Come Together: 3 places foster community through food and art
Barring some marvel of architecture or natural beauty, what makes a town memorable is often as simple as the atmosphere in its gathering places: the coffee shop with the great vibe, the repurposed historic building, the restaurant lined with local artwork. They may also, by putting a little polish on a forgotten corner or filling a need we didn’t know we had, help transform a neighborhood into a community.
The Livery Microbrewery
One such revival is in full swing in a post-industrial zone of Benton Harbor, MI, where The Livery Microbrewery and restaurant forms the hub of a vibrant Arts District. The century-old former horse livery, which retains its exposed beams, red brick walls and feed elevator descending from the ceiling, has seating and an art gallery in the balcony and artisan touches throughout, down to the 18 hand-forged taps at the bar. Among the excellent microbrews is its award-winning Bourbon Barrel Aged Trippel Weizenbock, but with so many different styles of beer available, explains owner and head brewer Simon Rusk, “it is a different experience every time.”
The Livery offers live music once or twice a week, and children accompanied by parents are welcome. At a recent show, a happy tween spun in front of the stage, and several audience members sported the band’s T-shirt. Rusk emphasizes the importance of promoting bands playing original music, rather than covers, because “they are exploring their own genres, they have their own messages. We want more people in the community to embrace that.”
Glass artist and kitchen manager Becky Wehmer works with local farmers to create a fresh, focused menu of soups, sandwiches, salads and pizzas. In a world full of pizzas, hers are remarkable. The hefty “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Lasagna” pizza lives up to its name, with marinara, ricotta, spinach and sausage. Seasonal pizza specials include butternut squash, pecans, rosemary and kale; and pear, blue cheese, walnuts and arugula. You can also add any of a long list of pizza toppings to your mac and cheese, already flush with a choice of beer cheese or white sauce. There are picnic tables for outdoor dining in the dog-friendly beer garden, a hit with local pet owners.
In partnership with the New Territory Arts Association in Benton Harbor, The Livery is a regular Art Hops venue and hosts a lively Artoberfest in its parking lot every year, offering live music, food, beer and art. Once a month, Open Stage takes over the brewery for all-ages performances and a Makers Market showcases the work of local artists.
The Livery Microbrewery
190 Fifth St.
Benton Harbor, MI
The General Deli and Café
In South Bend, IN, The General Deli and Café is helping make the East Race neighborhood relevant to the city’s downtown renaissance. The building across from Howard Park ice rink, beloved site of many early tumbles and thrills, once housed Howard Park Hardware and the General Store, with a soda fountain and sandwich counter. Today, thanks to co-owners John Barany and Paul Kuharic, this spot is hopping again, serving up truly memorable sandwiches and “coffee anytime” in a space with many faces.
“We wanted to create a gathering place for people on this side of the river,” says Kuharic. The morning scene, fueled by egg sandwiches and bagels, has its small business meetings, coffee klatchers and students in front of computers. Baristas keep the drip coffee and espresso drinks flowing, featuring beans from local roasters Zen Café and Refinery Coffee Company. Later, downtown office workers join a busy lunch crowd for soup and hot-pressed sandwiches. It’s hard not to order the house-smoked pastrami, although other combinations, with a happy ratio of originality and comfort, are worth a detour. Even The General’s grilled cheese, with cheddar, feta, pepper jack, tomato and sriracha mayo, may haunt your idle thoughts.
In the evening, a club atmosphere takes over and the orders lean to beer, wine and cocktails. Tuesday nights feature an agreeably broad interpretation of open mic. Road shows and local bands often appear on Thursdays and Fridays. Sundae Service is a quarterly treat, smoothing out the weekend with ice cream, drinks and music. Works from local artists, some featured in past solo or group exhibitions, blend into the overall visual whorl, including ceramics by Kuharic, his collection of velvet paintings and a full-size red British phone box.
The east side of the building, which has functioned as art gallery, performance space and sometime community flea market, is being transformed into a full-service bar in time for “Miracle at The General,” a holiday-themed pop-up featuring craft cocktails in partnership with Render Kitchen and Bar this winter.
The General Deli & Café
609 E. Jefferson Blvd.
South Bend, IN
West On Warren Gallery + Grill
In a building that was originally a gas station, Carrie Boyer and her family have created an atmosphere of casual sophistication in their small town of Middlebury, in the heart of Indiana’s Amish country. West On Warren’s dining room and bar double as an art gallery, where two or three local artists are featured in shows every six months. The pared-down aesthetics—white walls and light wood furniture in the main room—work well in the small space, lending an airy serenity and providing the perfect backdrop for artwork.
Celebrating local artists and “getting their names out” is important to the restaurant’s team, which collaborates with Elkhart County’s Vibrant Communities Project. “We want to let people in the community know that their neighbors are talented,” says co-owner Brittany Lehman. One of the featured artists, Linda Pieri, will be leading art classes for children and adults in the space this winter.
The restaurant has become a popular spot for everything from business lunches to large family gatherings, which sprawl across the spacious outdoor patio. In the corner is a grassy area with a fire pit and Adirondack chairs, a great place to take in one of the frequent concerts in a kid-friendly music venue. Adults can enjoy the well-curated list of original cocktails, including the signature Cucumber Basil Martini.
The seasonal menu of upscale comfort food has been evolving since the restaurant opened this past May. House favorites include a wild mushroom soup with Marsala wine and the spicy 10,000-Scoville black bean burger. A newly expanded dinner menu features refined options like a green tomato Napoleon and pan-seared halibut over spinach and couscous. West on Warren also recently added house-made desserts, including tiramisu and chocolate mousse, and launched a Sunday brunch service.
West On Warren Gallery + Grill
200 W. Warren St.