Libby VanderPloeg is an illustrator, letterer and designer who grew up on the edge of the Great Lakes dunes in the lovely Grand Rapids, MI. Though she’s since moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, her affinity for storytelling, music, letterforms, printed ephemera, and wildlife has remained with her. Libby’s charmingly witty and beautifully descriptive 24-hour guide is filled with all the goodness in life, from food and drink to art and antiques. Click through to read her short-story-esque city guide! –Sabrina
This is how we show you where we’re from in Michigan. Photo by Claire Geist
While these days, I spend most of my time making stuff in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I’ll always consider Grand Rapids, MI my home and a source of inspiration. Every time I go back to visit, I’m amazed and encouraged by how much GR is growing, and am excited to see the city’s artists and craftsmen as a driving force behind this awesome progress. So if I could imagine a perfect day in this fine city, it would go a little something like this…and go!
7:30 am: It’s imperative that I start the day with a stretch, so my friend Molly and I go for a hike around Reed’s Lake in East Grand Rapids. Once we’ve completed the roughly 4-mile, wooded loop, I’m very ready for a coffee and something sweet.
Pour-over coffee drippers lined up at Rowster Coffee. Photo © Damon Card
9 am: We pop over to Rowster Coffee on Wealthy Street for a little pick-me-up. I glance around the light-flooded cafe, enjoying the beautiful photography lining the walls, while friendly baristas weigh out coffee beans for pour-over cups of house-roasted coffee. My eyes settle on the pastry case, and a particularly golden gougere from Field & Fire, which I decide not to resist.
Rowster Barista. Photo © Damon Card
10 am: The antique stores are open, and since Grand Rapids is a haven of mid-century modern artifacts (this town is the home to Steelcase and Herman Miller, afterall), my mom (who documents Mid-Century Design) and I head over to Century Avenue (i.e. Antique Row) and let ourselves get lost for an hour in Warehouse One, Bluedoor, Phil’s Stuff, Lost & Found, and Century. I want to take everything home, from a shiny 60s Grundig stereo console, to a nearly-mint 70s Wrangler denim jacket. I walk out with a lightly weathered 1930s railroad dining car menu. Paper score!
11 am: I’m not yet tired of looking at old stuff, so we drive to Eastown, taking the scenic route, passing by Frank Lloyd Wright’s gorgeous Meyer May House on Madison, eventually ending up at Argo’s Book Shop on Robinson, where as a kid I’d get stacks of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics. As I’m browsing through illustrated books, I decide to jot down some notes, and realize that I (GASP!) forgot to bring my notebook. No worries — I know a place close by that might have one. We head over to BLACKLAMB, a cute, little boutique on Cherry Street, stocked with pretty paper goods (e.g. travel journals and cards), clothing, jewelry, and odds and ends to decorate the designers’ home. I not only find a cute journal to take my notes in, but a pencil case, a warm and stylish beanie (because it’s freezing out), and a really lovely Lotta Jansdotter candle (because I’m a sucker for anything illustrated by Scandinavians that smells good).
Cool home goods at BLACKLAMB. Photo by Marissa Boswell.
11:45 am: My stomach is growling, and seeing that it’s almost lunch time and we’re just a block away from Marie Catrib’s, we make a mad dash to beat the rush. I’m not kidding — you’ve got to get to this place early if you don’t want to wait. With their Lebanese-influenced menu full of healthy, delicious food and walls adorned with works by local artists, this place has rightfully won over the locals, securing its place as a neighborhood institution. I order a Reuben, made with tasty Creswick Farm corned beef, and get a deli container of their signature Mother Earth salad to go.
1 pm: It’s time to go on a studio visit to Issue Press! I’m really excited about this. Ever since I read about the Risograph machine, I’ve been dying to see how it works. I browse their amazing collection of artist books and get a little tutorial from George on how the machine functions.
Photo © Have Company
No surprise, I’m now completely inspired, daydreaming about all of the million things one could make and print on the Risograph, such as this beautiful calendar of “Grand Rapids Firsts” which you can pick up at Have Company, a gallery, artist residency and shop located within Division’s Avenue for the Arts. So I dash over to Division to say hello to Marlee, the shop’s lovely proprietor, and pick up some Bloom Ferments kombucha while there.
Wall Hanging by Meghan Shimek, at Have Company’s Art Space and Shop. Photo © Marlee Grace
Since I’m over here, I’m going to pop into Parliament the Boutique, too, to see what the artists at this workspace/shop (home to Harbinger Leather, Little Wings, and Adventure Textiles) have been working on lately. Jacob Vroon and Elyse Marie Welcher’s leather goods are so well-built and beautiful, and Megan Shay Roach’s fiber works are stunning.
A peek inside the Harbinger Leather Studio with Jacob Vroon. Image © Harbinger Leather Co.
Bags from Little Wings (left) and a weaving by Megan Shay Roach (right) at Parliament the Boutique.
2:30 pm: It’s about time for another coffee, isn’t it? So I take a quick break at The Sparrows — known for not only their great coffee, but their noteworthy collection of periodicals, too. I browse through an old issue of Modern Farmer and imagine a life raising happy hogs and chickens as I sip my second cappuccino of the day, when I remember that I am supposed to meet my friend at the UICA! I dash back downtown.
3 pm: My potter friend, Jon, and I meet up at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts to see the latest exhibit, works by Michigan artist Kirk Newman. I’m so happy to see that the UICA is flourishing, and continuing to present the city with challenging and interesting work (since 1977! Woot!).
Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. Photo © UICA
4 pm: The show’s got me amped up to see more work, so I convince my cohort to walk down Monroe to the Grand Rapids Art Museum. All I really require here today is 10 minutes of staring at the massive Ellsworth Kelly piece hanging in the lobby. It’s a giant parallelogram, the top half blue and the bottom white, and, while it’s one of my favorite works in the museum, my Grandma Bette can’t stand it! So I always get a little smile when I think of her unfaltering distaste for this piece.
4:30 pm: Since I’m downtown already, I’m going to run over to the Downtown Market to grab some bread from the Field & Fire outpost there. Ever since this morning’s gougere, I’ve been daydreaming of trying everything else in their bread bins. I pick up a beautiful, dark boule baked onsite in their wood-fired oven, and wish I wasn’t getting dinner soon so that I could justify that toasty croissant beckoning me from the marble countertop.
Golden loaves at Field & Fire
As I’m leaving, I eye the fresh perch fillets behind the glass at Fish Lads, another favorite spot to pick up a little kitchen inspiration.
The lunch counter at Fish Lad’s in the Downtown Market. © Grand Rapids Downtown Market
5:30 pm: Gotta run and meet my brother for a beer at my favorite local brewery, Brewery Vivant, on Cherry Street. It was hard to settle on one, being that the city has somewhere around 17 breweries (Founders, Perrin, The Elk, Grand Rapids Brewing Company and The Mitten, to name just a mitten-ful). I slowly sip a Tart Side of the Moon, their delicious, dark Belgian farmhouse-style ale, while my brother, an avid cyclist, shares with me some of his favorite bike trails in the city.
6:45 pm: I get a sassy text message from my mom that if I don’t hurry and pick a dinner spot, then it’s going to be cheese and crackers for everyone. Word to the wise: in Grand Rapids, if you want a table, then you better get to dinner early. Calm down, lady! I’ve got a plan.
7 pm: We meet up with the rest of the family at Donkey, on Wealthy Street, and get in the door just before the rush. A relative newcomer to the GR restaurant scene, this cute taqueria already has a dedicated following, probably because the food here is simply delicious! I order some nice and spicy escabeche while my dad tells us about the loot he picked up at the Corner Record Shop today, and everyone orders tacos for dinner, which we consume with mucho gusto.
Donkey Taqueria. Photo by Paul Lee.
8:30 pm: Our dinner party is disbanding and I’ve convinced my friend Molly to step out for the evening and join me for an after-dinner drink. We meet up at the Grove for a cocktail. I love this cozy, little bistro not only for its perfect Old Fashioneds, but for its commitment to using local food producers whenever possible. I accidently start to peruse the menu as we’re catching up, and find myself distracted by words like “Beef Tartare and Octopus Duo.” Yummm. Octopus. She can tell I’m distracted, and nonchalantly pushes the menu from my sight line.
10 pm: I’m quite tired now after my perfect day in Grand Rapids, so it’s off to lay on the couch and have a bit of ice cream before bed, because that’s how you do it in the midwest! I stop by Martha’s Vineyard, pick up a pint of Love’s or something equally delicious to, err, share. Good night, fair city!
And for when you have more than 24 hours, here are more great places to check out in Grand Rapids:
Wayback Audio (inside The Corner Record Shop)
Comics and Reading:
Design and Home Goods:
Horrocks (now with growler fills, and pints available while you’re grocery shopping!)
Art and Botanical Activities:
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park