A Blast of Bellaire

On a recent trip to the Northwest region, George Hendrix, contributing writer for Michigan Travel Ideas, discovers food, fun and frivolity in downtown Bellaire.  

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that when it comes to northwest Michigan—the whole Grand Traverse Bay, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Petoskey stone, blue water, crimson sunset, ice cream-worshiping slice of the vacation destination world—I feel something embarrassingly close to a schoolboy crush. That is, if I’m correctly remembering my schoolboy crushes of the sepia-toned past. At any rate, every visit reveals something new to love. I’m particularly drawn to the charm and relative serenity of the region’s smaller resort communities: Elk Rapids, Suttons Bay, Leland, Empire and, one from my most recent visit, Bellaire.

On a Friday evening, drive along North Bridge Street in downtown Bellaire and you might be thinking, What serenity? Fair question. The town rocks as a suntan-lotion-scented crowd pours off the golf courses at nearby Shanty Creek Resorts and from the swimming beaches along Torch Lake and a cluster of other inland lakes. They come seeking food, drinks, entertainment and souvenirs. Most dash directly to establishments that became cherished favorites over the course of many vacations.

Then, after two or three hours of evening revelry, Bellaire goes back to being chill—as comfortably mellow as it had been during the day.

The ice cream line at Ruthie’s Chicken and Dairy Twist melts away (the savory special of my Bellaire day was deep-fried green beans). The din of the bar at the excellent LuLu’s Bistro quiets to a conversational level. Bridge Street becomes jaywalker-safe for browsers crossing back and forth to shop for gifts and candy at Sassafras, clothing at the Sassy Sunflower and home decor goodies at Uniquely North. And at Short’s Brewing Company—well there’s an exception to every rule. What’s generally acknowledged to be one of the best brewpubs in Michigan (I’d start with the Huma-Lupa-Licious pale ale) always seems to be hopping.

As the streetlights flicker on downtown, I settle in on the balcony—partially hidden by a giant hanging basket of purple petunias—that opens off my room at Stone Waters Inn. I watch as the last of the crowd melts away toward inns or campgrounds, pleasantly tired after a day adjusting to life without schedules and deadlines. In the quite of the deepening twilight I can hear the whisper of a stream curling behind the inn.

George Hendrix is a freelance writer and former travel editor of Midwest Living Magazine. Several of his most memorable moments revolve around Michigan cuisine: the wild morel ravioli followed by cherry pie in Traverse City, pancakes with just-picked blueberries in South Haven, and the day the counterman at a Coney Island along I-75 baffled him by asking if he wanted his coney regular or Flint-style. It turns out Flint-style comes with a dryer meat sauce. His advice: get one of each.

  • Diane Paul

    I have a cottage on Lake Bellaire and can vouch for everything said in this article. Bellaire is an up-and-coming little community with the downtown bursting with activity every night of the week during the summer months. He forgot to mention one of my favorite spots – MOKA a bistro/bakery. Check it out.

  • Diana

    We also have a house on Intermediate lake! This is the place our family has spent many summers. The best memories were created around our Bon fires. Can’t forget all the water play. We are outside from sun up to well past sundown. We also enjoy going to Bellaire to shop, eat and enjoy some Soft Parade at Shorts Brewery! They now sell Shorts beer at our local grocery store, Holiday Market, in Royal Oak. We are now hearing our third generation say “Why do we have to go home?”. This speaks volumes!

  • Gary

    Having a vacation home in Central Lake, my wife and i pass through Bellaire along M-88 each and everytime we visit “up North.” We have rubbed elbows with all kinds at Short’s, LuLu’s, Toonies and Moka.
    Amazing that the local cinema always has first run flicks. Uniquely North has such nice Michigan “eye candy.” McDonalds is always great for a large premium roast coffee and an egg McMuffin on the way outta town Sunday morning. If you ever make the trip to Bellaire, head about 12 miles north on M-88 to Central Lake and fall in love with old town charm and the “up North” Michigan natives long for each and every summer.

  • Linda

    This is such a wonderful article about my home town, where my children were raised,and we still and always will think of as home. No longer living there I miss it so much,and this wonderful article filled my heart with joy, and a tear, at wishing I could be there eating an ice cream at Ruthies. Thank you.

  • mary smith

    love the article on bellaire and nice to read the visitors comments…this is my home town….i was born here and retired here…after living downstate for 50 years….so nice to come home!!!! Bellaire is all of the above and more,,,how about the olive burgers at the Bellaire Bar and the soup at Mrs Petes….we have a wonderful library and friendly faces at the post office!!! Probly the most memorable are the cheese balls and hot fudge peanut butter sundays at Ruthies…not to mention, Julie will remember your name and favorite flavor!!!