An afternoon dive bar tour in Des Moines
A dive bar can be defined by Urban Dictionary (for what it’s worth) as a “A well-worn, unglamorous bar, often serving a cheap, simple selection of drinks to a regular clientele.”
With watering holes tucked away in most of the city’s neighborhoods, the bar stool debate-worthy question can be raised: what dive bars should I be frequenting?
Many argue Carl’s Place in Sherman Hill is the spot to go, and there’s no denying the atmosphere it delivers — but with more media attention focused (Complex called Carl’s Des Moines’ best dive in 2014 and then presidential candidate Martin O’Malley held a rally at the bar) on the neighborhood pub, why not consider beating the crowd and trying a different dive?
Taking advantage of an uncharacteristically warm Saturday afternoon, a group of friends and myself hit the streets of Des Moines to see what the town’s different dives have to offer.
1 p.m. at The Yacht Club (2617 Ingersoll Ave)
What better way to start a day of investigating new bars on a sunny afternoon than trying a bar in called the Yacht Club?
The bar’s relatively full on the Saturday afternoon and the bartender engages the group playfully, insisting the women order first. Drinks range from 16 oz. cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon to craft beer in bottles.
The big takeaway from Yacht Club is the bar’s plethora of live music offerings. While no bands were on the stage during this Saturday afternoon, Facebook events can be found for the bar from blues to punk rock.
“They have music here,” one companion said after seeing a show flyer on the wall. “I didn’t know that.”
2:25 p.m. at Alpine Tap Room (2720 Ingersoll Ave)
Sitting a short walk away from Yacht Club on the opposite side of the street is the long-standing bar Alpine Tap Room.
The bar is like stepping in a time machine to decades past. Framed photos of famed groups like the Beatles cover the walls, a Simpsons pinball machine fits in one corner ... and, best of all: there’s a CD jukebox nestled opposite the bar that’s ready to play hits from generations past.
On our playlist? Marvin Gaye.
3:10 p.m. at G.T. (3013 Ingersoll Ave)
We’re working our way up Ingersoll, can’t you tell? G.T, a bar with a solid beer selection and even better soundtrack presents itself on this particular Saturday with the main window wide open — kind-of like an alternative for those not wanting to use the door.
And that’s how some members of the party decided to go about getting into the bar.
The bar, which is open until 2 a.m. daily, is racing themed (if the name didn’t give that away to begin) and hosts colorful artwork on each wall. The window, which -- at least on this Saturday — goes missing when the weather permits, give the room an open aesthetic on the sunny day.
4:30 p.m. at Highland Park Country Club (518 Euclid Ave)
Leaving Ingersoll, the group Ubered to the north side of town in search of a much-needed re-fueling.
With a menu serving up burgers, grilled cheese, mini tacos and more, Highland Park Country Club offers up ideal dive food. Team the greasy grub from the grill with the Budweiser on draft and a game of pool from the table that lines the north end of the watering hole.
The basement-like atmosphere of the window-free bar comes to life with the Green Bay Packer helmet lights hovering across the room. The bar’s hours provide an early start option to your day out, opening at 7 a.m. on Monday-Saturday and 8 a.m. on Sunday.
5: 15 p.m. at E. 14th Street Tavern (3418 E 14th St)
E. 14th can fall under the definition of a “dive” because of the local, neighborhood feel the joint puts off. It’s a sports-themed bar, fully equipped with pool tables, games and a projector … but it still feels homey.
There’s a chalkboard on one end of the room where patrons can share unspoken thoughts of the night out. It’s like a blurry, black-and-white captain's log for anyone who chooses to write on it.
Country music blared through the jukebox as one of my companions for the day got in a friendly pool competition -- losing back-to-back games. When asking the patron who defeated him what she thinks of the bar, she responded with a firm “I love it here.”
Looking for a day to see why that bar-goer loves E. 14th? Head to the bar’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date on specials.
6 p.m. at Boggs’ Hull Avenue Tavern (834 Hull Ave)
Above the front entrance of Boggs’ Hull Ave. Tavern hangs a sign that says “Des Moines’ oldest tavern. Since 1933 & before,” setting expectations fairly high for the group.
And Hull Ave. delivered in the form of $8 pitchers of Miller Lite. The cash-only bar offers more than the standard domestic, craft beer is also offered. It, like many of the bars through the day, mix offerings of local and standard domestic beers.
Metal music blared as a post-Baconfest crowd fills a majority of the sitting area of the bar. A band was in the process of loading in; as noted on the bar’s Facebook page, music fills the bar on a regular basis.
Being not far from Grandview University campus, Boggs’ could be the ideal spot for college kids looking to avoid the hustle of downtown.
7 p.m. at Toad's Tavern (3002 State Ave)
The evening ends, as all evenings should end, on the east side of Des Moines.
Toad's is the type of dive that’s bright enough to see across the room, but also not so bright the bar-goers are forced to make unwarranted eye contact. That's just awkward.
There are game machines in one corner and a pool table in another. Most people at the bar seem to know each other, or have a general idea of each other … the type of quality one hopes to find in a dive.
“Yeah,” said one companion. “Toads is my kind of place.”
With Budweiser served at $2.50 a beer and a large TV in the corner showing a sports game, it’s easy to see why neighborhood folks would flock to the east side pub.
Have a favorite dive bar in Des Moines? Tweet @dmjuice to share your thoughts.