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The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

Grand Rapids coffee shops offer eclectic and basic drinks, atmosphere, and entertainment

A peaceful moment at Bitter End before the study rush.
A peaceful moment at Bitter End before the study rush.

With chilly autumn days and fall leaves upon us, it is the perfect time of the year to start visiting cute, cozy cafes. They’re great for studying or just getting a drink with friends; coffee shops are some of my favorite places to explore. Mainstream cafes like Starbucks, Scooters, and Biggby are not included in this list as they lack intimacy compared to small local businesses. 

Throughout West Michigan, especially downtown, there are some perfectly hidden cafes that I love to visit. All of them are purely unique and are locally owned; many of them even contribute to helping other small businesses.

Bitter End Coffee House

First up on my list of the best local coffee shops is Bitter End Coffee House. This one is located right outside of downtown on Fulton, and it is one of my favorite places to study. The coffee shop has a maximalist vibe, with artwork covering the walls, and resides in an old bank building. The best thing about the place is that it’s always open, making it a great spot for finishing those last-minute essays.

Bitter End offers a variety of drinks, including fall-exclusives, along with a decent amount of snacks and baked items to choose from. My favorite drink that is offered year-round is the Dragonfly Green Tea Creme Smoothie, which is just how it sounds, a sugar-full green tea smoothie. Off of the fall-exclusive menu, the Chai-der is for sure my favorite with it being a blend of chai and apple cider. All the food and drinks at Bitter End, including the ones only offered during the fall are priced within reason for the most part.

 The coffee house as a whole is super cozy, and I feel like I could spend hours there. The only downside I could think of when it comes to Bitter End is that because it is in an old bank building, space is quite limited. The location is very small, so seating tends to be cramped, but I don’t mind because I believe it adds to the overall cozy experience.

The Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge

Another cozy favorite is The Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge. While the drinks they serve are mediocre and nothing truly phenomenal—kind of like Biggby—the atmosphere of it makes up for that. After stepping in the door off of Commerce Ave, I was greeted by a small area with just two small tables and a coffee area, but upon turning around the corner and going down the staircase, there was a whole other sort of basement area for seating. The area is very cozy and is lit by lanterns; while I was there, they even had some Art Prize work up in the basement area. 

The mediocre drink I tried whilst I was there was the Golden Milk from their seasonal Autumn menu. I think the drink had potential, but the spice and little spice leaf chunks threw me off a little bit when drinking it. Although it wasn’t my favorite, I would get it again. A truly irritating variable for this coffee bar was the fact that they had little to no food available to purchase. When it came to drink prices, they were okay; I feel that for as much as you were paying, the drinks could have tasted a little better.

I truly did enjoy my time at the Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge despite the lack of food and the mediocre drinks. The atmosphere definitely made up for the menu and would be perfect for studying on cool winter days.

The Stray

The Stray is a masterpiece. That just about sums up my entire experience there. Between the live events—typically local music artists on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays—and the amazing atmosphere along with great food and drinks, this place is beyond perfect. Whilst entry at night is not always free because of the bands that play, it is still totally worthwhile because of how great the experience is.

The cafe is a decent size and offers many different seating options from couches to booths, and it is not cramped at all. Throughout the cafe are some amazing art pieces that add to the atmosphere. One of my favorite aspects is that they sell items from local small businesses, including some of the art on occasion. The place is very welcoming, and I felt right at home from the start there.

During my time at the cafe, I tried the Honey Lavender Latte, and it was flavorful although I preferred the ginger beer that I kept stealing from my cousin. I would recommend both drinks, but I think ginger beer is something everyone should try along with their nachos or one of their flatbread options. The drinks and food are all priced decently, and you get a good portion for what you pay; although I did not notice a seasonal menu while I was there, there could be one now.

The Stray was by far my favorite cafe that I visited out of the three. I highly recommend at least checking it out and, if possible, going to one of their live music events.

I truly did enjoy my time at the Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge despite the lack of food and the mediocre drinks.

Overall Review

All three of these cafes are truly wonderful, and I highly recommend checking them out. Between the three, I think there is one for everyone, depending on what you are looking for. While food and drinks may not be the most amazing facet of all of them, the atmosphere of all of them are amazing and perfect for studying and catching up with friends.


The Bitter End Coffee House ~ 8/9

Atmosphere: ☕︎☕︎☕︎

Menu: ☕︎☕︎☕︎

Food & Beverages: ☕︎☕︎


The Lantern Coffee Bar and Lounge ~ 6/9

Atmosphere: ☕︎☕︎☕︎

Menu: ☕︎☕︎

Food & Beverages: ☕︎


The Stray ~ 9/9

Atmosphere: ☕︎☕︎☕︎

Menu: ☕︎☕︎☕︎

Food & Beverages: ☕︎☕︎☕︎

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About the Contributor
Litany Gaines
Litany Gaines, Staff Writer
Litany Gaines is a senior entering her first year on The Central Trend. Since she was young, Litany has had a love for words, whether it be reading, writing, poetry, or song lyrics, and she is beyond excited to further her writing skills this year. In her free time, Litany enjoys being outside and spending time with friends along with reading and writing. During her final year in high school, Litany hopes to create many memories and strive to be her best before setting off on her next path in life. Favorite poet: Sappho Favorite movie: My Neighbor Totoro or Coraline Favorite Time: 11:11 am Her Car: A 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix named Daisy Jones that is somehow still running  

Comments (3)

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  • E

    EmmyOct 19, 2023 at 11:26 pm

    What an awesome article. The drinks at The Lantern really are mediocre, thank you for shedding light on that. Can’t wait to visit The Stray though <33

  • C

    Charles A MierasOct 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

    Very thorough review of a few of my favorite coffee shops in Grand Rapids. While I have a slight bias toward latern I do agree with the lack of a comprehensive food menu. All in all I enjoyed the depth of all 3 of these reviews and would very much enjoy another article reviewing some of the local sandwich shops in the area.

  • M

    MikeOct 19, 2023 at 3:51 pm

    Insightful, well-balanced description opinion piece by a junior – writer. A very good use of young person perspective on key cultural American youth.