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Muskegon’s historic Century Club revival

Click on image to see edited/printed version.
Click on image to see edited/printed version.

By Dianna Stampfler

As one of Michigan’s early lumber towns, Muskegon quickly grew up as an industrial and social center. Community leaders like Charles H. Hackley and Thomas Hume built elaborate homes, donated funds to build libraries and hospitals, laying a foundation for the future.

By the late 1880s, the town’s elite (including Hackley) were looking for a place to mix and mingle. He rallied other business leaders and raised $30,000 to construct the Muskegon Club (later known as the Century Club) as a first-class social club—or “gentlemen’s club” as women weren’t initially allowed unless accompanied by their husbands, who were members.

Even during the Prohibition years, the club at 356 W. Western Avenue flourished. It operated until 1991 when it was left abandoned briefly before being restored in 2007 as a furniture outlet store. Yet, it’s real revitalization came in recent years at the hands of the downtown development firm Port City Construction & Development Services, who has recreated a social center for not only residents, but visitors, to gather.

Known collectively as the Century Club Center and opened in 2011, this collection of three buildings—Russell Block Market, Century Club Shops and the former Muskegon Saving Bank—now houses nearly two dozen specialty retailers, offices and a 3,000-square-foot ballroom space.

One of the newest tenants to open shop is Oceana Winery & Vineyard tasting room, tucked into an intimate 570-square-foot main floor Suite 5.

“I’ve been told that some remember our tasting room as being the library of the social club,” says Renae Goralski, who bought the winery with her husband, Greg, from his parents in 2012. “The club’s distinctive architecture has been carefully preserved to maintain; its refined and graceful geometry adds a warm charm to our tasting room.”

Visitors to the tasting room can sit at the bar or gather in the cozy sitting area by the gas fireplace to sample a variety of red and white wines produced 30 miles north at the winery’s production facility in New Era.

In the 1970s, school teacher Robert Cameron planted his first grape vines in this Oceana County fruit belt region, not far from the Lake Michigan shoreline. With white varietals such as Cayuga, Traminette, Seyval Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Riesling, along with red grapes like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch, the vineyard was part of a growing industry taking root in west Michigan.

Cameron later opened Tartan Hill Winery, a tasting room that he operated until selling the business to Paul and Beverly Goralski in 2003. The second generation took over nine years later, renaming it Oceana Winery & Vineyard—specializing in wines made from French hybrid grapes. A second tasting room followed, briefly in Pentwater, before moving to its current home in the historic Century Block in downtown Muskegon in June, 2016.

Many of the award-winning wines here have a musical flare about them. Cayuga Jazz is a great summer sipper and with a hint of raspberries, it pairs well with a Walldorff salad, fruit or cheese; the Burgundy-style Red Rhythm is sleek and smooth with a full finish, making it ideal to serve with everything from burgers to mushroom risotto to hearty stews; Summer Sonata, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Seyval Blanc is d delightful dry white with big flavors of citrus, berry and honey—perfect to enjoy with seafood dishes, salmon burgers and feta cheese; Amadeus, a limited-edition cream sherry, brings a warm spice mingled with candied apricot fruits, making it a perfect dessert wine.

Looking to nosh while you sip? A small selection of appetizers, small plates and special pairings are also offered.

Other businesses in the historic complex include The Cheese Lady, Rebel Pies, Drop, Drop Drink Coffee House, Unruly Brewery and coming soon, The 18th Amendment distillery, making this one of the city’s true culinary destinations.

To plan your trip to the Oceana Winery tasting room and the historic Century Block, visit oceanawinery.com, centuryblockmuskegon.com, downtownmuskegon.org and visitmuskegon.com.