Were Al Capone, Ernest Hemingway, and Mike Wallace in Grand Rapids? Yep, at the Bar!
“Beer City, USA!” That is a title well earned here in Grand Rapids. There are well over 20 breweries in and around Grand Rapids, some nationally famous such as Founders, and probably a few more on the way.
All the local bars in the metro area are too numerous to count. Our history of breweries and bars, some dating back almost to the founding of Grand Rapids in 1826. Okay, not that far back, but there is one bar that's been in existence almost that long, since 1888!
With great stories of famous visitors, one bar thought to be haunted, here is a look at some of the oldest bars in the Grand Rapids area.
The Cottage Bar & Restaurant
The Cottage Bar opened its doors in 1927. Earl and Marie Coon opened it up. It was their home, but during the height of Prohibition, they created a burger joint to serve the workers of surrounding factories. They lived upstairs, and it was upstairs that was the secret. That was the spot for card playing and booze until Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Then they got a liquor license and the rest is history.
That's where Mike Wallace, remembered from CBS 60 Minutes, would hang out. Wallace began his career at WOOD Radio, and rumor has it that he would "call in stories" from the bar!
The Holiday Bar
Ah, the good old Holiday Bar. It sort of pre-dates the Cottage to 1905. But it wasn't the Holiday, it was the Ideal Tavern, opened by John Arsulowicz. Yes, the Arsulowicz family of Grand Rapids West Side. There is, of course, the Arsulowicz Brothers Mortuaries, and more. One of the great things about the Holiday is that it is still in the family, owned today by the Great Grandson of John Arsulowicz, Todd Wawee!
The Ideal Tavern had to close in 1920 because of Prohibition and started selling religious supplies, bibles, and things. Stories go that, out the back door, you could buy a bible and booze!
It wasn't until 1959, that the bar, now called The Holiday Bar, moved to the space where it’s located now at 801 5th St. NW.
Who knew that one of our favorite places in Rockford began as a pool hall sometime in the 1930s by Carl Hyde. When Prohibition ended, Carl could start selling beer and spirits. But there was one catch - there was a law that required hot food to be served if you were going to serve beer. So, guess what? Carl added hot dogs to the menu, and, again, the rest is history.
This great watering hole is in the Cherry Hill neighborhood. The Pickwick Tavern, too, opened its doors just after Prohibition, in 1934 and has been in the same spot for the past 88 years.
The Blue Dog (The Kopper Top)
The Blue Dog Tavern is the "kid" in the local bar lore of Grand Rapids. It's in the same building that began its historical run as a grocery store and then operated as the City Trust and Savings Bank during the Great Depression. Then it became a bar when Frank Nawrocki rented the building from the bank and called it Frank’s Tavern and Beer Garden. In 1972, it became the beloved Kopper Top, which opened for 42 years until it closed in 2012. Two years later The Blue Dog Tavern opened its doors in 2014.
But are all of these classic bars the oldest bar in Grand Rapids? Not by a long shot. That honor goes to:
It was 1888 in Comstock Park when Nick Fink's opened as a bar and, reputedly, a brothel. Oh, it's been a lot of things. It's been a post office and a hotel over the years as it changed hands from the first Nick Fink to the second and ultimately the third Nick Fink. Ultimately, Nick Fink's was sold to The Gilmore Collection back in 2008.
What about the famous visitors of Nick Finks? According to the book "Lost Restaurants of Grand Rapids" by Norma Lewis, Al Capone and his gang allegedly loved coming over from Chicago and always took the corner booth apparently. Hey, who's gonna argue with Capone? Here, take my seat Mr. Capone!
But that's not all. Ernest Hemingway would stop into the tavern when he traveled to Northern Michigan. Hemingway wrote up at Walloon Lake, and the story goes that many of the characters in his “Nick Adams Stories” are based on people he met at Nick Fink’s.
By the way, Nick Fink's is supposedly haunted! Ghost hunters have visited the bar a number of times and say, yep, paranormal activity. Employees have said weird things happen there such as the jukebox starting and lights and water turning on and off by themselves. Wooooo...
Sadly, according to their Facebook page, Nick Fink's is temporarily closed.
Just a few great spots to enjoy, not only for a great drink and food but a real piece of Grand Rapids History.