On our trip up to Traverse City last weekend, we stumbled upon a tiny bar that not only had an impeccable design, carefully curated beer and cocktail menu, a refreshing ambiance, and variety of delicious food just steps away, but was also incredibly friendly to families and non-alcohol drinkers alike. And we fell head over heals. Listen, I like Grand Rapids. It is a quickly evolving city that has grown on me since my teenage years. But the bar scene is one that thinks it’s to cool for school -or school aged children that is.
This isn’t my first rant about this issue. If you’ve read my post, “The Death of Cool”, you’ll know how frustrated I am that my family can’t find a decent place to get a drink and a high chair in the same establishment without venturing onto the “Champs-Elyse” of Grand Rapids, with it’s never-ending array of chain restaurant establishments (I’m talking about 28th street, and I’m being sarcastic). But when we walked into Traverse City’s, The Little Fleet and saw sidewalk chalk all over the floor, table tennis and yes, a high chair, we were sold. But listen, the family friendlyness of this establishment is just the tip of the iceberg. All family friendlyness aside, this place is so awesome. Bars everywhere, you have a lot to learn from The Little Fleet.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk onto the property of The Little Fleet is a caravan of food trucks. When you read the menus, you will find these trucks are targeting foodies who care about food as much as we do. The Little Fleet rents out, what would be a parking lot space, to various food trucks, from brunch, to ribs, to ice cream. If you want something to eat, you grab some food from one of the various trucks, bring it into the bar, sit down with your beer in the lovely outdoor garden area or inside the gorgeous building, which used to be a beer and wine store we frequented. We are breakfast people so we decided on the brunch truck, Toasted. A yogurt and fruit cup for Willow, brunch bowl for me and a brunch burger (sub burger for extra cheesy potato patty) for Jazz.
The second thing you’ll notice about The Little Fleet is the ambiance. A light, wood paneled ceiling, minimalist and tasteful decor, open garage doors to let the beautiful TC air in, and a stellar bar. When I talked to bar owner, Gary Jonas, he didn’t think that a bar needed to be dark and dingy. When the Jonas family (yep, they have two kids) opened two bars in NYC, they played with this open, family friendly concept. The result, they found, created a community of sorts that was refreshing. While they have received some complaints about their openness to children, they have pressed on trusting that what they are doing best suits the majority of their clientele. And I think they’re right. The atmosphere Jonas created here makes it feel like you’re sitting on the porch with friends, enjoying a conversation and a drink (well, a really amazing porch and one of your friends just happens to be a mixologist).
The Little Fleet offers weekly events including Bluegrass Fridays, a Gypsy market on Sundays and a class for kids, ages 1-3, on Mondays with singing and dancing (seriously, how much cooler can this place get). You can have a beer, a cup of Higher Grounds Coffee, an ice cream cone or a sippy cup. The Little Fleet takes the scene out of the bar and makes it something normal and extraordinary.
The third thing you’ll notice about The Little Fleet is the choice drink menu. While they have a nice beer selection, I was most impressed by their selection of craft liquor and their signature cocktail menu. The liquor collection is stocked with hard-to-find craft and local liquor. The Little Fleet makes all of the mixers for their cocktails, from the simple syrup to the bitters, from scratch. I could smell someone mulling mint while my friend Fernando mixed us up a couple cocktails. The cocktail menu was simple, about 6 items, but every recipe was a tried and true, one-of-a-kind creation. I had an American Rye Whiskey combination of secret ingredients (they wouldn’t tell me what) that blew my mind. Jazz had a ginger beer, vodka dream that was indescribably delicious. I’m telling you, the caliber of these drinks far surpassed anything we’ve had in Grand Rapids, and they were cheap. What would have cost us $9-10 in GR cost $6-7. We will always make a stop at this quaint little bar every time we make a trip up north.
Whether you’re a family of foodies, friends who want a laid back atmosphere (where you can actually hear each others conversations) or a cocktail aficionado, The Little Fleet is the place for you. The staff was warm and welcoming. Having a child running around was welcomed rather than a nuisance. As millennials transition into parenthood, I believe this is the direction bars in the future will be going. And it’s a really good direction. Grand Rapids, you better change your ideas of what a good bar is -because the times they are a changing.