Downtown East Lansing’s newest rooftop bar, Graduate Rock Bar, at Graduate Hotel in East Lansing opened up last July, and to some, it’s still a hidden gem. With its latest dinner and drink pairing event, called School Spirits, it’s hoping to spread the word about the bar, which brands itself as a “summer camp feeling year-round” and serves local beers and spirits alongside picturesque MSU campus views.
Graduate Hotel East Lansing Director of Food & Beverage, Rick Sauer, says the hotel’s culture is to be a welcoming space to all visitors, not just hotel guests.
“We want to make sure that people realize that the bar, cafe, and the lobby are not just for hotel guests,” he told ELi in an interview. “We want people from the community to be here. It’s really a place for people to meet, a launching off point for a visit to East Lansing, but also for people who are in the Glencairn neighborhood to walk over, grab some coffee on their way to work, grab a drink after work, or grab some snacks. We encourage the community to drop in.”
A feature at every hotel operated under the Graduate Hotel brand – a roster of hand-crafted, boutique hotels in university-driven towns – is the community table in the lobby.
“We really want it to be a part of the community,” Sauer says. “We want students to come in and study there, we want people to come in and have quick meetings there.”
Hotel Manager at Graduate Hotel East Lansing, Dena McIntyre, says students often come to the lobby or coffee shop on site for study dates.
“Our goal is to create memorable moments that make them want to come back,” she said. “Our design team does an excellent job making it feel like an exciting and inviting hotel.”
The space itself has many nods to Michigan State University and the surrounding downtown East Lansing area. With pops of pine and classic green tartan plaids, the smallest details even down to the carpet and sconces reference local culture and MSU tradition.
The hotel carpet features Sparty logos, ice cream cones from MSU Dairy Store, and corn husks symbolic of the Aggies, the earlier mascot of MSU. Up in the Graduate Rock Bar, the to-scale model of The Rock (located on campus near Farm Lane and the Red Cedar River) is signed by notable Spartans. McIntyre says each hotel in the Graduate chain considers its city’s culture and quirks and makes a space representative of the area.
In an effort to further the hotel’s community-driven mission, the first installment of the School Spirits Dinner Series takes place Thursday, March 31 from 6:30 to 9 p.m, in partnership with Red Cedar Spirits Distillery. The dinner experience includes a behind-the-scenes glimpse at local craft gin production and four specialty cocktails paired with seasonal eats, including a savory lamb entree.
Graduate Rock Bar Manager Langston Whitaker says the spring event celebrates the floral and botanical notes of gin. His different take on a raspberry ginger gimlet, and a Night in Tunisia cocktail will be on the lineup. Sauer says 90% of the ingredients used for the food will be seasonally appropriate. Ideally, the School Spirits series will occur quarterly, once each season.
“We’ll be doing them consecutively, and hope to grow business in that regard,” McIntyre said. “Maybe something like white wine for summer and cider for fall. The goal is just to bring in another clientele; another sector of the community who doesn’t know about us. It kind of encourages and spurs business for the distillery as well.”
Sauer says he hopes to pair with state-wide breweries and regional distributors in the future too. “Part of what Graduate wants to do as a brand is really reach out to the community, and be a part of the community,” he says. “A big piece of that is exploring local products.”
Currently, Graduate Rock Bar, located off East Grand River Ave, at 133 Evergreen Ave., is open Sunday through Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m., Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Saturday from noon to midnight. Hours will likely expand during the warmer months, as Sauer says the outdoor rooftop patio is one of the best views in town.