen hanging out in boats anchored in the middle of the river, as well as multiple people on the banks casting in their lines. It was interesting to see, since nobody does that (or can do that) in Chicago.

I returned to the hotel and grabbed a quick bite from the complimentary breakfast in the concierge lounge. Then we all got ready and made our way to Founders Brewing for their annual Black Party, which showcases all dark beers, as well as some lighter brews for those who aren't in the mood for something too heavy or dense. There were hundreds of people hanging out on the outdoor patio and around the two indoor bars. We situated ourselves outside near a fire pit and spent the next six hours trying various beers, socializing and having a genuinely good time hanging out together. There were some interesting moments, to say the least, which I think are best seen in the images below.

We decided to have dinner at a different bar, just to change the scenery. We went to HopCat, another local brewpub Amanda and I had visited before. It was pretty busy, so we put our name on the list and ordered a couple drinks from the bar, along with some of their famous crack fries (we tried the regular and the loaded) and they were phenomenal. We were seated pretty quickly and ordered some more food, which we devoured.
Unfortunately, the night was dampened by a bouncer who decided, for no reason at all, to kick two of my friends out of the bar. It seemed completely unwarranted, and none of us understood his rationale. I have never been treated with such disrespect, and I hope the manager takes disciplinary action against him, because no employee should speak to customers in that way. (I would like to emphasize that the rest of the staff was absolutely amazing, very pleasant and helpful, and I don't want this incident to reflect negatively on them.)

We spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the hotel rehashing the events of the day, drinking some wine and enjoying our last night in Grand Rapids. In the morning, we packed up our things, had a quick breakfast in the lounge and then hit the road. It was such a nice day, we decided to stop for some ice cream on the way home. Yes, it's finally ice cream season, and I'm very happy about that.

As we sat at the Dairy Queen enjoying our blizzards (no judgement, please), a mixture of sadness and appreciation came over me. Sad for the weekend to be over, and the reality of work and responsibility ahead of us. But grateful that such a simple trip could be so enjoyable and memorable. A clumsy moment made us roar with laughter, the slightest dig gave us one memorable quote after another, another beer gave us one more reason to linger over conversation a little longer. Life truly is about the small things.

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