Named one of the best fast-food restaurants in America by GQ, Stella’s Lounge in Grand Rapids Michigan offers a unique dining experience along with tasty food and strong drinks. It’s one of the best restaurants in Grand Rapids, and it’s easy to see why: vegan bar food + awesome murals + 200 kinds of whiskey + punk rock jukebox = awesome!
About Stella’s Lounge in Grand Rapids
Mark and Michele Sellers never open the same bar twice. In the wake of the extremely successful HopCat, a bar which opened in January of 2008, they opened Stella’s Grand Rapids just a couple of blocks away. Though owned by the same people, the similarities end there. Whereas HopCat, rated as one of the top beer bars in the world, has an extensive collection of craft beers, a more modern ambiance, and a menu of bar food with a fancy twist, Stella’s Lounge Grand Rapids is fashioned to emulate a dive bar. While certainly not dirty nor dingy, the dimly lit bar decorated with large murals by local artist Erwin Erkfitz and strange Mexican Devil masks seems much older than it actually is, serving as a throwback to the bars that the Sellers grew up enjoying.
The Sellers moved from Chicago to Grand Rapids in the spring of 2007 with no intentions of opening a bar. However, by early 2008 HopCat was opening its doors. With no prior experience in the bar industry or even waiting tables, the Sellers aimed to create a place that would appeal to people like them. “We arranged all of our business practices around what customers like us would like,” said Michele Sellers. “Our ultimate demographic is basically us.”
Stella’s came shortly after, as a building became available a couple of blocks from HopCat. “The commercial real estate market is a really good deal right now,” said Sellers. “We wanted to give ourselves a new place to hang out.” Moving from Chicago, Sellers noticed a lack of small, dark bars downtown like those she had frequented in Chicago. “We kind of wanted a place where we felt at home hanging out,” she said. Her vision was truly realized in Stella’s, where she and Mark can often be found.
Fun Fact: Stella is the Seller’s pet dog!
Beyond the food, Stella’s – off Commerce Ave in the Arena District in downtown Grand Rapids – is a must-check-out restaurant in Grand Rapids. It has a hardcore rock vibe with colorful murals outside and a black and chain link fence interior. Inside has a fun, vintage feel with old school cartoons playing on the TVs and pinball machines lining the restaurant walls.
How to Get to Stella’s Lounge in Grand Rapids
Getting into Stella’s can be difficult, not because it is exclusive, but merely because finding the entrance to the building can be a little tricky. The main entrance, found in an alley, is easy to miss. However, as you near the entrance, a mural of skulls is painted on the wall, letting you know that you are almost to your destination. Upon opening the door, punk rock music lets you know that you are in the right place. Ascend the stairs and allow your eyes to adjust to the dimly lit bar area and take a seat.
Nestled just behind Grand Rapid’s bar star scene on Ionia St., Stella’s Lounge is recognizable by the eclectic artwork on the outside of the building, an assortment of macabre graffiti that draws a variety of patrons. But it’s the inside that keeps customers coming back on a regular basis; old school video games, throw-back music, over 200 whiskeys to sit and slurp, beers, and a menu that satisfies carnivores and vegans alike.
Stella’s is open 4 pm – 2 am on weekdays and 12 pm – 2 am on weekends. Their event schedule stays fresh with things like Gamer battles, Rehab Sunday Brunch, and Sh*t Show Sunday Nights with karaoke and drink specials. Even the daily happy hour is designed to snag regulars- $6 stuffed burgers, $1.25 beer cans, $8 pitchers of Sangria! All nine epic varieties of Stella’s burgers are served with Chronic Fries and pair best with both a cheap beer and a 2oz. pour of whichever whiskey catches your eye.
What to Eat at Stella’s | Menu Options
Looking at the menu, it becomes apparent that Stella’s is not dishing up your average bar fare. Each dish draws its name from a hardcore or punk song title, making the menu an interesting read with names like “For Who the Dogs Toll,” “Refuse/Resist,” and “You Suffer.” While many of the bar food staples exist here, such as chicken wings, large burgers, and hot dogs, it is the vegetarian twist that makes Stella’s menu truly unique. Vegan “chicken” wings, burgers, nachos, and hotdogs make Stella’s a unique establishment.
At the opening of Stella’s, Michele was a vegetarian, which allowed her to have an insight into the lack of vegetarian-friendly establishments. “As a vegetarian, I felt that market was under-served in Grand Rapids,” said Sellers. “Here, almost every restaurant that I went to, even salads, I would have to ask for no bacon, no chicken, no whatever.” This observation led to a business opportunity. “When you’re opening a place, you kind of want to tap into an under-served market. Not only as a service to those people that are underserved but also you kind of have a monopoly on the market.”
Initially, Sellers wanted to fill the menu with healthy vegetarian food such as salads and wraps, but Ryan Cappelletti, the mastermind behind several vegan menus in Grand Rapids and co-owner of Bartertown Cafe had different plans. “He said ‘that’s cool but vegetarians can get that anywhere,’” said Sellers. “If people are slamming back PBR, they want [crappy] bar food. After he put it to me that way, it made a lot of sense.” Following Cappalletti’s vision, Stella’s serves up typical bar food with a vegetarian twist. However, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s particularly good for you. “It’s vegetarian,” Sellers said. “It’s not health food.”
At its inception, the vast majority of the menu at Stella’s was in fact vegan, except for a small menu section titled “Pet Cemetery,” which featured several stuffed burgers. However, since then, meat has been added to the menu as a free option for the majority of items. It was her husband’s idea to add the option to the vegan items. “He wanted to broaden the appeal,” Sellers said. He didn’t feel that meat-eaters were coming here.” Vegetarians rest assured, however; your favorite options are still available. “We didn’t take away a single vegetarian thing,” said Sellers.
More to Do at Stella’s Grand Rapids
While waiting for your food to come, meander to the back of the restaurant and check out the various arcade games. These were Mark’s contributions to the space. Growing up in the 80s, Mark and his brother would spend time in video arcades competing with each other. “They kept notebooks of their high scores,” Michele said. Mark wanted an outlet for his love for video games, but Michele was averse to the idea of having one in the house, and Stella’s provided a perfect outlet. “It has become a very popular feature,” said Sellers.
Whiskey at Stella’s Grand Rapids MI
Whereas HopCat is built around the Sellers’ love for craft beer, Stella’s is built around whiskey. Over 200 different kinds of whiskey, to be more specific. While of course there are several beers available, including several Michigan craft beers on tap and a number of classic beers served in cans, including Blatz and Schlitz. Beers from the tap are served in mason jars, adding yet another quirk to Stella’s.
Stella’s is best described by Michele Sellers who said, “[Mark] likes whiskey, I like vegan food, and he likes video games. We figured we’d put them all together and see what happens.” The end result is a truly unique bar and restaurant that, once you find it, is absolutely worth your time.
Best Burger in America at Stella’s Lounge Grand Rapids
The Best Burger in America. Where would you expect it to be? If you said Grand Rapids’ own arcade/restaurant/bar/vegetarian and vegan haven, Stella’s Lounge, you’d be right! Having just received the honor from July 2012 issue of GQ Magazine, the local prestige of Stella’s unique atmosphere can’t be overestimated.
If you’re ready to run and try one, you should be aware that owner Mark Sellers is pretty sure it’s the Stella Blue that won Stella’s the honor; stuffed with bleu cheese and bacon, it’s hands down the most popular burger at the bar. Sellers said to The Rapidian, “We haven’t changed the recipe since we opened in May 2010,” adding that “The beef has no additives or preservatives, is 100% black Angus, and comes from farms in Michigan and Ohio. We hand-form the patties ourselves in our kitchen, rather than buying frozen pre-formed patties. We infuse the burgers with cheese and spices before cooking, and it oozes out all over when it’s hot. The burgers are stuffed.” Some of the other stuffings include white cheddar, jalapenos, and all manner of delicious local options that just taste better stuffed inside a beef patty.
Although Grand Rapids is proud of the recognition they’ve engendered, we are featuring Stella’s Grand Rapids for more than just their national popularity. One of the coolest things about Stella’s is their focus on buying local food and supporting neighboring businesses. As the West Michigan community gravitates towards such noble endeavors, it’s easy to see why Stella’s has been and shall remain such a Grand Rapids favorite.
Copycat Stella Blue Stuffed Burger Recipe
Stella’s burgers are hands down the best burger in Grand Rapids. GQ Magazine has even named it the best burger in America! All their stuffed creations are awesome (shout out to The Buffalo and Government Cheese Stuffed Burger) but their Stella Blue Stuffed Burger is pretty close to what dreams are made of.
They take big ol’ hunks of creamy blue cheese and unapologetically go meat-on-meat with bacon crumbles, all rolled up in a delightful 100% Black Angus beef patty.
The beauty in this burger is its simplicity. Duh, stuffing cheese into the meat instead of melting it on top as an afterthought—why didn’t I think of that? But, however easy it sounds, there’s an art to making your at-home stuffed creation taste Stella’s-worthy.
Tips for Making Amazing Copycat Stella’s Burgers
First: Use Angus beef. It’s a little pricier, but you’re making burgers not hamburger helper dagnabit!
Second: Chill it, don’t freeze it. A non-frozen burger has a light and moist texture to it in a way that frozen patties just can’t live up to.
Third: Know your grill. You can turn the most delightful burger into an overdone hockey puck if you don’t watch it. I ask my in-house grill master to spray both sides of the raw patties with a little cooking spray to help them slide off the grill with ease.
Fourth: When it comes to toppings, I like a super thinly sliced red onion, a crunchy piece of lettuce, and something to dip it all in (see the chipotle mayo recipe below!). Oh, and I like my buns toasted. Is that over-sharing?
How to Make Copycat Stella’s Blue Burgers
I must say, for this not being Stella’s burger, it comes pretty dang close. If you can get to Stella’s, you must; but if their downtown location is a little far from home (or if you just want to chow down in the comfort of your own sweatpants) here’s how to fake their famous burger.
- 1 lb Angus ground beef
- ½ cup blue cheese crumbles
- 6 slices of bacon
- 5-6 whole-wheat hamburger buns
- Cook the bacon until crispy. Let cooked strips cool on a paper towel, then cut or crumble the bacon into bits.
- Combine the ground beef, blue cheese, and bacon bits in a bowl. Go easy on your meat, yo. This is no time for a deep tissue massage.
- Form into patties. Make a thumb-sized indent in the middle of each to help combat plumping while cooking.
- Grill to desired firmness.
(Optional) Chipotle Mayo Spread
Stella’s Blue copycat burger alone is drool-worthy, but if you’re feeling extra saucy, I highly recommend a little chipotle mayo spread. Mix the mayo and chipotle adobo sauce together and spread generously on your burger buns.
- ¼ cup mayo
- 1 tablespoon sauce from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Try a Stella Blue Burger in Grand Rapids
While the at-home copycat Stella’s burger recipe is pretty amazing, GQ chose their Best Burger in America Winner for a reason. We recommend making a trip to Grand Rapids’ Stella’s Lounge to sample the fresh-made patties yourself!
Contributions to this article came from Chad Cramblet, Lyndsay Israel, and Dana Blinder