The second-largest metropolis in Michigan, Grand Rapids is situated along the Grand River in southwestern Michigan, just 25 miles inland from Lake Michigan and a 45-minute drive (via speedy I-196) from the Midwest's most popular gay resort community, Saugatuck-Douglas. For visitors to the latter region, Grand Rapids has the closest airport (Gerald R Ford International) offering regular service from multiple major carriers, and it's a lively and engaging city for a night on the town, home to a few inviting gay bars, the state's only gay bathhouse outside metro Detroit, and a growing crop of first-rate microbreweries and very good restaurants.
The city also hosts the well-attended Greater Grand Rapids Gay Pride Festival each year in mid-June.
Among the gay clubs in Grand Rapids, Rumors Nightclub (69 Division Ave. S, 616-454-8720) is located right in the heart of downtown. This is large and energetic dance club and bar with a great mix of daily theme nights - everything from male go-go boys on Wednesdays to a Friday ladies night to drag shows on Sundays. On Saturday nights, there are sometimes foam parties, and it's always a great destination for dancing into the late hours. It's within walking distance of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Van Andel Arena, and some of the larger downtown hotels (e.g., the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, the Amway Grand Plaza).
The oldest gay bar in Grand Rapids (and one of the oldest in the state) is the Apartment Lounge (33 Sheldon Ave., 616-451-0815), a no-attitude, easy-going neighborhood bar that's been going strong since the early 1970s and is right in the middle of downtown, by local theaters and hotels and right beside Veterans Memorial Park.
It's easy to walk among any of the three gay bars, as they're all within walking distance of one another as well as a number of other inviting restaurants, coffee bars, and mainstream bars downtown.
Grand Rapids has built quite a reputation in recent years for its number and variety of high-quality craft breweries - if you're a fan of strong, interesting beer and tasty pub fare, consider some of these lively and quite gay-friendly venues, such as HopCat (25 Ionia Ave.
SW, 616-451-4677), which is set in a beautiful old building that's rich with character and serves a tremendous variety of beers as well as tasty comfort chow - HopCat also has branches in Ann Arbor, Detroit, East Lansing, and the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis. Another excellent craft brewery in town is Founders Brewing Co. (235 Grandville Ave. SW, 616-776-1195), which is as popular for its first-rate beer (try the Oak-Age Rye Ipa) as for live music and hefty sandwiches.
San Chez Bistro (38 Fulton St. W, 616-774-8272) is a charming option for authentic Spanish tapas, sangria, and - in the morning - great breakfast fare. Another outstanding spot for contemporary farm-to-table American food, often with international twists, is Grove (919 Cherry St. SE, 616-454-1000), where you can sample such innovative fare as buttermilk blue cheese with caramelized peaches, local honey balsamic, and hazelnuts, and braised pork-belly tacos with creme fraiche and poblano mojo. This is definitely a top stop among gourmands. Greek and Mediterranean fare is well represented in Michigan, and Marie Catrib's (1001 Lake Dr., 616-454-4020) is one of the best around, serving superb hummus, sweet potato-and-quinoa burgers (ok, the menu isn't strictly Mediterranean), falafel, and more.
Cafe culture is alive and well in Grand Rapids, with the quirky Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand (1035 Wealthy St. SE, 616-608-3375), which attracts an eclectic and loyal crowd thanks to its high-quality java and teas, delicious pastries, and extensive selection of periodicals - it's open from very early in the morning until late at night (the hours are a bit shorter in summer). Also check out Madcap Coffee (98 Monroe Center St. NW, 888-866-9001), which isn't open quite as late (till about 7 pm most nights) but is a highly respected artisan roaster pouring some of the best coffee in the state.