The West Side: A Neighborhood Guide

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With hundreds of millions of dollars in neighborhood development taking place over the past several years, the West Side has become Grand Rapids’ hotspot for new restaurants, breweries, shops and apartments. Join Blu House Properties as we take you inside some of the places that make the West Side the “best side.”

The West Side is one of Grand Rapids’ most distinct neighborhoods because of its separation from the rest of Grand Rapids by a natural barrier; the Grand River. In the 1800s, the West Side was a blue-collar neighborhood filled with furniture factories that helped cement Grand Rapids’ reputation as the “Furniture Capital of the World.”

Over time, many immigrants filled the neighborhood; most notably, the Poles. While there is still a large Polish presence, today’s West Side is a proud, diverse, multi-ethnic community that has attracted a lot of development in recent years. The business districts line Leonard Street, Bridge Street and Fulton Street, with several small businesses scattered throughout the neighborhoods.

The West Side has several neighborhood landmarks as well as exciting new developments taking place. For a good glimpse of the old West Side, there are several large, notable churches dotting the skyline that have become symbols of Grand Rapids, including: St. Mary’s Catholic Church, St. James Catholic Church, Sacred Heart Church and perhaps the most notable, the Basilica of St. Adalbert. Another relic of the old West Side are the Polish Halls, especially around Pulaski Days. Come to St. Ladislaus, 6th Street Hall, 5th Street Hall, Jackson Street Hall, Polish Falcons, Kosciuszko Hall or Sons and Daughters during Pulaski Days, and you will be treated to cheap beer, homemade golabki (stuffed cabbage), pierogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut and live music and fun!

Looking for a slice of nature in the big city? The historic John Ball Park and Zoo provides acres of relaxation and recreation. The development of Grand Valley State University’s campus on the West Side initially spurred new development, which has been increasingly ramping up in the last few years. New restaurants, breweries, shops and residences have been popping up all over the West Side. Places like the Lofts on Alabama, the Barley Flats and the Condos at Union Square have added thousands of new residents to the West Side.

The biggest development in recent years in on the “superblock,” bounded by Bridge Street, Stocking Avenue, First Street and Seward Avenue, which will include a neighborhood Meijer grocery store, retail and office spaces and hundreds of apartments.

There are several places old and new that we recommend eating and drinking at. Start your day off with some coffee at the always-open Bitter End Coffeeshop on West Fulton Street. For an early morning taste of the old West Side, head to the Westsider Cafe for a heaping portion of scrambled eggs, kielbasa and potato pancakes.

Hungry for lunch? Head over to Maggie’s Kitchen at the corner of Bridge and Stocking for some of Grand Rapids’ best Mexican food. We recommend the beef tostadas washed down with a Mexican Coke or Guava Jarritos. After lunch, you may feel like having an adult beverage with the locals. If so, we recommend Kale’s Korner, the Flamingo Lounge, the Holiday Bar, the Triangle Bar, Putt Putt’s Bar, the Anchor Bar, Broadway Bar or Playstation Pub.

Looking for brand-spanking new places that are serving up some of Grand Rapids’ best food and drink? Try Rowster for morning coffee and pastry, New Holland Brewery’s Knickerbocker for lunch and One Bourbon, Butcher’s Union or The Sovengard for dinner.

Feeling thirsty? Head over to Harmony Hall, O’Toole’s or SteelCat for some of the city’s best beer and craft cocktails.

We hope you enjoyed our insider’s guide to the West Side. What are some of your favorite West Side traditions? How about restaurants? Feel free to drop us a line and let us know!