The Rapidian

The Bitter End Coffee House: Unique grounds

The life of a 100 year building, from bank to coffee shop.
Inside The Bitter End

Inside The Bitter End /The Bitter End Coffee House

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Location and Website

The Bitter End Coffee House

725 Fulton Street West

Grand Rapids, MI

(616) 451-6061

thebitterendcoffeehouse.com

 

Looking from the inside out

Looking from the inside out /The Bitter End Coffee House

A view from Fulton St.

A view from Fulton St. /The Bitter End Coffee House

"The environment stimulates thinking," says Grand Valley student, Jessica Pontow.

"The ethereal atmosphere helps capture inspiration," agrees fellow student, Patrick Herta.

Both Pontow and Herta note the unique setting of the Bitter End Coffee House. The coffee shop is one of the few twenty-four hour vendors in the area, prompting students to stop in for a warm drink. It also is one of the few coffee shops to occupy a 100-year old building.

That’s right, The Bitter End’s clientele, “the third shift crowd,” “local photographers,” and “business professionals,” are sipping their locally roasted drink under the gleam of an original tin ceiling supported by 200-year old salvaged hand-hewn timbers.

Built in the early 1900s, the building was the first Kent State Bank established outside Grand Rapid’s city limits. Its visitors were hardly late-night procrastinators or local artisans thirsty for a cup, rather the bank served local furniture factory workers. After undergoing the company name change, from Kent State Bank to Old Kent Bank, the shop changed hands again. No longer providing customers with their weekly check, the place offered its customers new looks as a beauty salon during the 1930s.

It wasn’t until Sprite’s father lost his job at Amway and decided to change his occupation to a coffee shop owner that the building changed hands again. Sprite decided to move his coffee shop closer to downtown when he decided to buy the place. With Sprite’s purchase, the building retired its then 70-year career as Philips and Rowe Radio and TV shop.

The old bank building was renovated in 2004 but kept the original leaded glass windows, porcelain tile floors, and Greek border motif. Students like Abby Carlson lean against the original oak woodwork as they enjoy cup of the place’s signature drink, French Kiss.

Although Sprite wishes he could have “made the place larger,” and notes the building doesn’t offer much opportunity for expansion, he keeps an emphasis on the inherent atmosphere of the old structure. The many photographs and unusual signs “maintain the early 20th century character.” The shop boasts an open view of the espresso machine and allows customers to watch “the old school” approach of making a hot drink.

The Bitter End’s signature menu might change three times annually, allowing for seasonal drinks, but it would seem that solid, old-timey feel of its walls will always be the same.

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