The Rapidian

Bull's Head offers bargain burgers, crushing crowds

A review of the dining/bar experience at the Bull's Head Tavern in downtown Grand Rapids.
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Bull's Head Quick Facts

Location: 188 Monroe Ave NW

                  Grand Rapids, MI

Phone: (616) 454-3580

Hours: Mon - Thurs: 11am - 12am

              Fri: 11am - 2am

              Sat: 4pm - 2 m

              Sun: Closed

Website: www.thebullsheadtavern.com

Accepts Reservations?: Yes - online, or by phone

Price Range: $6 - $22

Diet Alternatives Friendly

Locally Owned and Operated

 

Monroe Street View of Bulls Head Tavern

Monroe Street View of Bulls Head Tavern /The Bulls Head Tavern

Bar-goers enjoying a drink at The Bulls Head Tavern

Bar-goers enjoying a drink at The Bulls Head Tavern /The Bulls Head Tavern

When I first came to Grand Rapids from my small home town in the Upper Peninsula, I couldn't believe how many restaurants there were. As I have grown to know the city, I've done my best to dine at as many of the great local restaurants as possible in order to broaden my palette and contribute to local commerce. What I have found that I appreciate now is not so much the glamorous fine dining scene, but the Epicurean gems that leave no bitter "buyer's remorse" aftertaste. Such is the Bull's Head Tavern on Monroe Avenue in Downtown Grand Rapids.

Restaurant Overview

The Bull's Head Tavern is nestled comfortably in downtown Grand Rapids with such illustrious neighbors as The Chop House and 1913 Room. It is owned by the Rabideau Brothers, who also own the popular J. Gardella's bar and the hip Billy's Lounge in Eastown. Their management expertise is evident at the Bull's Head, where the crowds can be daunting on a Friday night, but the food and waiting services retain their quality. The menu itself is extensive, with traditional pub food like cheddar pretzels and burgers, to more elegant fare like seared sashimi tuna and prime rib paninis. The prices are fair across the board, but the burgers are particularly well priced. They offer five different varieties, and only one of them is a beef burger; the others are made from ground buffalo, ostrich, turkey, or black beans. With such exotic meats being served up in large portions with a heap of homemade potato chips, one would expect the price to fall around the $12-15 mark. But for as little as $6 for the garden burger and as much as $9 for the ostrich burger, it's a young bar-goer's haven.

This quality and value are evident in the massive weekend dinner crowds. Even the many stuffed beast head adorning the walls look uneasy on a full Friday night. Because of this, the waitresses as well as the website recommend making reservations ahead of time for larger parties. But if you're hoping to get a relaxing, romantic setting, a weekend night won't be your night at the Bull's Head without reservations. The restaurant itself is split into the upper-level dining area, which is cozy and elegant, and the floor level dining/bar area, which is energetic and casual. Without reservations, a couple looking to enjoy a romantic evening might find themselves being seated on the floor level. "It gets a little crazy in here," said my waitress one evening. "We try to seat people so that they aren't intruding on each other's space, but when it get's really busy it can get pretty tight in here." Everything, including the crowds and fine food, is reminiscent of the apres ski lodges of ski resort cities out west, and works well here in West Michigan.

So what can a diner expect when they walk in on a Friday night?

Critique of the Bull's Head Dining Experience

Walking down Monroe Avenue, I always get a little intimidated by the affluence of the businesses and restaurants around me. So when my friend and I finally reached The Bull's Head and entered out of the blustery spring cold, we both sighed in comfort. We were here to finally enjoy our "21-and-up" privileges together after recently coming of age. I had been here before and had been pleasantly surprised with the menu and prices, so was eager to test the drinks. It was Friday night at 7:30 pm, however, and it was busy. Really busy. Thank goodness I had made reservations, or we would have easily waited 20 minutes or more for a table or bar space on the floor level itself, and over an hour for a table upstairs.

We were seated upstairs in a cushy booth, given menus, and gave our drink orders. I ordered a Long Island and my friend got a Cosmopolitan (part of our attempt to feel even more grown up). It took about ten minutes to receive our drinks because of the crowd, and my friend and I took the time to discuss our extensive meal options. When we got the drinks, they were artfully prepared and strong. I mean, Long Islands are a strong drink no matter where you get it. But this one was potent. My friend's Cosmo was elegant and well balanced, and a few minutes later our waitress returned to take our orders. Wanting to adhere to my judgment standards of getting the simple burger, but also wanting to dabble in something more inspired, I got the ostrich burger. My friend got the smoked gouda chicken wrap, and we decided to also split an appetizer of spinach and artichoke dip.

It took about 15 minutes for the appetizer to come out, and by that time the dinner-rush crowd was beginning to die down on the lower level. Upstairs, though, all of the tables and booths were occupied right up until we left around 9:00 pm. The spinach and artichoke dip was divine - very fresh with great crispy toast points to stand up to the heavy dip. In another 15 minutes, our dinners were served. My burger was quite large (it seems to be a West Michigan thing) and served with an assortment of fresh melon and other fruits. My friend's wrap was stuffed full and smelled incredible. Neither of us was let down, though I must say that the chicken gouda wrap kicked my ostrich burger's rear end. While it was surprisingly moist for such a lean meat, it was under seasoned for my liking and could have used more than just the standard toppings of lettuce tomato and onion. Some cheese, perhaps. So when my friend and I switched meals for a taste, I found myself biting into a smoky, melty, satisfying wrap. She chewed and politely stated "pretty good!"

The waitress made sure to check on us during our meal, offered to refill our drinks (declined so we could drive safely) and boxed up our leftovers before bringing out the check. She took a little more time bringing back our bills for signatures, but it wasn't troublesome. Neither I nor my friend relished the idea of braving the nippy spring walk to the parking garage, and as we were leaving I had to fight the urge to join the happy bar-goers sipping their drinks.

All-in-all, The Bull's Head Tavern is an excellent spot for a bite and a drink, but call ahead if you want of more peaceful evening. It's busy, it's a satisfying, and it's a great stop in downtown Grand Rapids.

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