I first visited The Winchester in 2012, with a girlfriend on a spring, Sunday afternoon. We walked through Grand Rapid’s Eastown neighborhood, over hills, through tree lined streets filled with Victorian, wood framed architecture and eccentrically decorated lawns. As we made our way up Wealthy Street we passed graffiti covered store fronts, and abandoned signs for cafes that no longer existed. There was a sense of quiet resignation, of tender defeat in the dusty, vacant windows. The Winchester, and its sign featuring an old man in a red suit on a bicycle, stood out on the long boulevard that divides the city in two, and carves a path between the roughhewn pocket of Eastown and the salvaged charm of the Heritage Hill neighborhood. The sturdy red brick building and its freshly painted sign looked vital and necessary in the company of the surrounding structures. Even on a Sunday afternoon, the pub and outdoor patio was filled with revelers enjoying a cold beer, a conversation and the light of the day.
The Winchester is a new, old shoe of a pub, and while that might seem like an oxymoron, it is actually emblematic of Grand Rapids – a rusty city in the midst of a drastic period of change. The pub is a favorite for locals in the neighborhood seeking a comfortable place to gather with a few friends and share a drink. The Winchester’s warm wood paneling and exposed brick gives the pub a rustic, comforting quality, and the dark, rich finishes create a sense of intimacy within the shotgun layout of the space. The décor is reminiscent of pubs across the Atlantic, but the Winchester’s fare and atmosphere is anything but European.
The menu features a variety of sandwiches, burgers, entrees and small plates. The items are adventurous in scope, but they have a definite Midwestern authenticity where the ingredients are concerned. The Winchester’s chefs make a point of supporting local bakeries, farmers and brewers, and this connection to the community is something the pub has succeeded in cultivating. Items like polenta fries, pierogies, chicken wings, bar cheese, and codfish brandade hold court with smelt and chips and duck poutine. On occasion, some of the menu items can be over seasoned and a little bit ill-conceived, but you get the feeling that this is due to risk taking rather than back of the house hijinks. The beer selection is filled with favorites from regional breweries in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and other locales in the mitten.
The Winchester resides in a neighborhood that has recently gone through a fairly dramatic period of gentrification, and for many of the pub’s regulars it represents a sense of upward momentum for an area that was once in decline. Like most popular pubs, bars and restaurants in Grand Rapids, it is supported by a local following of neighborhood folk who have a fondness for the familiar. I have returned to The Winchester numerous times since that spring afternoon, and it is interesting to see how well the pub captures the diversity and demographic change of the city on the Grand River. I have seen students mingling with young professionals, grandparents enjoying colorful cocktails, and transplants from other cities relaxing with amber pints in hand.
Those unable to make it into The Winchester’s inviting space should keep their eyes peeled for the pub’s ‘What the Truck’ food truck – a mobile culinary trailer painted to look like a 1980′s skateboard. The truck features a menu of eclectic take-out items at reasonable prices. The bright, pop culture clad truck is a nice metaphor for Grand Rapids’ newly discovered vibrancy and the youthful energy of a neighborhood that is in the process of reinventing itself.
The Winchester: 648 Wealthy St SE Grand Rapids, MI 49503