The Advocate Magazine honored Grand Rapids as one of the “Gayest Cities in America” and inclusive, hip, and fun Grand Rapids is a perfect destination for LGTBQ travelers. 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.
Grand Rapids is 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.
Bars and Clubs
Among the gay clubs in Grand Rapids, Rumors Nightclub, on Division Avenue.S, is located right in the heart of downtown. This is a large and energetic dance club and bar with a great mix of daily theme nights—everything from male go-go boys to Sunday drag shows.
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, on Sheldon Avenue, 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 several 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, on Ionia Ave. SW, 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., located on Grandville Ave. SW, which is as popular for its first-rate beer (try the Oak-Age Rye Ipa) as for its live music and hefty sandwiches.
For beer connoisseurs, you can experience a hops getaway to "Beer City." Grand Rapids has set up an Ale Trail map of 40+ breweries (not necessarily gay-centric) and you can earn your way to becoming a "Beer City Brewsader." Pick up a special passport, get it stamped and you're on your way to earning a cool t-shirt.
Restaurants and Cafes
San Chez Bistro, on Fulton Street W, is a charming option for authentic Spanish tapas, sangria, and—in the morning—great breakfast fare. Their cuisine is a blend of authentic European, Mediterranean, and Latin American served up in a fun, relaxing, and artful atmosphere. Bistro Bella Vita, on Grandville Ave SW, offers farm-to-table homestyle Mediterranean dishes with indoor and patio dining. Rockwell Republic, located on South Division Avenue, is a hip gastropub with high ceilings serving American and Asian food and cocktails spotlighting local ingredients. It's a great place to hang out and is open 'til 1 or 2 a.m. through the week.
Cafe culture is alive and well in Grand Rapids, with the quirky Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand on Wealthy St. SE, 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 at Monroe Center Street NW, which isn't open quite as late (till about 7 p.m. most nights) but is a highly respected artisan roaster pouring some of the best coffee in the state.
Bath Houses and Health Clubs
The Diplomat Club (2324 Division Ave S) is open 24/7 and offers a variety of private rooms and a safe community space, fun events, and services to those over 18 years of age. The Diplomat Health Club for gay men and The Upper Level (mixed sexes) have been gay-owned and operated since the club's doors first opened in 1980. Membership is required for this private club. However, you may purchase a day pass with your room or locker.
Tips for Going Out in Grand Rapids
- Several gay destinations are located in Downtown Grand Rapids but if you want to check out the trendiest shopping, head for Uptown, the city's hippest destination with an eclectic mix of specialty shops. art galleries, bistros, coffee houses, and bars with character. With over 60 restaurants, you're sure to find your favorite cuisine or encounter something new to try.
- Grand Rapids is the perfect place to stay when exploring the Lake Michigan shore, including the gay-resort area of Saugatuck/Douglas. You can easily spend a day on Saugatuck’s Oval Beach, return to Grand Rapids for dinner and a night on the town.
- The center of June's Pride Festival is Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids and during this time, downtown hotel rooms are not easy to find so grab a reservation early if you're headed to Grand Rapids Pride.
- Ride The Rapid express bus system throughout Grand Rapids during your stay. There are routes (schedule times vary) that can take you to some outlying distilleries, breweries, and restaurants. Grand Rapids has ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.