A Michigan Speakeasy

80 Ottawa Ave NW Grand Rapids

Hidden Gems of Grand Rapids/A Michigan Speakeasy
VAMONDE
Written By VAMONDE

Digital Storytelling and Visitor Analytics for City and Cultural Institutions

At first glance Ottawa Ave looks like an unassuming little street; however, if make as if you are heading to Big O's Pizza, but instead turn your back on the pizza shop and enter into a different door, you will discover a ritzy secret of Grand Rapids.

Sidebar is a high-end underground cocktail joint. You won't find draft lines or even a soda gun at this bar and you will be looked on with distain if you dare to order a shot. Sidebar specializes in quality handcrafted cocktails that range from ten to fifteen dollars. All the glassware at this spot is specific to its drink and the ice is bought in 300 pound blocks and then hand crushed with a mallet.

Sidebar was opened when a professional sommelier named Scott Noorman met Bernie Kersten, the owner of Big O's Pizza, in a nearby coffee shop. After spending 16 years in Chicago as a sommelier, Noorman decided to move back to Grand Rapids with an idea for a secretive bar that would mimic the successful high end speakeasies of Chicago. Kersten warmed to the idea and eventually Sidebar came to be. Today Sidebar shares a street entrance and a liquor license with Big O's Pizza.

"I hope people accept the passion I'm trying to show," he said. "When you're in this business, especially as a sommelier and, now a bartender, it's really about the passion of what you're creating. The product is the result." -Scott Noorman
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On Sidebar's website they say: "...our staff is adept at interpretation. Give them a feeling, a name, an idea of a cocktail and they will not disappoint. So consider this a guide, a jumping off point, or a conversation starter between you and your taste buds." This joint is the kind of place where drinks happen like sorcery. The bartenders experiment like alchemists and on occasion, they invent something new.

One such instance of alcoholic alchemy happened when Nic Morgan was tending bar and a customer asked for a drink that he was missing an ingredient to. Although the cocktail called for an egg, Morgan substituted chocolate soda and suddenly a new cocktail was born. Morgan christened this drink the Anjelica Huston and ever since it has become a popular drink at sidebar. The skills of the bar tenders at Sidebar is nothing short of magical. Take a quick lesson in this bar room spell craft and learn how to make the legendary "Club 27."

Sidebar is something new and unforeseen in the city of Gran Rapids. It is a place for high quality cocktails and wine in a city of beer swillers. It is a classy and exciting secret lurking below the streets of Grand Rapids.

Cover Photo From #sidebargr via Instagram
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