Many writers will begin an editorial by leaning on a crutch with the line “I'm not sure when it all began…” as if to indicate the thoughts have been brewing for quite awhile and must be indicative of a rich topic.
I knew right away as I read the headline of the freebie newspaper article that it was clearly about getting out of town. I looked at the giant image of an couple embracing in the glass tower above Chicago, and I could not help but wonder why we were not inviting people to think about loving a local spot instead.
According to my friend George Aquino, general manager of the Grand Rapids' JW Marriot, they have rooms frequently occupied with people who live just a short distance from downtown. Why? People love excuses for romantic getaways like Valentine’s season but also because more events, like March’s LaughFest, are popping up in the center of the city. (Hint: There is a lovely Experience Pink Package
you have to take advantage this month. It’s tasty, too.)
People want to be near the action, and a downtown hotel is often the perfect location for hatching urban planning around any number of Grand Rapids events.
So, while many people may have fancy dreams of what a perfect 24-hour, gold karat retreat would look like, I decided to publish my ideal getaway or romantic encounter here in Grand Rapids for Valentine’s this year. Please keep in mind, I’m suggesting what I would do and as momma says, “If your brother jumped off a cliff, would you?” in trying to model after me. Make it your own.
If I am going to stay downtown, then clearly it has to be the JW Marriott. Once I’ve checked in, I would grab a copy of the glossy Solace magazine. Truth in publishing moment: Sure, it’s a publication I have written for (Fall/Winter issue: A look at the best venues & music of Grand Rapids), but the local mag gives me a chance to catch up on all the fun, reminding me of those days of big pictures and quality copy -- the kind I enjoyed while paging through Interview Magazine
in the late ‘80s.
Not one to linger or sit still, I’d soon jump over to the nearby Grand Rapids Art Museum to view the MOMA-rifficly (the terrific Museum of Modern Art) big and important survey of American artist Robert Rauschenberg.
There is a hidden benefit for GRAM members: A spacious balcony just off the members' lounge area on the top floor allows you to enjoy the open air from an unique vantage point while observing the fine architecture along Monroe Center.
Following the art museum jaunt, it's quite obvious we’d sneak off to quaff a pre-dinner drink at Schuler Books Downtown where we could pick up a book, newspaper or magazine to read later in bed.
If the newly opened City Flats restaurant, the Citysen Lounge, is full, then I’ll skip the street level space for an underground perspective with dinner at Big O’s, literally located below sidewalk level.
Since I am not a fancy boy, and if, by chance, it is Friday night when I visit Big O’s, then it is best to bypass the Italian menu and head straight for the Cuban dinner, available only once during the week. The Caribbean menu item includes roasted-all-day pork, a fresh veggie & vinaigrette salad and black beans and rice. Don’t forget to ask for the Mojo sauce that kicks up the flavor a notch or two, plus do request a basket of their homemade garlic knots. To hell with the Atkins diet, this is a real treat!
After this very filling meal (including dessert to share), it would be fitting to head over to Rosa Parks Circle to ice skate under the stars. If you don’t like the music, then I suggest bring along an audio splitter then hook up headphones built for two and skate really close. (Like you have any other choice with such a short leash running from your iPod.)
If you have some energy left after burning off all those calories, then I would suggest checking out any one of the number of downtown late-night establishments offering everything from bands to DJs, performing or playing any number of musical genres. And keep an eye out for the pedicabs that pop-up all over on nights when the conditions are right.
But if you desire a quieter space and you have rented a concierge level room, get thee to the top of the Marriott with your elegant black-on-black room key for a quiet place where you will enjoy that nightcap looking out at the multi-million dollar view.
If anyone comes along, I suggest you begin speaking in a fake accent, proclaiming with a straight face you are here from some exotic place and encourage the guest who is from the area to share stories of their city. After listening awhile and when asked what you do, simply reply that you made your fortune off of shower curtain rings. It worked for John Candy in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” and it should work for you.
Back to your Valentine’s Day room: Yadda, yadda, yadda. When the sun comes up, surprise your partner by sneaking down to Monroe Center for two pour-over coffees and a freshly baked treat from Madcap Coffee. The urban trek at this early hour will surely impress your sleeping loved one, making you the better half in this equation.
When the coffees cups are emptied, head out for a casual breakfast nosh at the newly renovated Courtyard lobby restaurant. You can unwind in the casual atmosphere, enjoying free Wi-Fi and channel surfing with your very own private booth-side TV. It is not as tacky as it might sound, especially considering how far we have come from those awful pre-HD black and white Television sets found at a certain greasy spoon on Wyoming’s 28th Street.
With your breakfast over, race back to the room for a quickie… or a nap.
At this point, you are probably dangerously close to the end of your stay, so call up the front desk and request a late check out.
The key is to sound stressed when they pick up the phone, and to have your partner in on the act as you explain to the operator how you overslept. To make it extra convincing, have your partner shouting at you in the background, reminding you what a loser you are for oversleeping. Be sure to pack your bags so that later on, you’ll be ready.
After the call, fall back into this softer-than-a-cloud bed and have a good laugh over your Oscar-winning performance. Resist the urge to take a short nap. If the maid knocks on the door, then you have over-slept and it is, in this case, a good thing, since you have already packed your bags.
The fun does not stop as you exit the hotel.
In the off chance you are hungover, then a trip to Maggie’s on Bridge Street is in order. But if not, head on over to the Kopper Top, where you will dine under more bright lights than a tanner whose booth mated with the lights of a Broadway marquee. You’ll dine under the glow of the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it holiday-themed display.
The Kopper Top offers some of the best home-style cooking with a nod to Polish cuisine. You can also sip from an array of craft brews, many made right here in Grand Rapids.
Wherever you land, I can pretty much guess you will be glowing from all the fun after spending your 24 karat gold hours here in Grand Rapids. The support you will have brought to our region by sharing a little local love this Valentine’s weekend is golden in its own right.
On the occasion of the new survey released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), Local First Executive Director Elissa Hillary says: “For the fifth year in a row, a recently released nationwide survey has confirmed again that local movements all across the country are working. Local First’s message is about reaching people. People are shifting their money and working to keep jobs in West Michigan.”
Oh, and don’t worry if you find yourself without a getaway partner this year. It could be a temporary situation as people share love and find love all the time.
According to Creston neighborhood businessman Brett Alward, finding love is something he often sees at his popular Sazerac Lounge on Plainfield Aveue.
“I love my job because not only do I get to meet many great locals who live in this region of the city, but I on more than one occasion, I have introduced people to each other who went on to get married. So, in a way, I am a restaurant owner and a community-building matchmaker, too,” says Alward.
The Sazerac Lounge owner celebrates his seventh year in our neighborhood and as a customer from day one, I could not agree more. However and whomever you choose to love, the investment in loving your community with your dollars always pays off for the city.
The Future Needs All of Us.
Tommy Allen, Lifestyle Editor
Email: [email protected]
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