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West Side barbecue works to provide comfortable atmosphere, comfort food

Louie's Bar and Rocket Lounge looks to become Grand Rapids' barbecue staple while encouraging community input for the future.

Louie's Bar and Rocket Lounge Barbecue

Open weekdays 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.

Saturday and Sunday noon - 2 a.m.

(616) 284-2610

/Dan Steenwyk

/Server Tara Todd /Dan Steenwyk

/Dan Steenwyk

At Louie’s Bar and Rocket Lounge Barbecue, pigs can fly.

At least, one pig can. The restaurant’s mascot, a grinning cartoon porker that adorns the restaurant’s window at 608 Bridge St., is airborne thanks to an “ACME hog rocket” strapped to his back. Co-manager Brandon Ryan would argue that house dishes like the pulled pork “Hog Rocket” sandwich are out of this world, too.

“Our vision is to smoke out the West Side and let people get good food,” says Ryan. “We want the West Side to have good dining.”

The restaurant opened in January 2013 and was originally managed by Lewis Williams, the former general manager of Louis Benton Steak House. Food joined the bar last September with a chef from the defunct Sandmann’s joining the staff.

But the staff’s barbecue smarts predates September. Co-manager Melvin Williams was part of the Smoking Pigs, a barbecue tournament ensemble in Michigan composed primarily of police officers, before starting Louie’s. Ryan says that barbecue was the plan for Louie’s all along.

“There is no barbecue staple in Grand Rapids anymore,” Ryan says. “With Sandmann’s, Famous Dave’s and others closing, [the city] is losing a presence. Every big city has a famous barbecue. We’re familiar with barbecue, and we’re looking to bring back that type of food and make a name for ourselves.”

Louie’s aims to provide a “laid back, family type atmosphere,’’ says Ryan. Bartender and server Tara Todd describes the restaurant’s ambience as “homey."

“We get people from the neighborhood who are really glad we’re here and every time they come in they bring a different group of friends,” says Todd. “They really like when you call them by name and recognize them.”

Lewis Williams left management this January and Ryan joined, modifying the restaurant's future plans. Ryan described the new vision as being more inclusive of community involvement and said he is always open to the input of patrons. His vision includes the planned introduction of gluten-free markings on menus within the next month.

“We are pretty gluten-free, but we do want a separate menu that’s going to cater to the vegan and gluten-free crowds,” says Ryan. “We’re open to suggestions of what would make people comfortable. I’d encourage anyone looking for a home bar or restaurant to come sit with me personally and discuss different foods and different drinks. We want [Louie’s] to be comfortable for everyone.”

Ryan dismisses stigmas that he says have been historically applied to the West Side.

“[Louie’s], the Holiday Bar, O’Tooles: none of these West Side bars have had issues in a very, very, very long time if ever. It’s not by any means dangerous.”

The burgeoning development on the West Side by Rockford Construction and other developers might result in the renovations or demolitions of older structures. The building at 608 Bridge Street, however, is expected to stay as is.  

“This building is a staple in the area,” Ryan said. “I think we’ll be fine, but if our clientele tells us we need to [change] we’ll look to do it. Previous to us there was a stigma on the West Side and we want to show that it’s not what you hear. So come down and meet us, let us know what you want so we can make sure to cater to everybody. We want to make sure we change with the needs of our neighborhood.”   

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