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What’s Up in Uptown – Featuring The Meanwhile Bar

By Dana Kroll, Uptown Marketing and Communications Specialist


Welcome back to our next Uptown Q&A interview. It’s the second of a fun and hopefully informative series, that we will be running all summer long. The goal? To spend a just a little time mining a few of the minds that know us best. Next up, Tami Vandenburg. 


We sat down with Tami, co-owner of The Meanwhile Bar, which is located in our Wealthy Street district. Tami and her brother opened the establishment 15 years ago and in this interview, she gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to live and work in Uptown. She shares her favorite restaurants, go-to shops, and recommended stops in our district. Her tour concludes with an invitation for a drink at the Meanwhile, of course!

Let’s begin with a note about that: The Meanwhile is a cozy space with a slightly edgy aesthetic, but a neighborhood pub-style vibe.  Tami says the intention is to create a space in which everybody and anybody feels comfortable and welcomed in. There’s a strong focus on accessible prices and locally made and sourced beverages. In the summer months – aka right now – the back patio is vibrant, colorful, and fun. All in all, The Meanwhile Bar is a must-visit. With that, let’s dive into our interview:


Image courtesy The Meanwhile Bar


You have a free afternoon, where are you going for happy hour or lunch?

“A free afternoon in Uptown, I would say I’m gonna hit up Little Africa on Fulton Street, it’s my favorite food in the city. Then I’d probably walk around, if the Farmers Market is still open I would definitely stop there and pick up some good veggies and baked goods, and then I would just walk. Uptown has a lot of really great parks, I live right by Wilcox Park and I just love to walk. There are many days that we just don’t get in a car at all in Uptown, we’ll hop on the bus, cycle, walk and explore. And if I wanna spend a little money, I’ll probably go over to Books and Mortar and pick up a couple of books and candles. All of Cherry Street really has some great shops but I think Books and Mortar is my favorite one over there.”


Little Africa Cuisine is a local Ethiopian restaurant located in the heart of our Fulton Street district which serves delicious vegetarian fare that is authentically prepared and beautifully presented. A visit to Little Africa means enjoying a feast for the eyes and the stomach both. Dining at this quaint spot can be a lot of fun when sharing and sampling together with friends. In addition, the customer service experience is always warm. A wonderful recommendation.

Little Africa


Also located in our Fulton Street district is The Fulton Street Farmers Market Grand Rapids’ oldest and largest outdoor market. Countless vendors sell a variety of goods including fruits, vegetables, cheeses, baked goods, handmade gifts, art, and more, to make this spot a weekend favorite for residents and visitors alike.

A visit to East Hill’s Cherry Street wouldn’t be complete without stopping into Books and Mortar to browse for your next enthralling read. They offer  books of all kinds for grown-ups and children too, and their wide array of offerings include focuses on progressive literature as well as local authors and topics. You’ll also find small gift items that pair nicely with a good book. 


You are looking for a really nice glass of wine, where are you going?

“If I would like a really nice glass of wine there are some excellent spots for that, Grove always, the happy hour is wonderful. I’m a sparkling kind of girl so I’ll get some nice bubbles over there. There’s also a new spot, Pursuit of Happiness, over on Robinson which is just a couple blocks from my house and they also have just really, really, lovely wines.”


The Grove, located in the East Hills district, offers its clientele thoughtfully, artfully prepared cuisine and rotating seasonal menu changes that mean you can count on fresh new experiences each time you return. The talented culinary team works to incorporate as many consciously-sourced ingredients into their dishes as they can, and in this way they support many local West Michigan farmers and producers. Grove offers impeccable table-side service, indoor and outdoor seating options, and valet parking – all of which helps to ensure that dining with them is a seamless and upscale experience.

The Pursuit of Happiness Co., a trend-forward bubbly bar located in Eastown at 1426 Robinson Road, has just what you need to enjoy a relaxing happy hour or night out. Sip some delicious bubbles – we recommend the house label – it’s crisp and refreshing. You can also snack on tastefully curated small plates and unwind while listening to the great music that is always spinning and setting the tone.


Image courtesy Pursuit of Happiness Co.


You have a new neighbor, where are you getting a gift for them?

“There are some really excellent little gift shops, Rebel is one of my favorites on Wealthy Street, they’ve got all kinds of really interesting little gifty kinds of things. And then Global Infusion would be my other go-to. I do a lot of Christmas shopping there, all fair trade, international gifts from all over. And they, I believe, opened right around the same time we did and they are female-owned, and so we have some nice synergy there.”


Rebel GR is just one of those shops you could spend hours in (and we have, and will again, we’re sure of it). When asked by visitors what to check out when in Uptown, Rebel is one of our surest bets for virtually everyone. You’ll find giftables that range from classy to cheeky, perfect for birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, and really any occasion, plus lots of stuff for kids, babies, plant lovers, foodies, and so much more. Find them located at 1555 Wealthy Street in our Eastown district. Can’t make it in? You can also purchase goods, and gift cards, online.

Global Infusion makes its home alongside many other small businesses in the East Hills Blackport Building. A quaint and cozy teahouse + marketplace, this business is one with a global mission. Their offerings focus on products sourced from companies that are rooted in social and environmental sustainability. They sell a variety of goods: Everything from housewares and home decor, jewelry and apparel, and more – and all with a colorful, bohemian flare. There’s also lots of great stuff for the kitchen, like bulk teas and herbs, specialty consumables, fairtrade chocolate and more. The best part is, you can sip while you shop. We recommend the from scratch, house-brewed Global Infusion chai tea that they are famous for. It’s so popular that the shop sells growlers of concentrate, so you can make your own cup at home when the next craving hits.

Image courtesy Global Infusion


Someone’s new to town, where are you sending them next?

“Somebody new, well this is always fun, I would probably just share some of my favorites. I would let them know Early Bird is my go-to for my breakfast coffee and my sandwiches, that’s kind of my unofficial office so, I absolutely love Early Bird. I’d tell them about the parks, I’d tell them about Books and Mortar, and if I wanted a real spicy lunch I would send them over to Chez Olga, which is another really special spot on Wealthy Street. And then if they’re looking for something a little more old school I’d tell them to swing through the Pickwick, and then, of course, they’re gonna have to come to the Meanwhile, that would be the grand finale.”


That Early Bird is a sleekly appointed coffeehouse, serving up great hot and cold beverages, and delicious food with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. The indoor layout has been designed to easily accommodate remote-workers and because of that, it’s a favorite go-to for many seeking that pop-up “office yet so not the office” environment. The patio space is sizable, fully-shaded, and (our favorite part) is situated on the corner between ever-bustling Lake Drive SE and quiet, residential Genesee Street. The result is a setting that is fabulous for people- and traffic- watching; it’s a great place to observe and absorb the essence of lively, thriving Eastown. Stop in and place your order at 1445 Lake Drive, or save time waiting in the queue and order online.

Chez Olga is an authentic Haitian restaurant headed by a mother-daughter duo who focus their menu on Caribbean favorites like Jerk Chicken, curries, gumbos, fried plantains, and more. They will happily accommodate all taste levels but their specialty is in dialing up the heat to challenge even the most serious of spice-lovers! The restaurant is located in one of GR’s most well known and oft-photographed historical buildings, simply for its wild, seemingly Tolkien-inspired architecture. Find them at 1443 Wealthy St. SE, in our Eastown district.


Chez Olga




A long-standing establishment located within the East Hills district,  Pickwick has been open for over 75 years and is a true neighborhood bar. The drinks are stiff and the vintage space is tidy. Because “The Pick” (as it is referred to by those in the know) has been largely kept as it was originally designed,  popping in can feel like a step back into simpler times. Stop in for a drink, some laughs, and a little Grand Rapids history.  


What do you love about being in Uptown?

“Many things. Walkability, as I mentioned before, is a really big deal to us, we like to reduce our carbon footprint and anytime we can just not be in a car we try to do that, so, I love the walkability. I love the historic architecture. I live in a house that’s over 100 years old, this building’s over 100 years old (The Meanwhile), and so a lot of this neighborhood has been around for a really long time with a lot of different folks coming through, I love that. There are bus lines everywhere, there’s a post office, there’s a grocery store, there’s the Farmers Market, I mean one of the best Farmers Markets in the region is right here. And then countless restaurants, pubs, you can get around so easily and you can find so many different things that sometimes we just don’t leave the neighborhood very often anymore.”


Image courtesy Fulton Street Farmer’s Market


Uptown thanks Tami for sharing her fun suggestions with us! We encourage you to check out the video of her interview, here.


About Uptown

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.