When alums talk about Drake University, certain watering holes inevitably come up. They're the places every student knows, where graduates return year after year. If the Drake area were a square, each corner would be bounded by one of these iconic spots: Peggy's Tavern, West End Lounge, University Library Cafe and the venue that is now Lefty's Live Music. Each one brings its own special flair to the Drake neighborhood.
When the Drake Relays come to town each spring, people flood into these spots. Some return to old college haunts, while others wander into a place for the first time for beverages or to hear a great band. Many Drake alumni and students can debate the relative merits of each for an hour if you let them, and each person has his or her favorite spot.
Southwest — The Library
Drake senior Taylor Rookaird's favorite spot is the University Library Cafe. Located south and west of Drake along University Avenue, the Library has long been known as the place for nachos and a great beer selection. In 2012, the Library became part of the restaurants and bars operated by Full Court Press, and while the place may have been spruced up a bit, it retains its cozy, dive-bar atmosphere.
"I love University Library," Rookaird said. "It's undergone a lot of changes over the past couple of years, so it's perfect for meeting friends for drinks and nachos or a quick burger."
Rookaird likes that the mood is vibrant but low key.
"You can watch the big game and have a conversation with friends at the same time without it being too distracting."
The Library is also serious about craft beer. The many taps include a full line-up of Iowa beers, such as brews from Backpocket, Confluence, Millstream and Peace Tree. There are a few booths to snuggle into with a plate of nachos or a burger, and rows of books near the ceiling add perhaps the tiniest bit of a scholarly vibe. For both students and locals alike, The Library is a spot where you can easily become a regular.
Southeast — Lefty's Live Music
Drive east from The Library along University and you'll arrive at Dogtown, home to Mars Cafe, Crazyhorse Guitars, Fernando's Mexican Grill and the newly opened Lefty's Live Music. The space that houses Lefty's definitely has a history, and while Lefty's is the most recent incarnation of the spot, owners Anne Mathey and Erik Brown are working to make it the best.
Drake alums from the 1990s (and anyone who was into the local music scene) will remember the venue as Hairy Mary's. Before that, it was the Safari Club. More recently, the space was home to an Irish-themed pub, The Dublin. Mathey graduated from Drake in 2001 and remembers attending shows at Mary's.
"Hairy Mary's was known as more metal. We want to be known as having a whole rainbow of different music options," she said.
Mathey and Brown also want Lefty's to be the kind of venue where musicians love to play and are accordingly stocking it with quality sound equipment. They want it to be a place people love to come to, and they've taken care to make it accessible and comfortable. The space is eclectic and relaxed, from the handmade cassette-tape light fixtures above the bar to murals on the wall.
"We want to focus on local things," Mathey said.
That includes music, but extends further.
"All the murals are by local artists. All the tap beers are local beers," she said.
The first scheduled gig is April 16.
Northeast — West End Lounge
Down the road from The Knapp Center on Forest Avenue is West End Lounge. The standalone building looks small, but inside is a warm and cozy bar with a nice-sized patio out back. The black and white tiled floor adds a touch of style to this former ice cream parlor, which has been catering to Drake students and locals for close to 60 years.
The bar is a laid-back spot to sip on a pint. It's known to be frequented by students, and the outdoor space makes it especially popular.
"When it's nice out, it's great to sit out back on their patio and get together with friends," said Rookaird.
In a long-running tradition, West End hosts a breakfast the Friday of Relays ("The Relays Begin at The End!"). Guests can snag a commemorative T-shirt emblazoned with the year to add to their collection.
Northwest — Peggy's Tavern
The most well-known watering hole in the Drake area has to be Peggy's. The spot is a Relays tradition, hosting a tent party complete with themed cups for every year. Tucked into a tiny storefront in a nondescript building, Peggy's is all about tradition. From the ceiling covered in $1 bills tacked up by graduating seniors, to the mural of a German beer hall, it's a place everybody knows.
Many alums return to Peggy's every year for the Relays. Susan Stocum graduated in 1992 and has been coming back ever since.
"I recently realized that I am only missing 2003, 2007 and 2009 in a collection of Peggy's Relays plastic cups dating back to 1992," she said. "There are certain songs I hear ("Bittersweet" by Big Head Todd and The Monsters' "Roxanne", anything Steve Miller) that immediately take me back to Peg's."
Peggy's is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and the dive-bar has gone through a number of changes. The bar changed hands in 2014, and new owners Tom and Annie Baldwin have vowed to keep Peggy's traditions alive.
The Relays party is the most important. Each spring, Peggy's hosts a huge tent party where alums return to share memories and pick up their new Relays cup. The slogans may be silly ("Keg after keg, cup after cup, Relays at Peggy's, that's what's up, 2004") but the cups become prized possessions — a memory of one of the corners of Drake that draws people back year after year.