4 new venues join the live music and performance scene in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS — Several new businesses that opened last year are navigating the new landscape of hosting live entertainment during a pandemic.

Live entertainment offerings in Grand Rapids have fluctuated during shutdown orders, capacity restrictions and a sector of the public that is still hesitant to attend crowded events. A notable closure came at the end of 2021 as several sites inside The BOB closed before the planned sale of the building.

However, several new venues have opened across the city, with venue owners helping to refresh a landscape of independent venues that was directly threatened by the pandemic.

Ambiance GR Kitchen & Living room

Construction and personnel issues have delayed the opening of Ambiance GR Kitchen & Living roombut the new bar and nightclub in the hotel district of Grand Rapids debuted with a New Year’s Eve party.

The upscale lounge and club — located at 106 Pearl St. NW inside the Ledyard building — is owned by Jonathan Jelks, Jamiel Robinson, Lacy Jones, Alvin J. Hills IV, Jamal Chilton, and Willie Jackson.

“We’re helping Grand Rapids become a great city,” Jelks said. MiBiz. “You need places like this to address the next chapter of what Grand Rapids should look and feel like. We will do a lot to support local talents and musicians and we will also bring many national artists.

The space has been upgraded with approximately $800,000 in renovations. A plush high sofa sinks in the middle of Ambiance, which displays Instagram-friendly photos of pop culture icons mixed with local landmarks around Grand Rapids.

Ambiance is currently open from Thursday to Saturday. Later this year, the owners plan to expand hours and add dishes that will be based on American cuisine with a Cajun bent, Jelks said. The bar menu offers specialty cocktails made with local spirits as well as bottle service.

“Most bars and lounges serve a niche demographic,” Jelks said. “The key thing about Ambiance is that we’ll be able to serve all generations, from baby boomers with jazz and blues nights, to younger kids with music that’s popular now. And these nights will all be in the same week.

The station

Karen and Chip VanKlompenberg set out to create a sense of community through the cafe and a curated art space when they opened The station in September.

The large spacious cafe at 4253 S. Division Ave. is a 9,500 square foot former car dealership. The cafe serves specialty coffee drinks, wraps, flatbreads, beer, and wine.

“For a number of years, we wanted to create a place where the community could just hang out and where relationships could be formed,” said Chip VanKlompenberg. “Especially in the last couple of years it has been more necessary and that’s why we wanted to create a place like a cafe – a natural third place where people can relax during the day.”

The VanKlompnbergs also wanted to create a venue with a quality sound system and stage to give a platform to a diverse range of smaller acts. So far The Stray’s performances have included ballet dancers, songwriters, jazz bands, classical bands and rock bands.

“We wanted a place where young artists could perform and be on stage in a family atmosphere and also accommodate established bands who wanted a different scene from the bar scene,” VanKlompenberg said. “It’s more of an intimate house show atmosphere.”


Anyone who attended punk rock concerts in Grand Rapids in the early 2000s probably found themselves at Skeletons. The 1,700 square foot all-ages downtown was open from 2000 to 2009. The club reopened in September after a long hiatus with the same mission of providing a space for high school and young college students to enjoy music live downtown outside the bar scene.

“Three years ago the idea really started to stir in our guts (to reopen),” said Mark Leach, owner of Skelletones with his wife, Annette Leech. “There just wasn’t a safe space for young teenagers and musicians anymore, it was all the bars.”

As with other local music venues, Skelletones has recently experienced several canceled shows due to COVID-19. The non-alcoholic place is open on Fridays and Saturdays.

“It’s just a labor of love,” Leech said. “We love the underground community, the same community I cut my teeth in as a teenager. It’s important to give high school and college kids a place to go rather than being at the bar when they can’t. not drink and feel like a little kid or a stranger.

Leech tries to reach out to high schools and let students know about the venue if their band needs a place to play. Skelletones is run by a small team of volunteers with the goal of earning enough money at the door to keep the site running, Leech said.

“All of our staff understand that our mission is not just to put on a show, but to talk to kids and learn their names and why they make music,” Leech said.

Grand Rapids Comedy Club

Don Veltman planned to start having comedy shows at the new Creston Brewery in the fall of 2022. But when Veltman heard the news of Dr Grins Comedy Club closing at the end of 2021, he saw an opportunity to fill a “huge void” by picking up the pace and opening Grand Rapids Comedy Club earlier than expected.

The new comedy club had its first show on January 14, which was headlined by Erik Griffin of “Workaholics” in Creston Brewery’s Golden Age Room. The venue is located on the second floor of the building at 1504 Plainfield Ave. BORN. The plan is to have shows every weekend in Creston from mid-October through mid-April.

Veltman has been booking comedy shows in West Michigan for about eight years through his company, Full House Comedy. The first four shows were sold out, he said.

“We bring in a lot of national acts, but the local Michigan scene is very important to me,” Veltman said. “There are amazing comedians in Michigan who haven’t gone national just because they haven’t had the opportunity to be heard in the right settings.”

When Veltman plans shows, he usually tells the headliner to leave his feature open that he’ll fill in with local talent instead. Five local comedians opened for Griffin for the opening shows, he said.

“I don’t mean to disparage Dr. Grins, but I think we’re focusing more on exposing local comedians, that’s something that’s important to us,” he said. “I really think this area has an incredible amount of comedians.”