Grand Rapids is home to many locally owned and operated LGBTQ+ businesses, and there are more than you might think. The city is becoming a destination to live and work for people of all ages and identities as more inclusive businesses open within walking distance of the urban core. You’ll notice many bars, restaurants, and businesses around town showing support by flying a pride flag in windows and storefronts. It’s a welcome feeling of acceptance for the community here and visitors too.
My partner and I call Grand Rapids home and enjoy visiting the local gay bars, as well as some of the outstanding shops in Uptown, and beyond, that are owned and operated by some of the LGBTQ+ community. And if you are like me and enjoy pairing your shopping and dining with art, I've added suggestions of some of the places I like to visit as a local.
You’ll find welcoming, inclusive destinations all across the city. Downtown is home to the Apartment Lounge, Michigan’s oldest gay bar, and Rumors Night Club, a dance bar with DJs, karaoke, and drag shows. You can also check out the Uptown neighborhood for trendy shopping, the up-and-coming West Side which continues to grow, or Southtown for diverse dining options.
The following are just a few of the city’s LGBTQ+ owned and operated businesses that you should check out next time you are in town:
The Apartment Lounge is the oldest gay bar in Michigan. It's also right next to the brand new mural, Rainbow Road by Joey Salamon.
Drinks & Entertainment
The Apartment Lounge
As Michigan’s oldest gay bar, The Apartment Lounge serves up a chill vibe with rotating specials throughout the week. You are always met with a smiling face and served hot, fresh popcorn to accompany your beverage of choice. It’s commonly referred to as the place where friends meet, and this bar will not disappoint. Bob Johnson, owner of the Apartment Lounge, is a well-known LGBTQ+ business owner and hosts fundraisers and events for various organizations throughout the year at the bar and his catering business, West Michigan Caterer.
Rumors Night Club
As the only gay nightclub in Grand Rapids to offer dancing, Rumors is a great stop to consider later in the evening. The bar offers a variety of entertainment including drag shows, karaoke, rotating DJs, and a dance floor that’s always kicking. It hosts foam parties - the dance floor gets covered in a sea of foam - and various themed nights throughout the year as well. Rickey Penton and his husband Al Bath own and operate Rumors Night Club - the couple is another well-known duo within the LGBTQ+ community.
Michigan Drag Brunch
One of the hottest new weekend brunch trends in Grand Rapids is Michigan Drag Brunch by DT Promotions, a series of drag shows that visit a variety of restaurants across town. These queens travel the state, but many shows end up in the Grand Rapids area on Sunday afternoons. Be sure to get tickets in advance as they sell out fast. Michigan Drag Brunch is owned by Trevor Straub of DT Promotions. You’ll see him at every show as the emcee and backstage helping the queens prepare for each number.
The Dunes Resort
The Dunes is a Midwest destination for the LGBTQ+ community and boasts a poolside bar, on-site accommodations for overnight stays, live music and DJs, drag shows, and more. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Grand Rapids and a short distance from downtown Saugatuck and Douglas. Both are extremely LGBTQ+ friendly towns with a variety of dining options, shops, and more.
The Dunes Resort originally opened under the ownership of Danny Esterline and Greg Tryzbinski who started visiting what was then called The Douglas Dunes. They met their now-business partner, Mike Jones, at the Dunes and quickly became friends. Danny, Greg, and Mike all operate the Dunes Resort in partnership now as one of the largest LGBTQ resorts and entertainment complexes in the Midwest. The name of the store, "Woosah," is meant to bring a sense of inner peace, calmness, and stillness when said aloud. Owner and artisan Erica Lang finds Woosah in making her art and being immersed in nature.
Coffee, Shopping & Salons
A naturally inspired art and apparel brand, featuring the artwork of founder and owner, Erica Lang, Woosah is not to be missed. The designs and drive behind Woosah revolve largely around woodcuts and the outdoors. Each design and product is handcrafted in Grand Rapids with limited edition runs. All apparel at Woosah is unisex and is intended for anyone of any gender to wear and enjoy it.
Outside Coffee Company
This year-round outdoor coffee experience is one of a kind, offering a variety of specialty coffees day and night with unique seating options. Outside Coffee Company remains open in the winter with “igloos” called geo domes and heaters for guests to gather around. Guests order beverages from a camper that is permanently on-site and can choose from many items on the menu that are vegan and gluten-free. The dog-friendly cafe is an extension of Woosah and is owned by Kelly McPhee.
Right across the street from Outside Coffee Co., Fox Naturals offers high quality, natural body care solutions available in Grand Rapids. The products not only smell wonderful but also let the natural properties of simple ingredients shine through. This locally-owned shop works to assist in transitioning out of big-box retailer products (full of harsh irritants, synthetic ingredients, and chemicals) and into a healthier, holistic alternative. Fox Naturals is owned, operated, and created by Patrick Stoffel. He and his staff make the majority of the products themselves from a variety of natural products.
Located in the Uptown neighborhood, Coy Salon embodies the exclusive feel of a big city salon without having to leave Grand Rapids. Coy offers cutting, coloring, styling, and more. Owned and operated by master stylist Cody Wyland, this salon is known for its amazing service and outstanding results.
Rebel offers a variety of unique gifts, paper goods, plants, and home accessories that you will not likely find elsewhere. The collection of sassy gifts and cards, as well as other one-of-a-kind wares, are hand-selected by the owners and are exactly the gift you need for any occasion. Prepare to be blown away by the variety and attention to detail this shop offers. Rebel is owned and operated by Dan Boyles and Chip Minor. You’ll see them staffing the store on most days, so be sure to say hi when you stop in.
Windsor Cottage prides itself on its home furnishings, interior design, and, above all else, customer service. The store has been in business for more than 32 years and provides a variety of services at both its Cherry Street and Thornapple locations. Windsor Cottage is owned and operated by Rick Santamaria, a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Arts & Culture
The following are a few great arts and culture destinations in Grand Rapids. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but only the tip of the iceberg and a few of my go-to spots:
The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and Grand Rapids Art Museum are conveniently located in the heart of Downtown and are within walking distance from The Apartment Lounge or Rumors Nightclub if you are looking to mix in some networking or cocktails with culture. The UICA is known for its inclusive cultural experiences and for its vibrant, sustainable programs that inform diverse communities in many ways. The GRAM promotes creativity and connection in artists of all different identities and communities.
A self-guided tour of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park should also top your list, but it will take a little longer. I recommend planning at least half a day if you would like to take in the full sculpture park, indoor, and outdoor gardens. Meijer Gardens is a top 30 must-see museum, so if sculptures and gardens are your thing, be sure to check it out.
Grand Rapids has many options for evening entertainment if you’re a fan of music or theater too. Grand Rapids Ballet Company, Opera Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Symphony, and the Grand Rapids Civic Theater all offer a rotating schedule of performances throughout the year. These artistic homes are perfect for feeling a sense of acceptance and community with their outward support and involvement.
If you’re planning on visiting multiple arts and culture stops, consider buying the three-day Culture Pass GR, which covers admission into several of Grand Rapids cultural attractions.
A Quick Trip
Grand Rapids is the perfect spot to stay if you’re also interested in exploring Lake Michigan – including Saugatuck/Douglas, home to one of America’s top LGBTQ+ resorts. My partner and I love taking a day trip to Saugatuck to check out the many shops and restaurants after a day on Oval Beach. It’s just under an hour drive from downtown Grand Rapids.
Some Photos Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids and others by Joey Amato