A fun time is on tap and just a train ride away in Kalamazoo, the southwest Michigan city that is the birthplace of the state’s booming craft beer scene. More than 150 — and counting — small breweries, brew pubs, and micro and nanobreweries are scattered across the state, but it all started in Kalamazoo in 1983 when Larry Bell home-brewed his first batch of beer in a 15-gallon soup pot.
Today Bell’s can produce up to 350,000 barrels at its new state-of-the-art facility, the largest brewery in Michigan, and its eccentric cafe is the granddaddy of a dozen beer-focused establishments that dot Kalamazoo’s compact downtown. each January the city celebrates its growing industry during Kalamazoo Beer Week, eight days packed with 200 events including tastings, tours, dinners and talks with brewers.
The city of 75,000 is located halfway between Chicago and Detroit, and is home to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo college. Its unusual name is traced to the First People of the area and is thought to mean “bubbling boiling water” or “mirage of reflecting river” in reference to the waterway that runs through the city.
Kalamazoo is fortunate to have several fine examples of art deco architecture and enough shops, restaurants, museums and other diversions to fill a three-day, two-night getaway. and with a choice of fine lodging within walking distance, you don’t even need a car to get around. hop on one of Amtrak’s four daily trains between Chicago and the Kalamazoo rail station for a quick escape to one of the nation’s hot beer cities.
Drop your bags at the Kalamazoo house Bed & Breakfast, a gracious, 10-room Victorian inn or the contemporary, 340-room radisson Plaza hotel, and head to the Kalamazoo Beer exchange. at the multi-level entertainment center in the historic globe Building, real-time sales determine the price of 28 beers on tap. This is one place you’ll hope for distressed prices brought on by a “market crash.”
That evening, take a seat at the chef’s table in Zazios at the Radisson Plaza, where executive chef John Korycki prepares your five-course meal in an open kitchen while sharing his culinary insights, served with a side of humor. Korycki, a Chicago native, specializes in Italian cuisine and utilizes locally sourced ingredients in seasonal menus. (the dinner occasionally features a guest chef; check the schedule online.)
Cap the evening with live music at Old Dog Tavern, Bell’s eccentric cafe or the Union cabaret & grille.
Greet the morning at the farm-to-table Food dance restaurant, where Michigan maple syrup tops French toast made of house baked brioche, and eggs from a nearby farm are scrambled with whitefish smoked in-house. Guests at Kalamazoo House have their choice of breakfast specialties (Banana nut crunch French toast or apple or Blue cheese and Bacon Frittata are favorites) served beneath the original chandelier of the 1878 home.
Curious about Kalamazoo? Stop in at the free Kalamazoo Valley Museum to learn about the area’s history as a center for, among other things, growing celery, building checker cabs, producing peppermint oil and crafting Gibson guitars and mandolins (at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays you can tour the original factory where heritage guitars are now made by hand). the museum hosts lectures, films, music and more at its Friday night highlights and Sunday series programs.
Browse the one-of-a-kind shops on Burdick Street and the Kalamazoo Mall, an urban experiment that made national news in 1959 when city streets were closed off to create the country’s first pedestrian mall. if you hope to return that evening for dinner at Rustica be sure to make reservations well in advance; tables at the cozy restaurant are in demand for its menu of rustic fare, much of it locally sourced and house-made.
Break for a lunch of wood-fired pizza or a burger at Central City Taphouse, and pop into Tibbs Brewing Co. for a small-batch microbrew. Schedule a tour of the Olde Peninsula Brewery or, on a Saturday or Sunday, see Bell’s original downtown brewery adjacent to the eccentric cafe. (the new brewery is a taxi ride away in Comstock.) Or plan your visit when there’s a West Michigan Beer tour scheduled; fans of the film “the Big Lebowski” will want to join that themed outing in March.
Need java? Stop at Water Street Coffee Joint for a cup of Joe made from their own freshly roasted beans, and just try to resist one of the house-made desserts. The quirky 1934 building was originally a gas and service station.
That evening you may want to start dinner at Food Dance with a Bloody Mary from house-made vegetable juice. afterward visit the taprooms at the new Boatyard Brewing Co. and Arcadia Brewing Company, which specializes in British-style ales. or sip a beer and catch a classic or first run film at the 10-theater Alamo Draft House Cinema.
Walk off breakfast (and yesterday’s beer) on a self-guided tour that takes you to several fine examples of art deco architecture; three downtown walking routes are downloadable at discoverkalamazoo.com.
Be sure to stop in at Michigan news agency where, if you can’t find reading material for the train ride home you’re not trying. dean hauck, who runs the store that her stepfather started as a newsstand in 1947, carries about 15,000 paperbacks plus newspapers and 6,000 magazine titles. she dedicates an area of the long and narrow store to books by Michigan authors. the shop’s doors open at 7 a.m., 365 days a year and occasionally stay open for evening events with authors and artists.
This article originally appeared in the 2014 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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