If you wind your way back through the crisscross of country roads around the Northwest region of Grand Rapids, Michigan and then beyond, traverse some hills and dip through modest valleys, pass orchards where the smoke from wood fires carries the aroma of dreams, and remain vigilant for a sign which reads "Conklin," you might just find Fenian's Irish Pub. It's positioned prominently on the village's Main Street, which is an apt name for it appears to be the only street in Conklin of any importance. So, cease the aimless wandering which carried you over the distance, park your vehicle, and shuffle on inside.
My wife and I made such an excursion a few years ago and have found ourselves drawn back randomly ever since. Whenever we hear a spot of Irish music or if I find myself suddenly salivating over the thought of a Guinness with a basket of fried pickles and chips we, like enchanted pilgrims, strike out near the end of day, Conklin-bound.
Truly, there are few places which hold any significance for us around Grand Rapids (where we've lived for too many years). Most of the places in this area which one might haunt are geared toward a clientele consisting of neophyte drinkers, aspiring alcoholics, or sad folk who have become so invested in the idea of having themselves defined by the fleeting fancy of a fad-fueled scene. Organic, comfortable environs are a rarity in this burg of cheaply manufactured culture and hollow motivations. It is its distance from such a shallow hive, not only in miles but also in spirit, which makes Fenian's a wondrous escape.
I learned of its existence and heard hints of its character while attending college. It was during Professor Roger Schlosser's Irish History course that I was informed of Fenian's charm and warmth and its owner's ability to pour what might possibly be the best pint of Guinness in America. After a time, well after I started living with the woman who would one day be my wife, I suggested that we locate the pub and give it a shot. It turned out to be one of the best suggestions I've ever made.
For years since we've made a point of paying as many visits as we can. It's especially magnificent toward the fall when the apples are ready for picking and the Fall weather is at its most magical. It's then that the shimmering green hills and the multi-colored leaves of the Autumn season inspire dreamy thoughts. It is this aspect of Fenian's and its surroundings, often enhanced by drink-fueled mists of the days and nights of pint guzzling, which I think will stay with me and forever preserve it in my mind.
And so ends an era of my life. The pub lives on, though, like the legend that it is and still lies out amongst those beautiful hills and stands of marvelous trees. If you find yourself in Grand Rapids, Michigan, do yourself a favor and go exploring out Conklin way. Tell Mr. Reagan that Jonathan Sample said, "Hello."