What’s New In Grand Rapids, Saugatuck, And Douglas The Gay-Friendly Midwest

by Our Editors

Arrive in a vibrant metropolis of beer, art, and dining and there you have Grand Rapids, Michigan. It's among our country's most venerable, yet fresh, cities.

by Marlene Fanta Shyer

For after-dinner fun, you might want to check out the city’s two hottest establishments, both on very good terms with the gay community. Rumors (69 Division Ave., S. Tel: 616-454-8720. www.grandrapids.gaycities.com/bars/2566-rumorsnight-club is the neon and hip-hop type nightspot that is a bit Saturday Night Fever, complete with disco balls and black lights. Not for snobs or top-hats, it has karaoke, male strippers, drag shows, and Sundaynight line dancing. It also has Eddie the bartender, wearing a big smile and gauged ears. He has a wide knowledge of what’s what in town. Drinks are 50% off Thursday nights.

The Apartment Lounge (33 Sheldon Ave., NE. Tel: 616-451-0815. www.apartmentlounge.net/homec5) a degree more genteel, and has been in this location for 30 years. The name was once a code for gay and lesbian people to create the impression they were going to someone’s apartment. The door chime, still here, was a signal someone was coming, a warning signal. First to fund the Grand Rapids Pride Festival, now on the last Friday of every month the “APT” hosts a fundraiser for local charities and organizations. “This is more than a lounge,” says chatty manager Eric Zuniga. “We are a community…and most of all family.”

One of the best things about Grand Rapids is its proximity to Saugatuck, “the Provincetown of the Midwest,” which is virtually next door to Douglas, its alter ego. A 40-minute cab ride (if you aren’t driving) puts you smack into another world. Here are two adjacent beach towns with flying rainbow flags and the creative, progressive, open-minded people who welcome the crowds that fill their galleries, restaurants, parks, and sparkling beaches.

How often have you been to a gay Tea Dance? “Any excuse to drink,” claims a happy guest at The Dunes (333 Blue Star Hwy. Tel: 269-857-1401. www.dunesresort.com) one of the five largest gay resorts in America. According to Mike Jones, one of its three owners, “Here are circuit kids, couples, retirees, twinks, bears, lesbians, and, well, just about every flavor under the rainbow. You can be gay, straight, old, or young, and feel comfortable here.” He didn’t mention the pooches, who are also welcome, as evidenced by a few four-footed friends lounging about its 20 acres and six bars. The swimming pool glitters and so does “stripper night” and the diva spotted in drag in the lounge. There are theme weekends that include pool cookouts, karaoke, and on Fourth of July weekend, the Sunday night Tea Dance. It’s so popular that up to a thousand people attend.

Dunes Resort by Doug Gould

Dunes Resort by Doug Gould

Kurt Stamm is the artistic director of the Mason Street Warehouse Theatre Company, housed in the Saugatuck Center for the Arts (400 Culver St. Tel: 269857-2399. www.sc4a.org). Every season, it produces three professional Equity Broadway shows in a 400-seat theater that was once a pie factory. Big names like Joan Baez, Rita Coolidge, and José Feliciano have recently packed the house, and a smaller space offers year-round musical events. Stamm’s partner of 17 years, Joe Somodi, teaches yoga here at Satya Yoga (439 Butler St. Tel: 269-857-7289. www.satyayogasaugatuck.com) and also has a private practice: Joe@2020yoga.com.

Galleries line the main and side streets, so just meander. Among them, find Amazwi (www.amazwi.com), which is filled with contemporary art imported from Africa, where Mike Tischleder and his husband, Wally Petersen, have sourced an eclectic collection. Noteworthy stone pieces, created with primitive tools, beaded statues and uncommon woven rugs are distinctive offerings.

Jeff Blandford (240 Butler St. Tel: 616566-2335. www.jeffblandford.com/gallery) is a young ceramicist with colorful vases, plates and pots to sell, and his new gallery is considered New York City caliber. At Upscale Mercantile (12 Center St. Tel: 269857-2030. www.upscalemercantile.com), you’ll find vintage furniture and accessories, like a set of four ghost chairs, a George Nelson ball clock, sundry lamps, and a Ouija.

Well-known artist James Brandess (238 Butler St. Tel: 269-857-1937. www.jamesbrandess.com) sells everything from original paintings to mouse pads and mugs. Not to be overlooked is Marley, his sociable studio dog, the hero of The Four Seasons of Saugatuck, authored by Brandess, available here for sale.

The Button Gallery (33-35 Center St. Tel: 269-857-2175. www.buttonartgallery.com) recently moved from Saugatuck to Douglas and offers fine art and sculpture. Owner Michael Burmeister, with ten years of experience, offers guidance and installation.

And, although you don’t need music to look for antiques, it’s playing while you shop at this mall. It might inspire you as you gallivant around the 25,000 feet of old stuff at the Saugatuck Antiques Pavilion (Blue Star Memorial Hwy. Tel: 267-857-6041. www.saugatuckantiquepavilion.com) where 175 dealers have combined their wares to tempt you with everything you’ve always wanted to everything you never wanted but will now snap up for a song.

Saugatuck is on Lake Michigan, so there are water sports, a marina, and a beach described by a fan as “Florida without the sharks or jellyfish.” Depending on the day, it may be romantic, clean, and secluded, or packed with crowds; in any event, weather permitting there’s a guaranteed sunset and a parking fee of $8.

For a novel foodie experience, stop in at Hungry Village Tours (Tel: 269-857-1700. www.hungryvillagetours.com), one of the most popular attractions here. Off you go for a walk or a ride with David Geen who knows how to taste, savor, and sip, hitting all the delicious places in and out of town. It’s a three-hour or all-day (10 A.M.– 4 P.M.) experience that includes not only tastings, but depending on the tour, a “farm to fork” lunch.

For a recyclable cup of caffeine, try Uncommon Coffee Roasters (127 Hoffman St. Tel: 269-857-3333. www.uncommoncoffeeroasters.com). President Guy Darienzo believes in cold-brew coffee, and connecting with small-batch coffeebean farmers he visits around the globe. The café also features baked goods (try the kitchen-sink muffin) and there’s outdoor seating and a nice herb and flower garden out back.

For serious eats, there are many choices. Try Wild Dog Grille (24 Center St. Tel: 269-857-2519. www.wilddoggrille.com) in Douglas, a casual spot with artisanal food and outdoor dining, or Marro’s (147 Water St. Tel:269-857-4248. www.marrosrestaurant.com) for “the finest, authentic Italian” in Saugatuck. In Pizza Mambo ( 10 1/2 Blue Star Highway. Tel: 269-857-4400. www.pizzamambosaugatuck.com) you can create your own or choose from the menu. Either way, the locals think this pizza is “the best ever.” It’s tempting and tasteful, which gay visitors might say for Saugatuck/Douglas, too.

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