Iowa Craft Brew Festival — well, sort of

I headed to Des Moines yesterday afternoon with good intentions of attending the Iowa Craft Brew Festival. I thought it would be a great mix of two of my favorite things: buying locally and drinking great beer. However, I was a bit apprehensive because I don’t enjoy big crowds nor standing in line, and this festival had some major red-flag issues: It was featured prominently on the cover of the Des Moines Register’s Thursday Datebook, and it was to be held in a relatively small space — 10th Street between Walnut and Mulberry.

Dave and I drove down anyway, excited for the possibility of tasting some new local brews and enjoying what had turned out to be a spectacularly nice early-summer day. We were planning to meet another couple, Jim and Sue Heemstra, and experience the festival together.

When we arrived downtown, we parked our car and walked around the corner to the festival area, only to be smacked with the reality of just how crowded one block could be. People were packed inside the festival area like sardines, and the line to get in was a half-block long. I immediately called our friends to ask if they were already inside (in which case we’d brave the crowd and meet them there) or if they hadn’t made it there yet (in which case I would suggest we bail). Turns out they were about 3 minutes behind us, so we stood and assessed the situation. Ultimately, we decided to spend the $80 that it would cost for 4 of us to enter the festival and go someplace where we could sit down and have a few slightly more civilized beers.

We headed to El Bait Shop, 200 SW 2nd Street, modestly promoted as “home of the biggest selection of American micro-brews in the world” and also known for its friendly patio. This turned out to be a good choice and the first destination in what would become an impromptu Rapture-day Pub Crawl. Obviously if this was going to be some sort of apocalypse, it would be best to go out with a beer in your hand.

The thing about El Bait Shop is that its beer selection is almost too good. We started out planning to each get a different beer and share it, then move to four new kinds of beer, thereby tasting up to a dozen or so different brews. But every time the waitress came around, we’d panic and order the same thing we were already drinking. But between our lively conversation, good beer, and platters of nachos, it really didn’t matter.

After drinking our fill at El Bait Shop, we moved on to Mullets, a newish bar located on the river at 1300 SE 1st Street. There we found another inviting (and very full) patio with an outstanding view of the downtown skyline and Principal Park, where an Iowa Cubs game was going on. We settled for pitchers of Fat Tire (simpler and much cheaper than the beer at El Bait) and a couple of weird appetizers: sweet potato tots and deep-fried pickles. I don’t know if it was the beer or the company, but we snarfed down both baskets in no time.

Once we’d downed a couple of pitchers, we moved on to our third and final destination. Jim called it “that basement bar that I’ve been to before…not sure of the name or exactly where it is, but I’m sure I can find it.” It was actually called Shorty’s and was indeed located in a basement. As it turns out, it’s actually underneath Sbrocco wine bar and restaurant on Court Avenue, but when you enter from the back, that’s certainly not apparent. Shorty’s very much has that “speakeasy” feel to it, and we instantly settled into a table and had one more round of beers before heading out into a thunderstorm that capped off our evening with a fast run to our cars.

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