The Rapidian

McKay's Downtown designs variety of menus for pub, fine dining, speakeasy

Located at 25 Ottawa, Chef Michael McKay plans to have all doors open by the end of July.

/Owen Fifield

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Visit McKay's Facebook page or website for progress, what to expect and menus.

The new restaurant McKay’s Downtown has been working under a soft opening, but they don't plan to be limited to just one dining experience. Along with a sports bar filled with Michigan beers, spirits and pub grub menu, they'll also have a fine dining hall featuring an exclusive menu just a few nights a week. Still in the works in the lower level of the building will be a speakeasy lounge, stocked with handcrafted drinks.

When Michael McKay Santo, John Ludwig and Jay Johnson started looking for locations to plant their roots, downtown was not at the forefront.

“Once I got in the building and saw what it actually was, I retooled it and thought this would be a great platform to be the first interchanging restaurant,” says McKay.

Waiting on the final approval of their liquor license, McKay looks to the end of July for every component of the McKay's to be open and in full swing.

“It just made sense to attack it," says McKay. "This is a lot of square-footage for a downtown location […] but I am always looking for a challenge.”

“Downstairs, I really want to go all out, so we are taking our time,” he says. "There is no signage. It’s like a secret society. It’s a cult bar- that is what we are trying to build. Some of the best restaurants in the world are secret.”

McKay began his culinary arts training at California Culinary Academy. After cooking for two years, he began the adventure of his professional career.

“Prior to that it was a history of playing with food. I always played with food. You catch a fish in your backyard and you try to cook it because you’ve seen your parents do it. I have memories based on that. When I was home alone I would just make things and see what would happen,” he says.

After his culinary training, McKay moved back to the Grand Rapids area where he was hired at the 1913 Room. He learned it was not the atmosphere he imagined working in.

At that time, Reds on the River in Rockford opened. McKay met the owner and was quickly taken in as an intern.

“It blossomed into a million things. Through that I realized I wanted to do more than just what a restaurant wanted to do. That’s where this chaos started: Red’s. I love restaurants. I love what they are but I wanted more,” he says. At 19, McKay left Red's to start a catering company and work in the direction of becoming a private chef. He got into weddings, high end dining and large parties through The University Club.

“I was a chef downtown bouncing around through Graydon’s Crossing and all that jazz. Graydon’s is where I became obsessed with ‘local,” says McKay. All this, he says, lead to him designing McKay’s Downtown with a menu sourced with all Michigan products.

“We are designed for quality over quantity,” says McKay. With handcrafted drinks, a Michigan-sourced menu and a variety of dining experiences, McKay's Downtown will have multiple ways to achieve that goal.

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