Touring Grand Rapids
Following a highly successful run of pilot tours in the spring and summer of 2012, Grand Rapids Downtown Alliance and Square Peg Events, LLC, present Touring Grand Rapids, a new series of downtown walking tours featuring food-and-beverage sampling, culture and fun for 2013. The inaugural Season One will comprise seven unique new tours between January and April, with future tours being planned for Season Two and Season Three during the summer and autumn months, respectively.
"These tours have a little bit of grit, a little bit of sass, and a lot of fun," said Cynthia Hagedorn, executive director of Square Peg Events. "These are not pub crawls. There's an educational component for intellectual, fun people who like to go out and learn something while enjoying a nice beverage and interesting food pairings. We're gearing all of these tours to encompass a variety of different kinds of food and beverages, and an array of unique venue experiences."
The initial 2012 collaboration between Grand Rapids Downtown Alliance and Square Peg Events produced three pilot tours - The International Wine Tour, Chicks & Chocolate and The Artful Appetizer - whose success and popularity green-lighted a full slate of new tours for 2013, said Sharon Evoy, executive director of Grand Rapids Downtown Alliance.
"One of the true assets of downtown Grand Rapids is our wide variety of locally owned restaurants, hotels and taverns with unique accoutrements, high-quality food and great, creative chefs," Evoy said. "This is an opportunity for residents and out-of-towners alike to explore new places and try new things in a fun group setting."
Kicking off the new series on Tuesday, Jan. 22, is Hotel Hop, an intimate inside look at some of downtown Grand Rapids' finest and most interesting hotels, featuring guest tour guide Ryan Slusarzyk, corporate business travel manager at Amway Corp.
"So many people in Grand Rapids who have lived here forever have never been inside these hotels," Slusarzyk said. "We're opening the doors and showing people that there's something here for everyone."
Featured destinations of the Hotel Hop include the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, 187 Monroe Ave. NW - including the uniquely appointed Lumber Baron Bar - and several locations within JW Marriott Grand Rapids, 235 Louis St. NW, including the hotel's signature restaurant six.one.six, mixology lounge and The Bistro at Courtyard by Marriott.
"We'll be meeting at the Amway Grand in front of the starburst sculpture in our lobby," Slusarzyk said. "We'll give a brief history of the hotel, then head into the Lumber Baron Bar, a unique cocktail lounge with a lot of history. We'll have a cocktail and a food tasting and then head over to the JW. It was finished in '07, and a lot of people haven't seen the hotel. We're working with the executive chef there - Chris Madsen, the former chef of the 1913 Room - to present an interesting food-and-drink tasting. The whole six.one.six restaurant is very locally influenced and the mixology lounge is recently refurbished. From there, we'll head to the Courtyard by Marriott. It recently underwent a complete renovation. The Bistro is kind of like a high-end Panera - good food, very deli-like style. It's a really neat bar."
The second tour is the Cozy Cruise on Tuesday, Feb. 5, guided by Hagedorn herself. Participants will explore MadCap Coffee Co., 98 Monroe Center St. NW; The Chop House, 190 Monroe Ave. NW; Reserve Wine & Food, 201 Monroe Ave. NW; and a return to Lumber Baron Bar. "This will be a relaxing night of comfort foods, cozy atmospheres and enjoying friends," Hagedorn said.
Third in the series is The Sweet Suite on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Slusarzyk will return as guest tour guide, this time showing off some of the uniquely elegant suites in downtown Grand Rapids, some with breathtaking bird's-eye views of the downtown skyline.
"Following a Valentine's Day theme, we're combining tasty treats with an inside look at some rarely seen suites," Slusarzyk said. "At the Amway, we'll look at the Governor's Suite or the Presidential Suite. After that, we'll go up to the 26th floor, to the DeVos and Van Andel suites, and the connecting rotunda that overlooks the city where we'll do some tasting. Then, heading over to the JW, our thought is to check out the Founders Suite on the 23rd floor. It's the largest suite in the hotel, and it's really cool. We may check out another venue after that."
Completing the slate of Season One tours are:
· The Giggle Groove Tour on Tuesday, March 12, a benefit for LaughFest featuring the Grand Rapids Art Museum, San Chez Tapas Bistro, J. Gardella's Tavern and an additional venue
· The Mini Martini March on Tuesday, March 26, with guest tour guide and stylist Sin Chun featuring Cheeky Strut salon, The Grand Woods Lounge and Bar Divani
· The Down Under Gems Tour with guest tour guide and local food-and-travel writer Sally Zarafonetis featuring Sundance Grill & Bar, Big O' Café, Craft-Revival Jewelers and a return to J. Gardella's Tavern
· The W(h)ine Not Tour on Tuesday, April 30, with guest tour guide and local wine writer Allie Merrick featuring return visits to Grand Rapids Art Museum, The Bistro at Courtyard by Marriott, Bar Divani and San Chez Tapas Bistro
Rimple Nayyar, owner of Bar Divani ,a hosting venue for 2012's International Wine Tour, signed up to repeat as a hosting venue in 2013 based on the success of the pilot tours. "What Cynthia is doing is wonderful. It really exposes people to different venues they might not otherwise see. It's not much of a commitment and you get to experience three or four different venues in one night. It's a great concept and it's great for downtown," he said.
For the upcoming Mini Martini March, Nayyar is already planning something special. "We have 10 different martinis on the menu. We'll create something new and drink something off the menu. We might have a bartender competition," he said.
Past tour participants offered insights into what participants can expect.
Eddie Tadlock of Grand Rapids said, "Each of the participating venues gives a unique insight into the space with a personal touch. It's almost like being invited into someone's home. You really get a chance to find out about things in a very intimate setting."
Marie Steffen of Grandville offered, "I really enjoy the fact that the general managers at the restaurants come out to talk to us and tell us about the history of the venue. I enjoyed friends coming along to some of my favorite places in Grand Rapids and introducing them to something that maybe they hadn't experienced before."
Walking tours are held from 7 to 9 p.m. rain or shine. Ticket availability for each tour is limited to 40 participants. Tickets are $40 per person and can be purchased at www.squarepegevents.com. Advance sales only - no door sales available. Groups welcome. Casual attire is appropriate.Participants must be 21 years of age or older. Tickets are non-refundable. For more information, contact Square Peg Events at 616-510-3599, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.squarepegevents.com.