Heading west down Fulton Avenue, right on the edge of downtown, Cottage Bar sits, rather inconspicuously.
In recent years, it’s become even more hidden and on the backburner as downtown Grand Rapids begins to heat up and gain steam. But even with this urban revival in Grand Rapids, Dan Verhil sees his bar doing just fine.
The oldest bar in the downtown area, Cottage Bar is known for its burgers, having won numerous awards including a USA Today nod as the best burger in Michigan. Of course, with May being National Burger Month, the restaurant will serve a different burger special every day of the month, with fries, for $6.
“We work that angle a lot,” Verhil said of the bar’s age, built in 1927.
He said the burger tradition began when the factory workers and Grand Rapids Herald reporters needed quick and easy lunches.
Now, the clientele is similar, in terms of regulars. Verhil said many of the customers are people the staff knows by first name.
“Some move away, but when they come back to Grand Rapids, they make sure to visit,” he said.
The prices certainly are fair, the $6 burger month special isn’t far off the normal menu prices. And that won’t change.
“We know where our market is,” Verhil said.
Verhil’s dad bought the restaurant in 1967 when Dan was still in high school. He wanted money for cars and such, so he began washing dishes. He graduated to bartending before he went off to college.
After college, he was working in the area, and ended up eating lunch at his dad’s restaurant several times a month. And a few managers had let the place slip.
“It’s frustrating to see things deteriorate,” he said. “So I sat my dad and said you have to sell to me, or sell to someone else.”
And so, in 1980, Dan purchased the restaurant from his dad and has owned it ever since.
And at 61, he still goes to work, eager to make some customers happy.
“It’s easy gratification,” he said. “If they leave with a smile, you won.”