By Dana Kroll, Uptown Marketing and Communications Specialist
Today marks the final installation of our first-ever video interview series, ‘What’s Up In Uptown’. For this last one, we connected again with our good friend Dan Rios, co-owner of not one but two of Uptown’s most beloved and longest standing establishments: Common Ground Coffee House, and Schnitz Deli. Dan took over both eateries in mid-2021, after a longtime friendship with previous ownership, looking to retire.
In a previous article posted last year, Uptown dove in on a discussion with Dan to detail the history of these two GR staple eateries, the challenges Dan faced stepping into his role as a first-time business owner while a global pandemic was happening, and most impressively, the goals Dan had for both shops: To respect the culinary traditions and brand heritage that long-time patrons had come to count on when visiting and dining in his restaurants, as well as to build upon that foundation of great coffee, fantastic food, and a comfy space, in order to welcome fresh new audiences into the fold. If you are curious about GR’s very first, the-90’s-are-here-baby, true blue internet cafe (aka, Common Ground), you’ll want to give it a read.
And if you are looking for West Michigan’s preeminent place for an authentic, old-school, East Coast-style deli sandwich experience – where the meat and the fixins are stacked high, the bread is baked in-house, and the menu is as classic as the day it opened – hit up the Schnitz, and soon. You’ll be so glad you did (actor John C. Reilly makes it a regular stop, when he’s in town)!
You’ll find these two darlings nestled side by side at 1315 and 1319 Fulton St. E, at the Easternmost end of the Fulton Street district.
And now, for Dan’s suggestions on additional wonderful places to visit (after your coffee and sandwich at his joint of course):
You have a free afternoon, where are you going for happy hour or lunch?
Says Dan: “For lunch, Black Napkin just opened right around the corner. I go way back with the owners who are friends of mine and do a great job.
For happy hour, Pickwick is usually where I go (when I have the opportunity to leave the deli).”
Dan suggests you check out Black Napkin, situated at 966 Fulton Street East. This is the spot go head when you’re in the mood for mom-n-pop burger joint fare made with unique and creative culinary flare. Find over-the-top smash burgs, fried chicken sandos, crispy season-dusted French fries, and more. Top off the meal by indulging in one of their delicious house-made sodas or popsicles.
East Hill’s Pickwick Tavern first opened in 1934, giving its neighbors a place to toast the end of Prohibition, and bar-goers to this day count on “The Pick”, as it’s fondly nicknamed, as a go-to spot for local lore, low-key hangs, and no-frills drinks to clink. The bar will celebrate its 90th birthday next year and is purported to be GR’s second oldest drinking establishment. To find it, look for the quaint, vintage neon sign that lights up the sidewalk at 970 Cherry St. SE.
You have a sweet tooth, where are you going for dessert?
Dan: “Sticky Fingers is a very nice spot that I love to bring my kids to. There is also a great Guatemalan bakery right down the street called Mi Bella Guatemala where you can get a tray and pick and choose what you like from a wide selection. The family who owns this place is so sweet and helpful!”
Do you love candy? Like, really really love candy? Especially the super goofy kinds, the silly billy kinds, and the extra nostalgic kinds? Then we’ll invite you and warn you both – you’re about to have a new habit to feed. As soon as you step over the magical threshold of the candy wonderland that is Sticky Fingers, you (and your kids) will want to keep coming back again, and again, and again. From the experts who brought you Rebel, comes the wackiest little candy shop we have ever been to. The technicolor tables and shelves are piled high with as many bombastic confections and sugary curiosities as they can hold. And before you even walk in the door, you’ll be greeted by seasonally-themed pop-up displays guaranteed to make you laugh (this year’s Halloween decor is a MUST see), bubbles piped out and floating about, and much more. There’s usually lots of extra fun to be had as well. City-wide scavenger hunts, surprise golden tickets (ala Willy Wonka) nestled into purchases, impromptu costume contests, and the list goes on. Head to 503 Lake Drive SE – just follow the bubbles!
Meanwhile, for another delightful way to satisfy your sweet tooth, consider visiting Mi Bella Guatemala, located in our East Fulton District. Half- quaint neighborhood bodega and half- family bakery, Mi Bella specializes in classic Guatemalan baked sweets, pastries, tamales, and more. Goods are made fresh on-site, so this cozy little corner shop usually smells as divine as its goodies taste, and it is a commonly recurring theme that the customer service experience is equally warm and inviting. Head over for a treat, or even better, pack up a box of treats to share with friends. Mmmmm. 1163 Fulton St. E.
You have a new neighbor, where are you getting a gift for them?
“I would go to Smitty’s, they have a great selection of wine, bourbon, whiskey. I like to bring something over that we would be able to share together.”
Smitty’s Specialty Beverage, an historic corner store located at 1489 Lake Dr. SE, has been serving its loyal customers for more than 40 years. Whether your expertise in the arena of adult drink is modest or discerning, Smitty’s aims to serve. With an impressive selection of fine, local and craft made beers, wines, and liquors, the team at Smitty’s “pour” their hearts into ensuring that they’ve got what it is you’re looking for, and with a friendly assist in finding it amongst their warehouse-high stacks, if you need a little extra help. They are a regular destination for connoisseurs of whiskey, bourbon, and rye; the massive turnout for their occasional tastings is the stuff of legend. The next time you are due to stock the bar or host a gathering, Smitty’s is where to head.
Someone is new to town, where are you sending them next?
Dan: “Billy’s is a great place to hang out and go dancing with your friends. The go-go places are also very fun to go to like Mulligan’s when I want to feel like I’m in my 20’s again!”
Locals looking to dance the night away have been heading to Billy’s Lounge in Eastown for decades, and the tradition continues, with DJs, karaoke, live music, burlesque performances, and more, on most evenings per week. While Billy’s has its roots in the Blues scene, lovers of all sorts of live entertainment should regularly scope their event postings as there is usually a little bit of something for everyone, on deck. The space is large enough to host big groups and includes a few pool tables if billiards are your thing.
Meanwhile, for lovers of punk rock, dive bars, or even better – both, a quick jaunt across the bricks of Wealthy Street will take you to Mulligan’s Pub, one of Grand Rapids’ core destinations for this particular scene. What was once the original mainstage area of The Intersection (a live music venue originally located in Eastown, relocated to downtown Grand Rapids in 2003) now makes up the back half of the pub and is where to go if you’re interested in local, regional, and nationally touring groups of genres including punk, metal, hardcore, and indie rock. “Mullie’s” pours stiff drinks and is dog-friendly until 5 pm Monday through Friday.
Billy’s is located at 1437 Wealthy St. SE; Mullie’s is at 1518 Wealthy St. SE.
What do you love about being in Uptown?
Dan says, “The neighborhood is the best part about being in Uptown. The walkability and the other businesses on this block help make Uptown feel more like a community. The accessibility is great for locals, college students and others to come enjoy our food. Uptown is awesome.”
What a note to end on. We think he summed it all up perfectly – our series, and our district. Did you miss the video portion of Dan’s chat with us? No problem. Here you go.
Meanwhile, if you have enjoyed this content and are interested in seeing more like it, we would love to hear from you. Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, or both. Then, drop us a message and let us know what YOU love about this series, and about Uptown GR.
Whether it’s an upscale night out, a casual day of strolling and shopping, or a brunch date with friends, Uptown always has something exciting to offer. Uptown consists of four vibrant districts: Eastown, East Fulton, East Hills and Wealthy Street that are full of character and personality. Whether you are visiting us for the first time or the hundredth, there is so much in our district for you to explore and enjoy. Plan your next visit to Uptown today.
*Please note – various images in this article are courtesy the businesses they portray and may not be duplicated without their individual permission.