The Restless Viking: The Beer Exchange — Kalamazoo

This article was written by Martha Hayden and originally published on The Restless Viking website on July 18, 2023.

The summer mugginess hung around us as we strolled around Kalamazoo. My husband, Chuck, and I often return to the city where we’d met decades ago at WMU. “Hey, isn’t that the abandoned building we’d climbed into?” Chuck mentioned. We noted how the painted brick had been sandblasted to reveal it’s true colors. “Oh, yeah.” We’d used the fire escape in the back and got onto the roof. “What a secret look-out!” My eyes widened and my stomach shivered with the ancient excitement I’d once felt as we had cruised these urban avenues late at night in the late 1980’s.

Seeing that the building was now the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange Chuck shrugged, “Let’s get a drink.” I quickly agreed, looking forward to seeing the remodeled structure and a cool beverage.

Entering The Beer Exchange

At the center floor entrance, lit words danced across a ‘ticker tape’ looking sign bringing a ‘festive garland at Christmas’ feeling. Beer names along with prices paraded above the pool tables. “Oh.” I assembled the information before me, “It’s called ‘The Beer Exchange’ like the stock market.” How clever! We could either head upstairs or downstairs.

The beer ‘stocks’ had rising (green) and lowering (red) cost margins.

Pit Stop

With the restrooms on the lower level, I headed there first. Chuck stepped upwards toward the bar to secure seats. For a week night, the place entertained several clusters of folks.

I recalled the dungy, dusty space we’d crept through years ago and marveled at the beauty of the brick and polished support beams. The tiled floor looked new. This place carried a lot of character! Kudos to the visionaries who created this space!

The Bar

I found Chuck seated at the bar, pointing to the corner of the ceiling, “I think that’s where the stairway to the roof had been.” He commented as I joined him. I smiled at the memory. “Look how the bar wraps all the way around. This place is so sharp!” I soaked in the surroundings. “Oh. Look. They have a stock market sign.” I studied the neon information posted above the liquor.

The names of beer gave me a giggle or two: Transient Poppin Pastels Pineapple, Drekker Ectogasm, Three Floyds Zombie Ice, Kentucky Ales Tangerine Cream.

The Exchange

Each beer was listed with a corresponding price. As I narrated several names, I laughed out loud. “Brew Dog Caddy Shack, Silver Harbor Grandma’s Favorite, Champagne of Beers, Rockford Rouge River Brown.” After we ordered, we waited for an opportune time to ask the bar tender to explain “The Beer Exchange.” As a timer counted down at the top right corner, my curiosity grew.

Even though she was hoppin’ busy, the barkeep took time to energetically explain. “There’s a trading period every 15 minutes. Depending on how many (of each beer) have been sold, the price will go up if it was popular or down if it wasn’t selling. Sometimes there’s a Market Crash and you can get beer at a cheap price!” With a smile and a nod she bustled to the other side of the bar.

What an engaging idea! We were hooked as we waited urgently to witness the results of the sales and the prices of the brews to change before our eyes. Would there be a market crash? Would a frenzy ensue? We wanted to stay to find out! This “Beer Exchange” concept was brilliant!

As the timer hit zero, the fluctuations flickered. There were some changes in the prices, but only minor differences. The timer reset to 15:00 minutes and began clicking in tempo. Hoping to witness a more substantial event, we picked up a menu to extend our stay.

The Kitchen

To our right an open kitchen lofted scents of delightfully unique food options into the atmosphere. We ordered an appetizer, Hummus and Chips. The menu held a wide selection of fried bar offerings, sandwiches, burgers and salads, as well as fancier dinner options. I knew we’d have to return to try out a variety of delicious items!

The open kitchen, a new trading session, along with the possibility of a market crash, had enticed us to stay!

The Beer Exchange History

In 2010 Jim Flora had opened “The Beer Exchange” in Kalamazoo. After seeing this model in German pubs, Flora was inspired to bring the concept to Michigan. He had researched other Michigan cities, and choose Kalamazoo! Putting $200,000 into renovations, Flora restyled our old stomping grounds into his vision.

Jim Flora had come into this craft beer business with experience. He had previously managed the food and beverages at the Detroit Marriott Southfield Hotel.

“Your purchase decision changes the market,” Jim Flora had said to reporter, Chris Killian. “You’re involved in what’s happening.” Flora called it, “an ever evolving happy hour.”

A random “market crash” is signaled with an air horn. For five minutes all 28 beers on tap go for their lowest market price.

“Discovering” The Kalamazoo Beer Exchange had been an unexpected treat! We encourage you to check out this unique establishment!

Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube

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