May 3, 2022

A commoner dines at the Cottage Bar & Restaurant, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Not long ago I posted about my first foray into the food and drink scene of Grand Rapids, Mich., at a long-operating family-owned neighborhood bar called the Log Cabin.  That fine experience left me wondering if I could discover some place with just as much history and personality downtown.  Luckily, again with a little online research and a lot of positive reviews, I found just the spot – the Cottage Bar & Restaurant.   

Located at 18 La Grave Ave. SE, just a pebble’s throw from the main artery of Fulton Avenue, and just a couple blocks from the intersection which serves as the geographic center of town, the Cottage Bar & Restaurant has been a fixture of downtown Grand Rapids since 1927.  And it’s been known for its burgers for almost as long as that.  With credentials like that, I knew I had to give it a try.

Sure enough, the ambiance lived up to my expectations from the moment I walked in.  Old diner-style booths on the left, a long wooden bar on the right and a narrow passageway to a slightly less dimly lit dining room in the back.  Low ceilings everywhere made the place feel a little like a basement speakeasy … it definitely felt like not much had changed since 1927. 

The view of the kitchen from the pick-up window through the brick wall at the back of the dining room sealed the deal.  Without a doubt, I knew this was where I was having dinner. 

I never really considered a table in the dining room, of course.  Not with a bar as homey and well-stocked as this with seats available.  A bartender who appeared to be a veteran of the place soon approached.   I went with his suggested craft beer porter, perfect for a dark and wintry night.   

With my drink beside me, I began to study the menu.  It reaffirmed that I had chosen the right place for what I was looking for. 

After all, any pub menu that has an “Old Standbys” section has likely been making at least most of them spectacularly well for a very long time.  Sure, the menu leaned heavily of sandwiches and burgers, but why stray from what you know best? 

It’s that precise logic which led me to choose the Cottage Bar & Restaurant’s signature Cottage Burger.  I’m certain any of their “Famous Burgers” would be delicious, but I felt I would be doing a disservice to myself if I didn’t try the best of the best on my first visit.   

And while my beer was extremely satisfying, I felt like I had to take advantage of the bar’s drink specials, as well as the bartender’s knowledge, while I was here.  I was impressed with the number of warm drinks on their menu, so I ordered a Nutty Irishman for a pick-me-up while my order was being prepared.  It hit the spot and woke me up just enough to ward off any potential food coma.

Both the menu and the bartender indicated the burger would be a sizeable challenge.  Fortunately, it was as delicious as it was filling.  Everything about the Cottage Burger just worked so well together – the excellent quality of the ground beef, topped with a smattering of green olives and smothered with bacon and two types of sliced cheese, along with all the standard toppings and the dark rye bun – a superb blend of salty, savory, melty and crunchy, hot and cold textures and flavors.  I was worried at first that the olives would overpower the taste of rest of the burger, but it turned out to be a welcome addition and one worth noting for future cookouts. 

The burger was served with the restaurant’s signature “cottage fries” of course – thick chunks of deep-fried potatoes cooked to a perfect crisp.  The serving was plentiful to say the least, and knowing that I had to finish the burger, I was forced to leave some cottage fries on the plate to assure I avoided the aforementioned food coma.    

I left the Cottage Bar & Restaurant highly satisfied with my overall experience.  It’s a place that doesn’t cut corners and seemingly works hard to preserve its reputation as a longtime local favorite.  Even as the Cottage has recently begun a new era under new ownership, it seems little will change and they’re committed to keeping the old traditions alive and well.  If you find yourself hungry in downtown Grand Rapids and want some good, filling pub grub, seek this place out.    

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