(l-r) John Gilmore, founder of the Gilmore Collection and principal owner of Nick Fink's, and Matt Rule, general manager.
It’s got history. It’s got character. It’s got charm. It’s got ghosts? It’s gotta be Nick Fink’s established in 1888 making it “the oldest bar in G.R.”
The iconic bar at 3965 West River Drive in downtown Comstock Park was passed down through four generations of the Fink family until its purchase by The Gilmore Collection in 2008. John Gilmore, principle owner of Nick Fink’s, said he became acquainted with the bar after he “graduated from East Grand Rapids High School, after I was out of college, out of the Army, all that business.” He and a group of his old high school friends went on fishing trips to northern Michigan. “Fink’s was the starting location for our fishing trip for years,” said Gilmore, founder of the Gilmore Collection that owns eleven restaurants in West Michigan and one in Colorado. “I’m always looking for something to do, and some years ago I heard Fink’s might be for sale.” “I thought this was kind of an old world vintage place,” said Gilmore, who is known for his talent for turning historic buildings into go to social hubs. “It’s been fun.”
There was a lot of work to be done to refurbish the timeworn building all while preserving its classic charm and regular customers. “An old business like this…it’s tricky updating it,” said Matt Rule, general manager at Fink’s since 2011. “We didn’t want to change it too much…too fast…we wanted to keep the regulars.” During the makeover, the one hundred year old wooden pub-style bar stayed as did eight table tops where customers have carved their names over the decades. The gold and black velvet wallpaper is still there and, along with the red and black faux leather booths, gives the look of the time when Fink’s was reputed to have been a brothel. The ceiling in the newly renovated banquet room is original and has the initials NF carved in it. Pictures from the bar’s history decorate the walls.
A patio was added this year, and there are plans to expand the parking lot. Rule said he also plans to add a full kitchen and pizza oven over the next year. The current menu features a Monster Burrito, Fink’s Double Burger, and Mile High Nachos, as well as tacos, wings and other bar food. There is a wide selection of local craft beers on tap as well as domestic beer. The pool table is in constant use, and Rule is adding two Nudgemaster games. Bands play every weekend. There are nine part-time employees. A second floor ballroom was built in the 1890’s but closed after just a few years when it was decided that alcohol and dancing and stairs did not mix, said Rule. The upstairs remains closed and is used primarily for storage, but in the future Rule would like to turn the upstairs into a banquet hall with a bar and dance floor.
Nick Fink’s is steeped in local history. The first Nick Fink, an immigrant from Prussia, built and operated the bar, then called Riversite Hotel and Tavern, in 1888. Over the years the hotel housed everyone from visitors to the West Michigan Fair that took place near what is now West River Drive and North Park Street, to workers at the tanneries and the fish hatchery that operated in the early to mid-1900’s. Ernest Hemingway is said to have made the tavern a stop when he traveled to Northern Michigan, and is said to have based characters in his “Nick Adams Stories,” set in Northern Michigan, on people he met at Nick Fink’s.
From its early days, Comstock Park was known for having an over-abundance of bars. It was illegal to sell alcohol within one mile of a federal facility, and downtown Comstock Park, then called Mill Creek, was exactly one mile from the Michigan Home for Veterans on Monroe Street which opened in 1886. Nick Fink’s was one of the numerous taverns that sprouted up to serve the soldiers who walked over from Home, as well as the thousands of visitors to the Fair and race track down the road. The second Nick Fink is credited with making the first recorded flight in Kent County. In 1905, he flew off the bar’s roof on a bike fitted with box-kite wings. Unfortunately the flight was cut short when he crashed into a telegraph pole and broke his collar bone.
It’s unclear how the stories about Nick Fink’s being haunted originated, but ghost hunters have visited the bar a number of times and report paranormal activity. Rule says he’s “not a believer in that kind of stuff” but admits that he and other employees have experienced “weird things” such as the juke box starting and lights and water turning on and off by themselves.