Hello, Marjorie, the newest cocktail bar in Des Moines, opens Wednesday in what used to be the Register and Tribune lobby. Brian Powers/The Register
The entrance is just off the former lobby of the Des Moines Register & Tribune building. The big revolving globe is gone, but a row of armoires lines the far wall, filled with bottles of spirits. Rhythm and blues music from the 50s and 60s plays in a room that’s made to look and feel as comfortable as a living room of a bygone era.
A late-1950s Wurlitzer spinet piano rests beneath the painting of a fashionable lady in a white, sleeveless dress. She’s smiling and enjoying a sloe gin cocktail with a cigarette in a space that was created just for her.
That’s Marjorie. And she seems to be enjoying herself.
Hello, Marjorie is the newest nightlife nook to take its place among the downtown Des Moines cocktail scene. It’s the concept of Nick Tillinghast, 28, and Kyle McClain, 28, who created DMDT Hospitality & Lifestyle in February 2016. Ryan Hutchison, 36, also came on as a partner to help bring the venture to life.
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Tillinghast’s childhood memories of his sociable and stylish grandmother, Marjorie Anderson, are behind the Hello, Marjorie concept. Marjorie was known for enjoying her sloe gin cocktails and the occasional social cigarette. “I remember going to Latimer to see her and people would greet her wherever she went,” Tillinghast said. “Latimer was a very tight-knit community and it was rare for us not to walk into a room and for people to say, ‘Hello, Marjorie,’ or ‘Hi, Marge.’”
After Marjorie’s husband, Harry, passed away from a sudden heart attack in 1965, she placed all her attention and devotion on raising her three daughters. And she never remarried because Harry was the love of her life. “This concept is capturing her when she was in her heyday,” Tillinghast said. “I wanted to capture when she was at her best.”
The partners hired mixologist Zacharia Avila, 31, to manage the spacious 134-seat bar and lounge and to be the creative mind behind the cocktails. Born and raised in Apple Valley, Calif., he’s been hard at work getting things up and running, commuting from Mason City every weekend. After Tillinghast sent Avila an email explaining the concept, Avila wanted to help Tillinghast capture Marjorie's personality through the art of the cocktail.
“I was impressed by the little story of Marjorie and had a couple of ideas right off the bat that I wanted to explore,” Avila said. “I started to see cocktails forming in my head as far as what I would serve in that vision.” Avila set in motion his creative plan for the cocktail list, with Marjorie as the focus, but with nods to the building’s previous residents.
The first cocktail he thought up was the Editor’s Note, a mix of American Prairie Bourbon, apricot liqueur, smoked apple bitters and simple syrup. It’s mixed and poured over a big ice cube sphere and garnished with dried apricot and sliced apple. Avila recommends nibbling on the apple after each sip to enhance this whiskey-forward drink. Avila makes his own bitters using a secret process, and there are seven different kinds of traditional and obscure bitters available for his repertoire. “It depends on the cocktail and the flavor profile,” Avila said.
The Register & Tribune is a shaken mixture of Glenmorangie 10-year scotch, Plymouth sloe gin, lemon juice, fine sugar and house bitters. The cocktail is strained into an absinthe-laced retro coupe glass. This cocktail is lightly sweet and oaky with just a hint of licorice from the absinthe. And the house bitters add a touch of pecan flavor.
But the cocktail that Marjorie would’ve had is called, aptly, The Marjorie. “I wanted to find Marjorie’s counterpart,” Avila said. Plymouth sloe gin is shaken with Absolut pear vodka, fresh lemon and raspberry bitters for zing, and strained. It’s served straight up with a sprig of rosemary that adds a nice, herbaceous nose to the drink. The rosemary was Tillinghast’s idea.
Avila made sure to touch base with different kinds of cocktail drinkers by using a variety of spirits including vodka, gin, bourbon, scotch, sloe gin, rum, rye whiskey, mescal, and cognac. But the largest scope of the cocktail menu is freshness. “I love using things that have just been cut, just been sliced, just been juiced, just been made,” Avila said. “It makes everything ten times better.”
There’s even a classic stinger on the menu, made from Hennessy VS with Fernet Branca Menta, a dry crème de menthe. It’s served in a Nick & Nora cocktail glass, another classic vessel that’s making a comeback.
Hello, Marjorie also has eight local beers on tap that will change throughout the year. And speaking of taps, the bar has Templeton 6 on tap. That's right: It has whiskey on tap. “This is unique in the country,” Tillinghast said. “No one else is doing it.” Storypoint Vineyards Chardonnay and Carletto Prosecco Sparkling Wine are on tap as well.
Bottled beers range widely with a mix of local, domestic and imports including West O CocO Stout from West O Beer in Okoboji, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale from Michigan and St. Bernardus from Belgium. The wine list is by the glass or bottle. It’s modest, but it has most categories covered.
The drink menu will change in the next few months, rotating with the seasons. But with the wants and needs of its customers will take precedence. “We want the guests to dictate how we move forward.” Large parties can reserve space for 10-12 people in its dining room or living room areas, and the entire space can also be rented.
Hello, Des Moines
The décor of the space was designed with the help of Tony Rose, creative designer at both Siteworx Design + Build and Function House Hospitality Group. For more than ten Sundays in a row, the partners would jump into a van with Rose and travel around the Midwest looking for pieces to use in the bar, including Chicago and St. Louis. “Tony even went all the way to Atlanta (himself) for some things,” Tillinghast said.
A deep green leather banquette runs the length of the plate glass windows while an assortment of old retro lampshades hangs from the slate-grey ceiling. “The prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines,” reads a pink neon sign by the door, a quote from Jack Kerouac. Gold drapery, honey-colored wood paneling and high-top bistro tables with swiveling leather chairs line the walls.
Some pieces came locally. West End Salvage provided the fireplaces. Other pieces came from Gladys and Betty’s Parlour; Funky Finds Vintage and Retro, and Modville – The Porch Junkies in Adel. “They all bought into what we were doing,” Tillinghast said. “If they didn’t have it right on the spot, they were able to get it for us.” There’s even pink waiting room furniture from a doctor’s office in Miami that’s set up for socializing. And hanging on the wall is the painting of Marjorie herself, painted by Kelly Kunzler of Kunzler Studios in Des Moines.
Tillinghast and his partners couldn’t be happier with the location of their new bar. “I love the history of Des Moines and specifically the Locust, Grand and Walnut area,” Tillinghast said. “You have all these nooks and neighborhoods, and with all these apartments popping up, it’d be great to get some nightlife back into the middle of the city.” And with the 164 R&T Lofts apartments nearing completion in the same building, residents will have a convenient place to hang out and unwind.
Find it: 717 Locust Street
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; first Sunday of the month, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but closed on Sundays otherwise; closed Mondays.
Prices: Cocktails, $8-$13; Beers, $4-$9; Wine, $5-$8 per glass, $28 per bottle; champagne, $48 per bottle; Templeton Rye flight, $32.