Although I’ve lived in the Kalamazoo area nearly my whole life, I can’t say I knew much about Bell’s Brewery until a few years ago. Shortly after my 21st birthday I was introduced to Oberon, a particularly drinkable and appealing craft beer. It was my first foray into any craft beers; prior to it I had only tried your typical Bud Lights and Millers, pale and flavorless. I was surprised to discover that one of the better known and loved craft beers in the country was created here in Kalamazoo at Bell’s. Since then I have spent many an hour downtown at their Eccentric Cafe. Over time I’ve found that it’s not only a popular spot for local residents, but a major attraction for craft brew lovers in the Midwest.
The first and foremost reason to visit Bell’s is the beer. You’ll have access to beers you can’t get anywhere else. Bell’s will normally have a tap list of around fifteen beers any given day, with several available only at the cafe. On a recent visit I got to try an experimental pale ale called Dear Liza, for instance. While Bell’s won’t fill growlers, they do have a good selection of bottles in their General Store next door to the cafe. Draft beers are reasonably priced, especially mainstays such as Oberon, Amber Ale and Porter. Prices rise as you start getting into more specialized brews with higher alcohol content.
There is still more to enjoy beyond the beer, however. Bell’s offers food selections such as soups and sandwiches. It’s not a sit-down restaurant with servers; instead you order your food at a counter and pick it up when it’s ready. A favorite of mine is the Eccentric Grilled Cheese. The only constant in the ingredients is cheese and bread; the rest of the ingredients vary from visit to visit, including fresh vegetables or different spreads. It’s always an interesting variation on the old standard.
The cafe was recently expanded to allow for more indoor space for concerts. The original cafe is still there and looks nearly the same, but it does have a little more seating. Also, the bathrooms were updated at the time of renovation; it’s a much needed improvement for the Women’s restroom. The majority of the new construction involved renovating an old storage room next door to the original cafe. This large room now has a bar, an upstairs balcony over the bar, and several tables. The main draw, however, is the new stage for concerts. In the past, popular shows in the winter would leave the cafe extremely full. I remember seeing the band Greensky Bluegrass there several years ago and barely being able to get to the bar. With the renovation of this large room, there is now plenty of space to enjoy music.
In the summer Bell’s also offers plenty of outdoor seating in their patio and beer garden. The beer garden itself is surprisingly quiet for downtown Kalamazoo; it’s fenced off from everything else and feels like an oasis in the city. There’s an additional stage in the beer garden for outdoor concerts in the summer.
Bell’s usually has live music Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They feature local or regional bands, in musical genres such as bluegrass, rock, and electronica. There is nearly always a cover charge to see music.
While music may be a good reason to visit Bell’s, truly the best reason to visit is still the beer. Make sure to try Two-Hearted, their award-winning IPA, or Hopslam, their Double IPA. The bartenders can always give you good descriptions of current selections if you have any questions. If you’re looking for a great brewpub to visit in Southwest Michigan, Bell’s is definitely the place. For information such as hours and directions, check out their website: http://www.bellsbeer.com/
Bell’s Brewery website: http://www.bellsbeer.com/