Ready to Celebrate Easter? Here's the Full Lineup of Activities and Restaurant Specials!

egg hunt recap banner image

Grand Traverse Conservation District Springtime Egg
Photo Courtesy of Grand Traverse Conservation District

Easter is coming up quickly and we've got the run down on all of the fun activities and specialty meals being planned around the area!

Easter Fun (including egg hunts!):

March 28th - Community Easter egg hunt at Trinity Lutheran Church with prizes and activities. Registration starts at 10 am. RSVP’s appreciated.

April 4th -  Free Easter egg hunt at Fellowship Church, 10-11:30 am.

April 12th – Free natural Easter egg coloring demo at Oryana Food Co-Op, noon-2 pm.

April 4th – 1st Annual Resurrection Celebration at Bayview Wesleyan Church, 9 am.
Easter egg hunt and prizes for children! Have your picture taken with the Easter Bunny. Cake walk, raffle and craft fair. A free event open to the community, takes place rain or shine.

April 4th - Grand Traverse Conservation District Springtime Egg Hunt, 10-11:30 am and Noon-1:30 pm, $5 per child, Kid’s Creek Park (between Kohl’s and Great Wolf Lodge on US31).
This isn’t your average egg hunt! Bring your basket and get ready to be sent out on a mission to find five eggs, each of a different color, that correspond to a Michigan critter that actually lays eggs. Before you leave, redeem your eggs for prizes and treats! Space is limited for this event and it was a sell-out last year, so pre-registration is encouraged. Click here to register. Walk-ins are welcome on the day of the event as space allows.

April 4th –Free Easter egg hunt at Cycle-Moore Campgrounds
Starts at noon (line up by 11:45) Kids 13 and younger. Bring your own baskets. Will move indoors in case of inclement weather.

April 4th - Easter Kids/Family Sip and Dab
Bring your children (8 and up: younger children must be accompanied by an adult) or paint as a family with local artist Shelly Morey as you are guided through your our own paint on canvas masterpiece; all experience levels welcome. Create a memory of art with Sip and Dab for Easter while sipping and eating great food and beverage choices offered by the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. $20 per person, register here

Easter Brunch: 2014

Aerie - Grand Traverse Resort & Spa
Reservations are highly recommended. Serving brunch from 1 pm-4 pm, adults $29.95, kids 5-12 yrs. $14.95, 5 yrs. & are free.

Reservations are highly recommended. Serving menu style brunch from 9 am-3 pm, price range $7-$14.

Apache Trout Grill
Serving brunch from 9 am-3 pm. No reservations.

Bistro FouFou 
Serving a plated brunch from 10 am-2 pm. Order off a special menu.

Open for dinner from 1-7 pm. Order ala carte off of special menu. Menu prices $27-$55. Please call and leave a message for reservations.

The Bluebird 
Reservations are recommended. Serving special plated dinners from 11 am-2 pm.

The Boathouse
Reservations are highly recommended. Serving brunch 9:30 am-2:30 pm and dinner from the regular menu 4 pm-9 pm. adults $28.95, kids $16.95.

Boone’s Long Lake Inn
Open noon-10 pm. Regular menu with $5 off prime rib dinners and combos.

Copper Falls Steakhouse
Easter brunch from 10 am-4 pm $27.50 for adults.

Reservations are recommended. Serving a brunch buffet 10 am-4 pm, adults $24.95, kids 12-4 yrs. $10.95, 3 yrs. & under are free.

Great Wolf Lodge
Serving a breakfast buffet from 8 am-noon, adults $12.99, kids 4-10 yrs. $6.99, 3 yrs & under are free.

Harrington’s by the Bay
Reservations are recommended. Serving brunch from 9 am-4 pm, adults $19, kids $5.

Jolly Pumpkin
Special menu features from 10:3 0am-2 pm. Regular menu from 2pm-9pm.

Shanty Creek Resorts: The Lakeview
Reservations are recommended. Serving brunch from 11 am-3 pm, adults $30.00, seniors $28.00 kids 12-6 yrs. $14.00, 5 yrs. and under are free.

Maddy’s Tavern
Reservations are recommended. Serving brunch 10 am-3 pm, adults $17.95, kids 12-5yrs $9.95, 4 yrs. and under are free. Full regular menu after 4 pm.

Manor on Glen Lake – Empire 334-0150
Champagne brunch with special menu. Open 10 am-3 pm. $17.95 for adults.

Minerva’s-Park Place Hotel
Serving brunch 10 am-3:15 pm, adults $23.95, kids 3-12 yrs. $9.99.

Mulligan’s Pub & Grill
Easter brunch buffet from 9 am - 2 pm with traditional breakfast items. Adults $14.95, kids 5-10 yrs. $7.95. Under 5 are free.

North Peak Brewing Co.
Open noon-8 pm. Order off of special menu.

Serving brunch menu 10 am-3 pm. Regular dinner menu served from 4 pm-8 pm.

Season’s Buffet (Turtle Creek Casino)
Noon-8 pm. Buffet includes prime rib, lamb, ham and other favorites. Adults $24.95, kids 12-5 yrs. $12.95, under 5 yrs. are free. No reservations, seating upon availability.

State Street Grille
Serving Brunch 10 am-3 pm, adults $12.95, kids 12 yrs. & under $7.95

Tuscan Bistro
Open noon-8 pm offering both ham and lamb specials in addition to regular menu items.

West Bay Beach a Holiday Inn Resort
Reservations are recommended. Brunch and Easter themed events including a craft and photo station. Easter brunch from 11 am-3 pm, adults $29.95, kids 5-12 yrs. $14.95, 4 yrs. & under free.


Traverse City’s Best New Event Venues

Planning meetings and events in a larger city for years was wonderful, but planning meetings and events in Traverse City is even better.  With the natural beauty and sheer number of amazing venues, it makes my job so much fun!  Within the last year or so Traverse City businesses have expanded their offerings by creating unique spaces well suited for a variety of special events. Read on to learn more about each one listed below.

Historic Barns Park

Home to the Botanic Garden and the Cathedral Barn, this is more than an event space. It’s a destination!  At the heart of the park stands the majestic Cathedral Barn that was built in 1934 and rescued from the wrecking ball in 2004. This soaring structure is now being restored as a public event space to be enjoyed by generations to come. The barn opened for events just a few months ago and was once home to a working farm for the Traverse City State Hospital.

The Cathedral Barn

The Cathedral Barn - Photo credit to

I love that this barn is so close to town! It is rustic with modern amenities such as heat and air conditioning -- both are always a plus in our Michigan climate. It is also on the same property as the Botanic Garden where there are diverse options for cocktail hour, dinner and other fun activities.

Kirkbride Hall & Kirkbride Suite

Kirkbride Hall opened in May of 2014.  The hall was formerly the chapel at the Northern Michigan Asylum.  It was built between 1883 - 1885 and was at the first place in Traverse City to have electric lights!  It’s now a fabulous spot for weddings, corporate functions, and other gatherings.  Best of all, it offers a suite above the space that is available for rent for wedding parties, families or very small groups.

Kirkbride Hall

Kirkbride Hall

This location is part of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons historic restoration and re-use project, one that I have admired since its beginning more than 12 years ago. Couple the gorgeous venue with the impeccable customer service and this space is top notch all around.

Corner Loft

The Corner Loft in downtown Traverse City offers some of the best downtown views in Northern Michigan. Located on the second floor of a former bank, this neoclassical building is the perfect addition to event venues in town because there is nothing else like it.

Corner Loft

The Corner Loft - Photo credit to Ardent Life Photography

I love the floor to ceiling windows with views of Front Street's quaint shops and tree-lined streets. Inside, the space is modern, elegant, and versatile for a variety of different events. It is truly a gem of a venue right in the heart of our beautiful downtown shopping district.

Shady Lane Cellars

A Leelanau Peninsula favorite, the award-winning Shady Lane Cellars completed a major renovation at the end of last summer.  There is now a large covered patio, a fireplace, a large open patio and a huge lawn for tenting.  These major amenities are nestled up to the adorable tasting room that was a former chicken coup.

Shady Lane Cellars

Shady Lane Cellars - Photo credit to

I can’t think of a more relaxing outdoor venue!  What a great place for a networking event, team building or any cocktail hour.  I love that I can work with any caterer and pair it with their fabulous wines.  The staff at Shady Lane Cellars make this space one of my favorite places to visit and host events.

The RG Studio at Red Ginger

Paired with the best sushi in Traverse City and my favorite restaurant for customer service, The RG Studio has a large private patio with views of Grand Traverse Bay.  Its modern look and feel makes it the perfect spot for a day of entertaining, rehearsal dinners or a hospitality suite right downtown.  It has a kitchen perfect for a sushi action station and a 60” flat screen TV in the room.

The RG Studio at Red Ginger

The RG Studio at Red Ginger

When I can pair my favorite chef, the best customer service in town at any restaurant and views of the bay, I know it’s the best small venue in town.  Red Ginger makes planning so easy and simple and they thoroughly understand the needs of event planners -- this is always a plus!

There are also many hotel and resort properties that offer fabulous event spaces that may meet your specifications. Information including meeting facilities, sleeping rooms, date availability, rates, amenities and special program requirements can be found here.

I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the future for the region for venues, but for the time being I know Traverse City is booming and has some of the best locations to host events not only in the state, but in the country!

Allison Beers


Allison Beers is the owner of Events North, a meeting and event management agency and Put Your Phone Down!, a business etiquette course she presents around the country.  She has over 15 years of experience in meeting and event management.  Allison’s favorite part of Traverse City is the diversity of outdoor activities that she gets to share with her husband and children.

Step Inside the Sculpture Court at the Dennos Museum Center

I always enjoy the experience of walking into the Dennos Museum Center and seeing how that experience changes throughout the year as the new exhibitions for the Zimmerman Sculpture Court replace their predecessors. Working at the museum allows me to view the Sculpture Court during all of the exhibitions and at different times of day, which always changes the space and makes me see it differently.

Currently, the museum visitor is greeted by the latest Sculpture Court installation of ghostly bamboo and paper sculptures that hang high and low throughout the space. These sculptures are the work of Korean artist Jinwon Chang, and give off a distinctly aquatic impression. This association with water is deliberate; Chang’s art is in response to his three near-death drowning experiences. These traumatic experiences have influenced many aspects of Chang’s life, including his art. His work is made up of representations of objects and animals that can exist in water. These include, ships, jellyfish, and other marine wild life. These creatures and objects are able to survive where he could not, and they represent, for him, self-portraits.

Dennos Museum Exhibit

Suspended from the ceiling to mimic floating in water, these delicate sculptures are made of bamboo frames (an art form Chang’s hometown of Gwangju is famous for) and paper pulp. As they float in the air, they cast beautiful shadowy patterns on the wall and floor, and some hang low enough to allow a glimpse inside the frames. Viewed from any angle, the exhibition creates a contemplative and ethereal space where visitors can enjoy the mastery and meaning of the sculptures.

Dennos Museum Exhibit

Chang’s exhibition, “Hweh-Geeh” Returning Again will be on display through May 17, 2015 at the Dennos Museum Center. Visit for more information.



Megan Heator is the Museum Assistant at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City. Besides being able to hang out in a museum all day, she maintains the Dennos Museum’s social media and generally assists as needed.  Follow the museum on facebook, twitter, youtube, and instagram for daily updates.


What’s New, Newsworthy and Must See this Year at the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula

This week on the blog the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula share exciting updates for the spring and summer season ahead. 

Whether you visit the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula annually, or are looking for something new and different to do this year, we’ve got the inside scoop on the happenings at the eight exceptional destinations that are the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula. From new or returning wines to renovations and personnel changes, it's all taking place on the Old Mission Peninsula!

What’s New

The newest member of the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula, Hawthorne Vineyards, will introduce Cherry Splendor this season. A Balaton and Montmorency cherry wine blend from the cherry orchard on property, this cherry wine is the perfect blend of sweet and tart. A must try when in the cherry capital, Traverse City.

Old Mission Black Star Farms, an extension of the Black Star Farms property in Suttons Bay, will offer a few new and returning wines. Stop by to taste Black Star Farms’ Hard Apple Cherry Cider, a sparkling, light-bodied, fruit wine that uniquely combines the fresh crisp flavors of local apples and cherries. Or taste the flavors of Northern Michigan with the Sirius Maple Dessert Wine, a unique wine made from hard apple cider, apple brandy and Michigan maple syrup. And, new to the tasting room this year is an aromatic and lush 2012 Arcturos Gewurztraminer.

Ever wonder how, when, where or why the families behind the wineries got involved in the industry? Peninsula Cellars recently launched their new website, with tons of features including an interactive timeline where visitors can explore the rich history of the Kroupa family and Peninsula Cellars.

Peninsula Cellars Timeline

Peninsula Cellars Timeline

Starting this spring, 2 Lads Winery will offer private tastings, for parties of six or less, featuring six pre-selected wines paired with specially chosen small bites. It’s the perfect reason to grab some friends, kick back, relax and catch up on new 2 Lads releases. Reservations are required.

What’s Newsworthy

Still reveling in the “Top 10 Hot Brands” in the United States accolade, where Wine Business Monthly cited the Brys Estate 2013 Dry Riesling as a must-try wine, Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery will continue to celebrate as they kick off the 10th Anniversary of the winery. Events, specials and festivities will be announced soon. Look for a fun new unveiling this summer…we can’t tell you about it now, but we are sure you will like what the folks at Brys Estate have in store.

Brys Estate Hot Brands

Brys Estate Hot Brands

Chateau Grand Traverse’s 2013 Etcetera White Blend, a limited edition wine produced in celebration of the winery’s 40th anniversary in 2014, has garnered some national attention bringing home three major awards this year.

The wait is nearly over at Peninsula Cellars. This spring commemorates the return of a tasting room favorite...Mélange. The abundant cherry harvests of late allowed the winery to bring back this sweet, port-style dessert wine. It's the ultimate accompaniment to chocolate desserts!

Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that one of the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula are currently shipping wine to China? More than 1,500 cases of Traverse Bay Winery® Cherry Wine from Chateau Grand Traverse have been exported to China over the past 18 months.

Chateau Chantal recently announced changes in personnel at the winery with Marie-Chantal Dalese, daughter of winery founders Bob & Nadine Begin, taking over at the helm as President & CEO.

What’s Must See

The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula all have spectacular views as well as settings in which to sit outside and enjoy the wine(s) of your choice. As the weather warms up it is the perfect time to visit the wineries and enjoy the many outdoor seating options. These include the new patios at Peninsula Cellars and Chateau Grand Traverse (both overlooking vineyards) and an expansive deck along with a one-of-a-kind Bridge Above the Vines at Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery. Regularly scheduled live music and light food pairings accompany the gorgeous views and complete the experience!

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery

If food and wine are your preference then don't miss Dining in the Vines at Bowers Harbor Vineyards. It’s an idyllic scene that could easily be in Tuscany or Provence, but luckily for you, it’s right here in Northern Michigan! Intoxicating aromas swirl around you as you sip fine wine and watch a five-course gourmet meal being prepared beside you at an outdoor kitchen by a white-coated master chef.

Dining in the Vines

Dining in the Vines at Bowers Harbor Vineyards

In addition, Chateau Chantal also pronounced continued renovations at the B&B. This year, the Monet Suite will debut a new look and feel of ‘New French Chateau,’ adding romance and a touch of modernity to the 10-year-old room, thanks to the work of Rebecca Whitehead Interiors.

Don’t forget to mark your calendar for upcoming WOMP events, including Blossom Day (May 16) and Divas Uncorked (June 12). Event tickets go on sale 60 days prior to each event. Stay up-to-date with the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula by signing up for their eNews, and following them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


A Spring Preview


The iconic Traverse City spring image: blossoming cherry trees on the Old Mission Peninsula.

The iconic Traverse City spring image: blossoming cherry trees on the Old Mission Peninsula.


Spring is on the way -- you know it is! The days are getting a little longer, the nights are getting a little shorter, the sap is starting to run in the sugar maples and the birds are beginning to make cheerful noises in the yard. So just to help you keep your spirits up and help you to remember that warm weather isn't something you imagine having experienced, we figured it would be nice to run some of our favorite spring photos.

Spring begins sheepishly in this part of the world, sneaking back into our lives like a wayward dog who's returned home after a night in the neighbor's compost heap. The snow and ice seem to be gone, but the branches are still pretty bare. If it wasn't for the beautiful color of that water, you might not even believe it's really here.


The biggest change begins in the forest, where the tiny spring ephemerals begin to poke out. They have to grow and blossom quickly, before the trees leaf out and it gets too shady -- so the woods fill up pretty quickly with all kinds of fast-blooming wildflowers. The bees get to work, too, and pretty soon you can hear them buzzing from flower to flower.

Trout Lily

Trout Lily

The most amazing flower in our spring forests, though, is the giant trillum. Just one flower per plant -- but they're nice and big, and they completely carpet the forest when they're in bloom.



By the middle of May, the long-awaited cherry blossom extravaganza begins; when we are lucky and the winds don't whip the petals away, it can sometimes last for weeks!l

Cherry trees on Old Mission

Cherry trees on Old Mission

Then come the lilacs -- don't you love that scent?

Lilacs in flower at Leffingwell Point

Lilacs in flower at Leffingwell Point

And something that doesn't smell QUITE as lovely -- but certainly tastes much better: The fishing begins to get serious up in the Boardman Valley!

Flyfishing in Boardman River

Flyfishing in Boardman River

By now, there's even evidence of spring in downtown Traverse City, where flowering crabapples and ornamental pears start putting out their annual show:


And by then, it's almost time to get ready for summer. Not all that far off, now, is it?


From the Chair: Featuring Sarah Barnard

From the Chair: Sarah Barnard

Tell us a little about what a "Sports & Group Account Executive" does at Traverse City Tourism.
I love the versatility of my job. On any given day I can be found researching area venues for events, completing Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to host future sporting events, creating itineraries for visiting motor coaches or spreading the word about Traverse City as a perfect destination at trade shows. My main market is sports, but I also work to bring in the tour and travel and fraternal and social groups (such as Car Clubs) to the area.

What did you do before Traverse City Tourism?
I worked at the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City for seven years holding many different positions.  Just prior to coming to work for Traverse City Tourism in November of 1997 I was the Front Office Manager.

What do you love the most about working for Traverse City Tourism?
I would definitely say the people. Over the course of my 17 years, I’ve made some life-long friendships with great people who either started out as co-workers, clients, industry partners or even competitors. Being in sales is all about relationship building and I’m grateful for the partnerships I’ve built with our members, customers, and partners.

What attractions, destinations, restaurants, etc. do you favor in Traverse City?
Wow! I could go on and on but I’ll try and refrain; here are a few of my favorites.
Attractions - wineries, breweries, distilleries
Destinations - Downtown Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the Village at Grand Traverse Commons
Restaurants - Sorellina, Amical, and Apache Trout Grill

What’s your favorite downtown lunch spot and why?
That's a hard one to answer because I have so many favorites. North Peak, their Cherry Chicken salad is the best, except I get it with the balsamic dressing. Bubba’s because of their super yummy burgers and sandwiches, plus their sweet potato tater tots are delicious! The Dish because it’s fast, fresh, and healthy.

How you would you describe Traverse City to a first-time visitor?
I recall my first visit to Traverse City in 1990. It was an easy decision when I decided to make Traverse City my home.  It has all the luxuries of a city with the bonus of a year-round vacation destination. We have skiing, hiking, beaches, boating, great shops, amazing restaurants, and snowmobiling. An added bonus is that the people are friendly and welcoming. I’m always thankful to live where other people vacation!

What is your perfect day in Traverse City?
My perfect day would start with a cup of coffee and time spent with my daughter. We would then load up the kayak and tube, pack a lunch, and meet up with some friends to float down the lower Platte River.  After our two-and-a-half hour (depending on how many times we stop to swim) trip across Loon Lake and down the river, we’d have a picnic in the park and play on the beach at Lake Michigan.  We would make a pit stop at home to clean up and then head downtown to attend a festival or take in a concert at Interlochen Center for the Arts.  If it is a quiet night for entertainment in Traverse City, it’s always fun to have a cookout and bonfire with friends.

If you could wish for a celebrity sighting on the streets of downtown Traverse City who would you want to see?
Channing Tatum or Dolvett Quince. No need to explain.

What is your favorite season in Northern Michigan?
Traverse City is a four-season destination. I enjoy them all, and that’s why I made this my home town almost 25 years ago.  I will have to say though, after all of the days of negative temperatures we’ve had this winter, I may have to escape to someplace warmer for spring break. I’m definitely looking forward to some warmer weather.

Describe a memorable Traverse City moment/experience.
This past year my father and siblings decided to have our destination family reunion in Traverse City.  It was an action-packed week! We took a cruise through Sleeping Bear Dunes, hiked up the Dune Climb, visited Glen Arbor for lunch, stopped at Cherry Republic for a pit spit contest, did a little wine tasting, spent a day canoeing and tubing down the Platte River and also went shopping in downtown Traverse City for TC swag and to fill up on fudge, more Cherry Republic cherry salsa and chocolate covered cherries.  We also spent a day at the beach and took a spin on some jet skis out on East Grand Traverse Bay.  Of course, you can’t forget the trips to Moomers for ice cream, evening bonfires, pizza from Incredible Moe’s and the many card games that go hand-in-hand with any of my family reunions.

We also enjoyed an evening out with just the adults with a visit to Left Foot Charley and TASTES of Black Star Farms.   After an amazing dinner at Firefly, we took a stroll downtown and enjoyed coffee and a dessert at Amical.

The house my dad rented through Visit Up North Vacation Rentals was on Long Lake with a dock and hoist for my boat.  Not a day went by where I wasn’t out on the lake pulling my daughter and nieces around behind the boat on “Big Mable."  Of all the great things we did on this vacation that was my favorite.  I loved the smiles on their faces, hearing their laughter and the stories of how “fast” we were going or how much “air” they got.

Fat Bikes - Fun All Winter Long!


Beth Price Photography

Fat tire biking offers exciting winter recreation opportunities. Learn more about them in this week's guest blog contributed by Suttons Bay Bikes

This summer I moved to Traverse City and loved it! Biking, swimming, wineries, breweries, the area is great with endless trails, lakes, and beaches. There is so much to do, with fun around every corner.  As fall came and winter was around the corner, I was wondering if I was going to love the winter too. To be honest, I was worried because I can’t ski. A revelation came to me this past summer when I saw a fat bike cruising down the street in Suttons Bay. I was immediately intrigued with this monster truck of the bike that looked as if it would be able to blast over any and all obstacles in its way. It wasn’t long before I learned that this giant, almost comical looking, bike could be the solution to my ski-less winter dilemma.

I was so right! I started fat biking this fall and loved the velcro grip of the large tires on the trails.  I was new to mountain biking, most of my cycling was on the road, so the large tires were very stable and easy to ride. The tires look big and heavy but they roll easily down the trail. Big tires open the door for more adventures as they don’t need manicured trails. They are able to ride through sand, snow, or wherever you may want to explore.


Then when the snow started to come, I was able to continue to enjoy the trails. The skiers had to wait until there was enough snow, fat bikes can enjoy the trails even when there is little snow. As more and more snow arrived the groomed VASA Winter Sports Singletrack and Leelanau Trail have been a wonderful playground of grippy packed trails. The best part? All that is required is the ability to ride a bike. Although I haven't been fortunate enough to be blessed with skiing prowess, I, like most, can hop on a bike and pedal away.

More adventures are to be had as the winter continues. These fat tires can take you to all new places, with the ability to ride not just trails but on the snow-packed ice of inland lakes and bays. There are plenty of fat bike events in the area too including, The Beard of Zeus Fat Bike Race and The Vineyard Fat Bike Race.


I encourage everyone to give this sport a try, it gives winter a whole new spin! You can rent the bikes at Suttons Bay Bikes, Brick Wheels and Einstein Cycles. For those looking for a new adventure or anyone in the market for a new bike, fat bikes offer year-round versatility that traditional bikes cannot seem to offer.

Photo credit to Beth Price Photography

Getting into Good Spirits for Winter

Andrew Silk with a chocolate vodka and cream soda at Grand Traverse Distillery

Andrew Silk with a chocolate vodka and cream soda at Grand Traverse Distillery


Here in Traverse City we talk about our wine, and we talk about our craft beer – but this area is also home to a thriving microdistillery movement that’s turning out some lovely vodkas, whiskeys, brandies and other high-octane fuels.  And as it happens, winter is an excellent time of year for a distillery tour.

My first stop is on Front Street, at the tasting room of the Grand Traverse Distillery. Founded in 2007, GTD was the area’s first real microdistillery; owner Kent Rabish relied on rye grown just east of Traverse City and the area’s pure glacial water to create True North Vodka, a product that has won major national and international awards. Since then, the company has branched out into whiskey, gin and even rum (using tropical cane sugar, alas!)

For years, Grand Traverse Distillery’s only real tasting room was at the distillery itself, located in an industrial park on Three Mile Road – though a steady stream of eager customer still managed to seek out the place. More recently, though, it has established tasting rooms in Frankenmuth, Leland and Grand Rapids. Its Front Street tasting room has been open since September, and it’s really helped the company bring its products to a larger audience, says assistant manager Andrew Silk.

NorthernLatitudes1It’s a classic downtown Traverse City location, too – long and narrow, with hardwood floors and a cozy little “tasting salon” in the rear that overlooks the Boardman River with views of Clinch Park and West Bay. Andrew says he’s usually able to spend time with customers, finding out about their preferences before pushing a tasting menu in front of them.

“If you listen to them, they’ll tell you what they like,” he says. “Some people just taste whiskeys and some people just try the vodkas, but there are a lot of people who aren’t used to drinking spirits. For them I’ll try to mix up something from our cocktail menu.”
He demonstrate with a case in point: GTD’s seasonal True North Chocolate Vodka. It’s a product that starts with a barrel of GTD’s True North Wheat Vodka, in which organic cocoa nibs are allowed to soak. After a month of swishing that cocoa-infused vodka around in the barrel, several blood oranges are added to give it a hint of orange. But despite the undeniable aroma of cocoa, orange and spice, it’s not a sweet or particularly chocolate-y drink.

So Andrew goes to work and mixes it with a little cream soda, whose sweetness and vanilla flavor bring out the chocolate in the vodka without making it cloying. “I do the same thing by mixing our cherry vodka with lemonade,” he says. “It changes the character of the whole drink.”

Personally, I’m a whiskey guy – and I’m very fond of GTD’s Ole George, a premium rye whiskey that has a lot of that spiciness that you find in a high-quality rye whiskey. As a bourbon fan, I wasn’t sure I’d care for rye, but I have to admit I like its ruggedness.

Sampling the eau de vie at Tastes of Black Star Farms in the Mercato

Sampling the eau de vie at Tastes of Black Star Farms in the Mercato

It’s not far to my next stop, in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons: Tastes of Black Star Farms, down in the Mercato of Building 50. This is fruit country after all, and not all spirits are distilled from grain. Black Star Farms has been making some amazing fruit brandies – from mellow barrel-aged apple brandies with a hint of maple (my favorites!) to fiery eau de vie -- a clear distilled spirit (usually 80 proof) made from local pears, cherries, apples, and apricots.

Kate, my helpful spirit guide, chats a little about the various fruits and flavors. But while I appreciate the high-octane qualities of the eau de vie, my palate doesn’t seem to be sensitive enough to notice the flavors I’m supposed to be noticing. The apple brandy, on the other hand, is just my style; aged from 3 to 5 years in oak barrels, it’s smooth and amber-colored with lots of fruity notes.

Black Star has also gotten raves for another high-octane product: grappa, an Italian brandy made from the skins of grapes after pressing. I’m not a big grappa fan, but I’ve had it in Italy, and Black Star’s is better!

Next, it’s a pleasant trip up the Old Mission Peninsula to the tasting room (only open on weekends!) at the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery in Bowers Harbor.  Although Jolly Pumpkin’s ales are brewed downstate in Dexter, the company’s Civilized line of spirits is actually distilled right here on the Old Mission Peninsula, and distiller Mike Hall makes some great stuff using local materials. Their vodka, for instance, is made with local Riesling grapes. And Sakura, their cherry vodka?

Trying the Sakura vodka at the Jolly Pumpkin tasting room in Bowers Harbor

Trying the Sakura vodka at the Jolly Pumpkin tasting room in Bowers Harbor

“Sakura is distilled from local cherries,” says tasting room sherpa Liz Norton. “Which is why it doesn't taste very medicinal and has a subtle flavor -- unless mixed with something carbonated.”

Good. Because who wants a cherry vodka that tastes like cough medicine? Civilized also make a gin using local botanicals and a rum made with sugar cane – which we don’t grow around here. But it’s the whiskey (again) that makes my palate sit up and take notice. And here again, I like the rye better than the bourbon – though Mike has a few tasty products waiting in the wings that I like even better!

As the crow flies, it’s not that far from Jolly Pumpkin across West Bay and over the hill to Lake Leelanau – home to the Northern Latitudes Distillery – but if you’re not a crow it’ll take you an hour or so. Distiller Mark Moseler isn’t afraid to make sweet liquors here – there’s a Ginger liqueur, a Limoncello di Leelanau (pretty good!) and a Mackinac Island Fudge liqueur. They also make a gin flavored with lavender, juniper and jackpine seeds, and a bourbon whiskey.

Chatting about Spirits at Northern Latitudes in Lake Leelanau

Chatting about Spirits at Northern Latitudes in Lake Leelanau

But I have arrived to try their vodkas. One, called Ice Dunes, is made with Michigan wheat. Two others, though, are distilled from…. wait for it… Michigan beet sugar. At Mark’s urging, I do a taste test between the wheat vodka and the unflavored beet, known as Deer Camp Vodka. Big difference! Ice Dunes has a bold, assertive character, but the beet vodka is mild and unassuming with a prolonged sweet finish that would go well with fruit mixers.

The other vodka is something else entirely. It’s called Apollo Horseradish Vodka, and that’s what it is: a smack-you-in-the-nose dose of pungent earthy horseradish. Mark distilled it for his own use because he likes horseradish in his Bloody Marys. He figured it might be a nice niche product, and instead it’s become the distillery’s biggest seller.

“Most people use it in Bloody Marys and dirty martinis,” he says. “But there are people who keep the bottle in the freezer and drink it straight.”


A Creative Community Project Featuring Traverse City Attractions

In recognition of Black History Month, we've invited the Curator of Education from the Dennos Museum Center to tell us a little about "Embrace the Dream" -- a project inspired by the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

When asked to contribute a story for this blog, I was honored to be given the opportunity to discuss Embrace the Dream. As an arts and culture programmer, it is one of my goals to bring a diverse range of visual and performing arts to the area. Through various events and art forms, the project meets this goal in creative and thought provoking ways.

There are many organizations in this region that work hard to instill a sense of the larger global experience. These efforts have made a strong impact on me in my first two years of living in Traverse City. To see the community grow and celebrate this diversity is inspiring and it is evident in the programming of Embrace the Dream. This collaboration is amazing! Not only does it provide a series of cultural events for the public but it also creates significant opportunities for education and dialog.

In its third year, Embrace the Dream is a project by several area organizations, founded upon the values of Dr. Martin Luther King. Featuring mostly free programs including films, musical performances, exhibitions, panel discussions, and other arts activities, Embrace the Dream runs until mid-April. For more information and a calendar of events, visit

I am proud to be a part of this amazing project that would not be possible without the support of attendees and all of the sponsoring partners! Many thanks to: The Dennos Museum Center; Northwestern Michigan College Student Life; Habitat for Humanity – Grand Traverse Region; Building Bridges With Music; Great Lakes Children’s Museum; State Theatre; Traverse Area District Library; and the Traverse City Human Rights Commission.

Jason Dake is Curator of Education at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City. Prior to his work at the Dennos, Jason worked in the education department at the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI. He is involved in visual and performing arts in the area, and plays at open mic nights in his spare time.

Plenty of Laughs at the Annual Winter Comedy Arts Festival

Winter Comedy Arts Festival

If you’re dreaming of warm, sandy beaches and endless sunshine, have no fear: the 2015 Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival is bringing you the best Valentine’s Day weekend imaginable right here in town. Who needs a mai tai and cute pool boys when there is a party with ice luges and frozen putt-putt golf in the middle of downtown Traverse City? (Wait a second...)

Laughing at the Winter Comedy FestivalMy husband I have volunteered at the festival for the last two years, and it is always the highlight of our winter. Sure, the holidays are great, but I’d much rather ride a Ferris Wheel outside on a snowy night or ice skate in front of the State Theatre instead of waiting in line to return gifts. And, unlike awkward family gatherings, there’s a guarantee I’ll laugh until my sides hurt at one of the great comedians the Traverse City Film Festival crew manages to rope into braving the northern elements every year.

Word must be out about how fantastic this festival is because HBO star Bill Maher is headlining the festival this year totally pro bono.  The festival’s fantastic reputation has also brought in Sinbad and producer/writer Judd Apatow for this year! Personally, I’m looking forward to Doug Benson commentating over the classic rom-com Pretty Woman. Scores of other comedians will join the ranks of the Winter Comedy Arts Festival when the full schedule is released, and you should always be ready for some surprise guest appearances!

Comedy Festival Fun

If staying warm and cozy inside is not your thing, that’s fine. One of the great things about this festival is that the fun fills Front Street during a time of year that most people hunker down indoors. A giant sledding hill is built in the road overnight, and a PGA-approved frozen putt-putt course challenges kids and golf pros alike. Most activities are accessible to all ages, but when the kiddies go to bed at night be sure to come back and check out the ice bar.

The Comedy Festival takes place on February 13 and 14 this year, with the fun on Front Street staying until Sunday, February 15. Grab the kids, dog, significant other, best friend, or a total stranger and get to downtown Traverse City for this festival. Or, better yet, join the fun behind the scenes and volunteer, a surefire way to make a bunch of new (hopefully funny) friends. However you choose to enjoy the festival, you won’t be disappointed!

You can check out all the events and activities on the Comedy Festival website.

Mo Stych PR Photo


About the Author: 
Mo Stych lives on the Old Mission Peninsula with her husband and five chickens. A big fan of all things northern and outdoorsy, you can often find her running, volunteering, or exploring in the Traverse City area. She is also a frequent writer on the Traverse City Young Professionals’ blog.