Feb 17, 2022

Settling into the Log Cabin, Grand Rapids, Mich.

When I used to travel for work, I was rarely fortunate enough to visit most locations during what would be considered the ideal travel season.  Case in point:  Grand Rapids, Mich. – a nice city with a lively craft beer culture and a must-visit if you happen to admire hometown hero and former president Gerald R. Ford.  But most outsiders wouldn’t book a trip in the middle of January. 

Nonetheless, January was when my work took me to Grand Rapids.  On my first night in town, I did actually try the closest brewery, which was OK, but I wound up talking with a local who was still obsessed with the aforementioned Mr. Ford (I was specifically told to not forget the “R” when using the full name) and how I just had to visit the presidential library downtown where he and his wife are buried.  I kindly listened, careful to avoid comparisons between hometown presidents (mine happens to be Abraham Lincoln), but drank quickly and decided to skip the brewpubs for the rest of the week.

The next night, I stuck to my tried-and-true strategy of how to really get to know a town and its people … find the nearest highly regarded dive bar.  After a little online searching, I settled on the Log Cabin

Located south of downtown on Division Avenue, a street that roughly parallels U.S. Highway 231 as it bypasses over the city, the Log Cabin could pass for just about any other neighborhood bar or cocktail lounge in town at first glance.  But sometimes, unassuming is good.  And in the case of the Log Cabin, it’s very good.  

As you walk into the Log Cabin, it’s natural to want to migrate to the centerpiece of the establishment – a large octagon bar where the locals tend to congregate first until all the surrounding seats are taken.  Fortunately, I arrived early enough to get positioned at the octagon where I could see as much of the room as possible and almost instantly felt at home.  

As fate would have it, I had discovered one of the oldest and most established bars in Grand Rapids, with the Log Cabin being a family-run affair since 1938.  Naturally, with that much history to build a loyal following, almost everyone seems to know everyone else here, and it’s just second nature for them to gather here after work to unwind.   

And as much as I was enjoying the people-watching, I was enjoying their jukebox selections even more. Someone had devoted a lot of money to a diverse set of Elvis Presley songs, including some lesser- known hits from his later years, followed by a set of just as impressive late 1960s and early 1970s soul classics.  Neither seemed to quite fit the crowd, and maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much.  

Speaking of the crowd, it’s safe to assume a bar like the Log Cabin will have its share of charming characters among its regular patrons.  Not pictured, but still well-remembered was the customer who dutifully made his own pitcher of red beer by adding two single cans of Campbell’s tomato juice to his draft.  That should qualify for a health drink in every dive bar in the upper Midwest.     

There’s much more to the Log Cabin than the octagon bar, of course.  Frankly, I was surprised by the overall size of the place and everything it held.  As I later learned, the Log Cabin takes advantage of its space in a variety of entertaining ways.  On this night, a beer pong tournament was apparently the draw, but the bar is also known for hosting a decent variety of live music, and they’ll even throw in some karaoke and DJ nights to bring in the crowds.   

The menu at the Log Cabin is pretty much your standard dive bar kitchen fare – a lot of fried apps, burgers and assorted sandwiches and wraps, and wet burritos which are apparently a popular bar food item in Grand Rapids. 

Lucky for me, the Log Cabin was running a can’t miss special – six wings and a pint of domestic beer for just $5.  I have to believe that due to inflation and the crazy rise in the cost of wings, the price of this special must have gone up by now, but still, what a deal!  The honey mustard dipping sauce I chose was nothing special, but it turned out the wings were excellent on their own. 

And, because I could, and it was certainly soup weather outside, I added a bowl of the soup du jour – stuffed green pepper – to my order to make it a full meal.  It just seemed like the right soup for the time, and it did not disappoint. 

Altogether, I can see why the Log Cabin continues to be popular after more than 80 years running. It has evolved just enough to stay relevant, and its warm atmosphere remains unchanged.  I recommend any first-time visitor to Grand Rapids to seek it out.

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