In a narrow alley, next to a carwash, you’ll find a plain green steel door with the word “Crunchy’s” stenciled on it in white paint. This door, which looks like it might be the kitchen deliveries entrance, is the door to the bar that Delish.com just named the 23rd best college bar in the country.
Once inside you’ll know that you’re deep in MSU territory when the first thing you see is the sign above the server’s station, “Directions to Ann Arbor, go south until you smell it, go east until you step in it.” Crunchy’s has been a fixture in the East Lansing Bar scene since 1982, when Paul “Crunchy” Grattarola first opened its doors. I stopped by our Green and White watering hole to chat with the current manager Michael Krueger to find out what it means to be a nationally recognized college bar.
You can’t talk about Crunchy’s without talking about the buckets. Food comes in buckets as well, including pretzels, pizza nuggets and even burgers can be ordered by the bucket full. Each Greek House and other student organization at MSU is allowed to decorate a two-gallon bucket which is then stored on the bucket shelf across from the bar. There are dozens of them and it can be a project to track down the specific bucket that’s called for when one of these groups comes in for a gathering.
Krueger says Crunchy’s loves its identity as a “college campus bar,” but that they think of themselves as serving the whole campus community, equally welcoming to MSU students, alums and area families. While we were talking in one of Crunchy’s wooden booths, decorated with 35 years’ worth of “_____ was here” inscriptions, a man walked passed us holding two Mylar balloons with “Happy Birthday” on them. Crunchy’s loves the students but it’s clear the appeal goes beyond the beer pong and solo cup college drinker stereotype.
There have been three owners since 1982, with only a few notable changes such as introducing microbrews in the early 2000’s; Crunchy’s claims to be the first area bar to embrace Michigan’s Brewing culture. Krueger said that this year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Midnight release of Oberon, Bell’s Brewery’s well-loved summer wheat beer. Laura Bell, daughter of founder Larry and current CEO of Bell’s brewery has only missed one of these special release nights.
Since Krueger took over as General Manager in 2010 he’s tried to clean up Crunchy’s dive bar image while still maintaining the special spark that makes it a fixture of the East Lansing bar scene. “We’ve replaced the carpet three times since I took over,” he says with a laugh. When I mentioned that the children’s highchairs used to be notably sticky, he nodded in recognition. “That’s a weekly, sometimes more than weekly chore now.”
According to Krueger, Michigan’s smoking ban was a huge boon to business, not only in the constant battle to keep the busy restaurant clean and sweet-smelling, but in attracting an older grad student and professional crowd that might have more disposable income to spend on Crunchy’s ever-changing selection of craft brewed beers. There are 27 taps that rotate with seasonal offerings from microbreweries, many of them based in Michigan. Krueger says he doesn’t have any plans to expand beyond those 27 spaces, saying that it offers a nice variety without having to worry about how quickly beers will sell through.
Crunchy's is located at 254 East Grand River Avenue.