Rounding the bend on the fourth, it’s pretty apparent to those of us without central air that the summer sultriness has hit its stride. In lieu of sprawling out on my floor, sweating profusely, and praying for a breeze, I’ve fallen into the pattern of finding any excuse to leave my apartment, preferably somewhere with cold drinks–cold drinks and air conditioning. Near the top of my list of ideal destinations to avoid heat stroke is The Meanwhile Bar on the corner of Wealthy and Diamond.
Kicking open their doors five years ago, The Meanwhile broke onto the scene in the fairly desolate stretch between downtown Grand Rapids and Eastown. In a recent visit, I sat down with Meanwhile bartender Kyle Colter to get some insight on the bar’s success. “We were sort of the first anchor on Wealthy Street. It was here before Erb Thai, The Electric Cheetah, really most of the places on the block.” Since then, The Meanwhile has grown into a significant presence along Wealthy and has become the prime destination for thirsty townies looking to spend a couple of hours cradling a cool libation.
You get a sense of what kind of place the Meanwhile is the moment you step through the door, the outside of which is printed with the bar’s clenched “fist in the air” logo wedged between the masonic all-seeing-eye and potentially masonic all-hearing-ear. Hanging over the bar itself is a plaster-cast hammerhead and a hodgepodge of art prints and records spray-painted with pop-culture icons. On top of that, the whole bar has a checkerboard pattern and angularity that, along with the decor, looks like something David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino came together to design.
Ambiance aside, and getting to the heart of the subject, The Meanwhile bellies up to the bar with a good array of Michigan brews. Mitten beer snobs won’t have to worry about finding something to love with the lineup of Bell’s, Founders, New Holland, Brewery Vivant, and Shorts, and given the calendar-week of killer daily beer, wine, and mixed drink specials, every night has its own attraction.
What really clenches the top spot of local watering holes for The Meanwhile, though, is the diversions and events offered by the bar. Nestled in the back of the joint is a constantly rotating collection of pinball machines. “We were really the first place around to have more than one or two machines. Now other places are starting to do it too.” I’ve dropped my fair share of quarters back there, and there is nothing quite like playing a friend for the next round or just spending a fiver trying to beat your personal best on the Lord of the Rings table while you sip on a good ale.
Alternatively, the Meanwhile also sponsors The Meanwhile Film Series, showing cult- and classic films Tuesday nights at the Wealthy Theater. “The film series began as a way of getting people to interact more with the bar, to build awareness. It’s been a pretty big success.” And for good reason. The list of past and upcoming films are a movie buff’s dream, and I can tell you I won’t be missing a night in August during the Jim Jarmusch month.
There’s a lot to love about a place like The Meanwhile, it’s just a genuinely good hangout that permeates rad-ness–rad-ness and artificially cooled air. Given that I’ve sopped up two hand-towels worth of sweat while writing this article, I think I’m going to head out for a drink or two right now.
And hey, don’t forget to be friendly and like The Meanwhile on Facebook!