Side-by-Side Pubs To Open In Heartside

February 8, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — It's just a coincidence that it's a pair of twins building side-by-side restaurants in the Heartside district. But the art theme of both restaurants is not a coincidence.

The two restaurants, Rockwell's and Republic, are being built by brothers and business partners Dave and Paul Reinert at 45 S. Division Ave., the site of the former Alma Latina Mexican restaurant, which has been closed for several years. The Reinerts, 31, are also the owners of Monte's and O'Toole’s, two bars that are almost, but not quite, side-by-side in the 400 block of Bridge Street NW.

The twin-restaurants project is a significant sign of the revitalization taking place in the once-blighted Heartside district, only a couple of blocks from the center of downtown Grand Rapids.

The brothers bought the boarded up Alma Latina in May 2006, and hired Pinnacle Construction to completely gut the interior of the building and build two two-story restaurants, separated by an exposed brick wall. When asked when work started on gutting the building and rebuilding the interior floors, Paul Reinert said jokingly, "About 10 years ago." Actually, it was in September. It just seems like that long to him.

Art is a prevalent theme in both restaurants, inspired by the Avenue for the Arts, an umbrella name for the renovation of five largely vacant buildings on Division just south of Fulton Street by Dwelling Place Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing affordable housing to low income people. Some of the income-restricted apartments are reserved for occupancy specifically by artists.

Rockwell's is named in honor of Norman Rockwell and will be decorated with photography and images reflecting the American scene, according to Dave Reinert.

For Republic, the Reinerts have commissioned the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts to help arrange a revolving display of art by local artists affiliated with the Avenue for the Arts. Students in the UICA's ArtWorks program will work with the artists and curate the art display, according to ArtWorks coordinator Becca Schaub.

The UICA is currently located just a half-block to the east, but soon will have new galleries and headquarters built nearby on the corner of Fulton Street and Division Avenue.

"We really love this area down here," said Paul Reinert.

"The local artists are really what make the area, the diversity, creativity. … We want to be part of that," Dave Reinert added.

Indeed, upscale pubs, restaurants and the Van Andel Arena are only a short walk away from the Heartside business district thrift shops, a tattoo parlor, art galleries and photography studio. Punk music bands and their fans are a common sight in the area, drawn to Skeletones, a basement venue, and to the Euclid coffeehouse.

The Reinerts grew up in East Grand Rapids (their parents owned Monte's before them), and both attended Davenport University. The brothers have witnessed the changes in downtown Grand Rapids, especially the burgeoning night life.

"I remember when it was just Flanagan's and Magoo's," said Dave.

"We feel this location works off critical mass," he added. He explained that people park in or close to the Heartside district now for a selection of pubs and restaurants they can walk to.

Both Rockwell's and Republic will have mezzanine dining areas overlooking the first floor, and the two establishments will share a common kitchen. There will be one bar in Rockwell's and two in Republic: one up and one down. Both restaurants will seat about 130, and there will be outdoor seating near the rear entrances. Rockwell's will serve "American food," said Dave, which might include fried green tomatoes, New York strip steak, grilled corn bread, plus salads and appetizers. Republic will offer a variety of soups, salads and appetizers, and will specialize in pasta entrees.

The Reinerts hope to have both establishments open near the end of March.

Rockwell's was designed by Cornerstone Architects; Republic by Paula Graf of Design Milieu, who also designed downtown’s Bull's Head Tavern on Monroe Avenue.

"We're working with the character of the old building. It was built in the 1890s," said Dave.

This is not the Reinert brothers' first foray into bar/restaurant construction; they extensively remodeled both Monte's and O'Tooles twice in the few years they have owned them. They are not willing to comment on their total investment in the Rockwell's/Republic project. The two restaurants together will probably employ 80 to 100 people, the majority of them part-time.

Dave said Republic will offer some live entertainment, but "We're still putting that together."

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