By DRAKE LOHSE
There’s some disagreement as to the translation of Des Moines. The French pronunciation leads us to “of the monks.” If you choose to follow the Algonquian translation, you’ll arrive at “Loon.” The two translations are at the opposite ends of one spectrum.
If you enjoy a beer or a Jack & Coke, or even a shot of Patron every once in awhile, chances are you find yourself at Wellman’s or down on Court Avenue just about every weekend. There’s nothing wrong with either location, but if you’re looking for something new, no one can blame you. Maybe it’s time to step back. Maybe it’s time to examine the religious obedience to the well known Des Moines watering holes. Could it be you’re tired of the classic “Downtown or Well’s?” argument that nearly every friend group has had for the past eight weekends? Maybe you want some new options. Perhaps you wanna get a little dangerous. Maybe you wanna see where it is the loons go.
It should be noted that none of these selections were made on the basis of alcohol—in taste, selection, or variety. Have you ever read a book that made you angry, not because of anything in the book, but because you had the strong inclination that you were the only one who’s ever read or appreciated it the way it ought to be? These aren’t just bars, and they aren’t even dive bars. In some cases, they’re places for the strange and spectacular of Des Moines’ underground community to hang their coat, to sit and sing with the 9-5’s and the creepy crawlies.
In other cases, they’re places that you probably shouldn’t tell your parents your going to. These aren’t places to go to just because you need a picture to match all the lower case letters and vague captions on your Instagram. If you think you might visit one of these bars one night, you better plan on making a night out of it.
Founder’s Irish Pub (Bondurant)
Just a 15 minute drive from campus, Founder’s is a haven for weary farmers and wrangled laborers. Founded in 2012, Founder’s makes use of an ancient red brick building on old main street. For those who find history as intoxicating as Jameson, Founders is enough to induce a blackout. The walls surrounding it’s dusty pool-table and old- time jukebox have been there since the late 1800’s, and once housed an on-the-run Jesse James for a night. Jesse’s has come and gone, and now that bar is filled with friendly faces and some new paint.
“Founders is what it is because of the people that come here” the founder of Founder’s Joe Romare said. “You can be from anywhere, here to stay or just passing through for the night, and you’ll be welcomed by some of the funniest and friendliest folks in the state. They don’t care who you are, where you come from, or if you mess up their drink order. It’s not complicated here.”
Romare also owns Whiskey River in Ankeny. The Irish pub serves as the hub for community activities such as: concerts, benefits and unofficial reunions. If you’re from a bigger city and want to get a first-hand understanding of what it is makes small town life worth living, stop into Founder’s Irish Pub.
Up-Down (Locust Street)
Alright. You might’ve heard of this one. You might’ve even been there. But the possibility of discovery may be worth the repetition, especially with a place like Up-Down. In terms of being unique, this place is a bar that needs no explanation. You’ll find it at the bottom of a stairway, in the basement of an apartment building. When you descend from the street and get your license back, you’ll immediately be submerged into a long-lost familiar place, the Island of Genuine Childlike Wonder. Lined wall-to-wall with arcade games both classic and cult, you won’t know where to start. Pac-Man on the wall. Ski-ball by the bathroom.
Jenga in the middle. NFL Blitz on a GameCube in blacklight-illuminated corner. It’s a stoner’s paradise and a child’s fantasy. Don’t forget there’s a bar in there somewhere, and make sure to stop by for your tokens, which you’ll end up sharing Bohemian-Style with new friends and opponents alike.
Cooney’s Tavern (Beaver Avenue)
Being just a few turns up the street from Drake’s campus, there’s a good chance that you’ve visited Cooney’s before. But with it’s close proximity and it’s lack of craft beers, Cooney’s is the perfect place to drink like your dad. Do you want to sit alone, hunched at the bar top, basking your own beautiful despair? Do you want to finally wear that tweed cap that your girlfriend gave you but that you’ve been too afraid to wear anywhere else? Or do you want to just sit, eat free popcorn, and feel the aches in your bones and the burdens on your heart cooled by the warmth of intoxicants?
Look no further, Cooney’s shares a building with a laundromat. Cooney’s seems to have done something that very few “Irish bars” can do, which is to capture the true meaning of drinking like an Irishman. As Family Guy’s Peter Griffin once said “We Irish, we have a deep sadness.”
Situated on Beaver since ’84, Cooney’s is as authentic an Irish drinking experience as your uncle Sean’s garage. Your sorrows won’t last long. They never seem to at Cooney’s . Brian Cooney, the owner and primary bartender, knows just the right balance of Sriracha sauce and popcorn. There’s genuine Irish street signs hanging left and right, stained glass windows from the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in case you get to feeling too guilty, and a whole lot of simplicity. When asked what it was that made his bar unique, Brian said “We got beer and popcorn.”
Cooney’s truly plays host to one of the most lively and vibrant atmospheres in the city. A city you’ll feel even more connected to as you drink with some of it’s most deeply rooted village folk. It’s welcomed students, ne-er-do-well’s, weirdos, construction workers, book worms, presidential candidates—just about anyone who can sit and drink help lift the spirits of those around them.
Olde Towne Tap (Altoona)
Definitely not last, but probably least. If you decide on making the 15 minute drive down to Altoona to visit the Old Town Tap, you better bring a flashlight and maybe a baton. This place isn’t just a hole in the wall, it’s a crack in the foundation. A huge one.
From the minute you enter, any music that might be playing is drowned out by the chorus of oxygen tanks. An elderly woman named Sandy will try to tell you about the time that she slept with one of the guys from Motley Crüe. There’s a very high likelihood that you’ll be sworn at by a Vietnam veteran within the first fifteen minutes. The mirror in the bathroom is actually just a collection of large and sharp glass shards that have been repositioned and maneuvered again and again over time. When the legislature to ban smoking indoors was passed, Olde Town Tap’s response was “Nope”. Or at least it must’ve been.
No one’s quite sure when it opens or closes or where it is it keeps toilet paper. And if a quote for an article you’re writing is what you wish, be prepared to discover that Cooney’s phone is disconnected. It’s hard not to wonder how long that’s been the case. Now these all might sound like reasons to not visit, but remember, this article is for those who wish to truly unplug, to go rogue, to see a side of life that is dissipating under a technological heat wave. Interacting with Des Moines’ deepest pockets won’t always be pretty or even kind, but the experience you’ll come away with will be full.
“Des Moines?” “Why would you ever want to move there? There’s nothing to do in Des Moines.” “It’s flat.” “Corn and cows from what I heard. I bet all anyone ever does is sit and drink. Gotta pass the time somehow probably.”
The biggest misconception about Des Moines is that is is dead. That notion is held by a waning number of outsiders who haven’t spent more than an hour in the City of the Loons. If you’ve grown up here, you’ve heard them all. Most insulting of these assumptions is that we drink because we have to, out of some subconscious desire to escape, so hopefully, any out-of- towner that’s reading this article will have that idea ironed out by now. We drink because we want to, dammit, and when we do, we do it with style.
Now that style might look different to some scarf-wearin’ fancy pants from Chicago, but therein lies the foundation upon which Des Moines has built its youth. its ability to seek out and nurture the diamonds in the rough.