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Has the oldest restaurant in Grand Rapids stood the test of time?

This downtown eatery has truly stood the test of time, surviving prohibition, the Great Depression, the second world war, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit: Amy McNeel, 13 OYS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There is no shortage of incredible restaurants in Grand Rapids. But with so many options, how do you choose where to indulge? We — 13 ON YOUR SIDE digital producers Riley and Amy — have set out to find the tastiest spots in the area and are documenting our journey with a series called 13 Eats.

13 Eats is all about highlighting the best restaurants in the Grand Rapids area. This week, we’re indulging in some American delicacies at an eatery that has truly stood the test of time. 

About Cottage Bar

Grand Rapids is a hustling and bustling city full of history and long-loved eateries, but only one place can say it’s the oldest operating bar and restaurant downtown. That place is Cottage Bar, snugly located on the corner of La Grave Avenue and Fulton Street SE.

Now on its fourth owner, Cottage Bar has called Grand Rapids home since 1927 (Yep, that’s a long time. We were like -71 when it opened!). The space started off as a sandwich shop called “The Cottage,” survived prohibition and then became “The Olde Cottage Bar and Grill” in 1934 when the owners obtained a license to sell liquor, too. Now, the little slice of downtown history is the well-loved Cottage Bar, serving up what USA Today has crowned the best burger in Michigan. 

Credit: 13OYS

►Learn more about the history of Cottage Bar here.  

The Food

We began our meal with the Chips and Enchilada Dip ($7.99), which is corn tortilla chips served with homemade salsa and a chili-style beef enchilada dip coated in melted cheddar cheese. 

The chips are light and salty, with the fresh homemade salsa that refreshed our palates before we dove into the meal. The true star, though, was the enchilada dip, with its savory beef taste and stringy, steaming cheese piled on top. It became addictive, and we couldn’t stop until the little ceramic bowl was empty except for a few stray onions. 

Credit: 13OYS

For an entrée, we had to try the most iconic item on the menu – the Cottage Burger ($11.99), which includes a thick patty served on a dark rye bun, smothered in green olives, lettuce, tomato, bacon, Swiss and American cheeses and their signature hickory-mayonnaise. 

We had high expectations for this dish, knowing the awards and honors it has collected, and when it arrived, coated in a layer of bright yellow cheese over a bed of olives, we could tell by the smell this thing would blow past those hopes we had for it. 

The burger stands tall, a thick, savory patty with a large slice of tomato and creamy mayo peeking outside the edges of the dark bun. The flavor was perfectly balanced with the heavy beef flavor and the light mayo and olives. After polishing off the huge sandwich, we understood all the hype. We see you, USA Today

Credit: 13OYS

For its counterpart, we decided on the classic Mac and Cheese Grilled Cheese ($9.99), which includes creamy mac and cheese served on toasted wheat bread with tomato and crispy bacon. As a side, we chose the “Original” Cottage Fries ($3.99), which are Michigan potato wedges, skin-on, and deep-fried to a golden brown. 

The grilled cheese offered a wonderfully cheesy mouthful of carbs, with tomato slices that added a fresh element along with perfectly crisp, salty bacon. The fries were delectably cooked and spiced, sprinkle on some salt and you’ve got the perfect lunch dish on your hands.

Credit: 13OYS

Each dish was a classic, tried-and-true with a twist, just like the charming restaurant surrounding us. 

►See the full menu here.  

The Vibe

Cottage Bar has an old soul, deep roots and a rich history. Luckily, you can feel all those things right when you walk in. As we sat down at our little corner table, we couldn’t help but gawk at the furnishings and finishes of the building. It felt like we were sitting in a time capsule filled with the yummiest smells. 

The place is dark and moody, filled with nostalgic décor and warmed with a classic stone fireplace. With creamy wood trimmings and a beautiful, original mahogany bar, the space is cozy, comforting and a perfect vessel for some American culinary classics. We’ve decided it’s definitely the perfect place for dinner with family or a low-key night out with friends. 

The Verdict 

Cottage Bar has truly stood the test of time, surviving prohibition, the Great Depression, the second world war, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? Well, we can’t be certain, but it most likely has something to do with the fact that this dive has it all — great food, great history and a great atmosphere, too. 

Credit: 13OYS

While the current restaurant is charming on its own, the history it’s built from makes it even sweeter. When you walk through the doors and into Cottage Bar, you are walking into a safe haven that has welcomed generations and generations before you. It’s a perfect little home away from home nestled in the heart of our city. 

► Cottage Bar is located at 18 La Grave Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

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