Grand Rapids is one of those cities that is just plain fun to be in. It has the art, the education, the skyscrapers (by Michigan standards), a couple of fantastic bridges, and it is quickly becoming a food and beer destination in the Midwest. It also has hipsters. Damn hipsters.
At the forefront of this rising beer scene is the formidable HopCat Bar. HopCat has built itself into a respected Grand Rapids brand, nay, a nationally recognized establishment with legions of followers who are willing to travel many miles to drink from its 48 taps or eat plate after plate of its famous Crack Fries. I recently made a spur of the moment road trip to Grand Rapids with my brother and HopCat was the first stop on our tour.
The bar itself has the warmth of an older, antique saloon. Upon walking in, you will notice the ornately carved wooden bar with its polished bronze and gold taps whispering sweet invitations from across the room. Elevate your gaze and there is more to see. Vintage French inspired advertisements colored with subdued tones of yellow, blue, and red are strewn across the plank wooden ceiling. Take a casual stroll to the bathroom and inside you will find a floor-to-ceiling poster collage of Rock N Roll’s historic pioneers and iconoclasts including a snapshot of a boorish Johnny Cash flipping a very impassioned bird (not shown for the sake of our children’s innocence).
As far as the beer and food in concerned, the menu can be daunting to some but in my two experiences at HopCat the waitstaff has been more than happy to talk about the variety of beer available and they will help find the right choice for you. The only “normal” beer they have on the menu is a tall, healthy mason jar of ‘Merican made Pabst Blue Ribbon just like grandpa used to drink at the VFW.
And Hop Heads will not be disappointed. Tastes and varieties from around the country and around the world can be found here. You can get a locally made Founder’s Breakfast Stout or a Norwegian Haandbryggeriet Drammen. You can’t even pronounce a quarter of the beers on their list and it only gets harder the longer you stay there.
On January 12th, HopCat celebrated its fifth anniversary. Five years it has been serving what some would call “over priced, yuppie drinks.” Does it seem odd to anyone else that such a place would survive the recession, especially the recession in Michigan? Well, there is a reason for HopCat’s growth and popularity. The fact is, there is a recent surge in the craft beer market that is spreading across the country. Craft brewers are seeing double digit increases in sales even during economic hardship. Bar patrons are more discerning about what they drink and they are willing to pay for it. If you’re going to waste calories on a beer it had better be a good tasting one. For those of you who want to be educated in the world of full flavored beers, HopCat is a great classroom.
The reason I like this bar is because, well, it’s old fashioned in a way and I’m romantic like that. The look and feel is something of an immigrant bar, pre-1940 with lanterns overhead, tan brick walls, and bar patrons sporting handlebar mustaches. Fashion is cyclical I guess. It’s atmosphere and aesthetics that make up half of HopCat’s charm. The fact that the staff actually cares about the beer is a plus too. Whenever I can sit down with a bartender and discuss, and be educated in, the finer points of IPAs, Dopplebocks, and Bourbon Barrel Aged Stouts I consider that a good place to be.
25 Ionia Street, Grand Rapids