Since moving back to the Midwest after traveling around California this past year I have had several opportunities to visit Iowa City, IA (where I attended college) for various events including weddings, Hawkeye football games, and a graduation. I never thought in a million years I would move to Iowa after high school. I originally thought I was destined to move cross country or to New York City. Heck, I hadn’t even heard of Iowa City. Thankfully my mother encouraged me several times to consider the University of Iowa, because when I visited the campus for the first time I immediately I loved it and knew it was exactly where I belonged. Although I am from a big city, moving to Iowa City taught me that there is much to be found in small towns and has forever changed my decision about where I prefer to settle down in the future. Here are a few reasons why I fell madly in love with this small college town and I am certain they will convince you to make a trip yourself.
My favorite area of Iowa City is the Pedestrian Mall, or better known as the Ped Mall. It is a courtyard area right off campus made up of approximately four blocks. It is where you will find most of the popular bars, restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques. The summer months offer annual festivals such as Jazz Fest and Arts Fest, as well as musical performances that occur during the evenings mostly on weekends. End of summer means football season. If you are really lucky, you will stumble upon the University of Iowa pep band marching through the Ped Mall and making appearances in various bars playing the Iowa fight song. Basically, everything goes on in the Ped Mall or a block or two surrounding it. Everything is easy to reach by foot, so you never have to worry about how to get around.
Although Iowa City is a small town, some incredible chefs have established restaurants including a contemporary Italian restaurant called Baroncini Ristorante that is owned by a man from Verona. The restaurant is small and cozy just like an authentic Italian restaurant, and the espresso is phenomenal. I’m not sure what it is, but no one makes espresso better than the Italians! Atlas World Grill has always been a favorite of mine and the locals offering an eclectic menu including new American cuisine ranging from Caribbean, Mexican, Asian and Creole dishes. For a less fancy or pricier experience, Short’s Burger and Shine owned by former Hawkeye and Dolphins place kicker Nate Kaeding offers gourmet burgers named after towns in the state of Iowa and several Iowa micro-brews on tap. For example, the Eldorado burger is Mexican themed and naturally topped with pepper jack cheese, then garnished with guacamole, salsa and sour cream. Hamburg Inn No. 2 that was once featured on The West Wing, if that’s your thing, offers simple but hearty diner style dishes and mouthwatering pie shakes. Yes, that is a slice of pie mixed into a milkshake.
You will also find a diverse assortment of bars in downtown Iowa City. Maybe you are interested in reliving your college partying days, or prefer a fancy cocktail, or to find a low-key joint and enjoy a glass of wine or pint of local brew. Don’t worry, there is a bar for you. Walk through the Ped Mall and you will hear loud music bumping from DC’s, Field House, and of course the college chain bar called Brother’s Bar and Grill. You will find yourself surrounded by college students drinking dollar you call it mixed drinks and cheap steins filled to the brim with cheap light-golden beer. Drink and dance your heart away!
Searching for the perfect cocktail? Then Clinton Street Social Club is just the spot for you. This speakeasy is known for its award winning mixology showcasing classic prohibition styled cocktails such as the Old Fashioned and Sazerac, but also interesting spin-offs. A must try is the Grandpa’s Coffin concocted with Old Ezra Bourbon, Laird’s Bonded AppleJack, Laphroaig spritz, Sugar and Bitters. Enjoy your cocktail as you play a game of pool or darts on a bristle darts board in their vintage billiard room. But if wine is what you’re craving, then Brix Cheese Shop and Wine Bar is the perfect place with about 100 different wines available. Try as many as you like and then buy a bottle of your favorite to take home with you.
Lastly, for beer there is no better restaurant to go to then Iowa Chop House for their Beer Barn. Haven’t heard the concept of a Beer Barn? Created for the craft beer lovers, it’s an interactive way to sample several beers on tap. You receive an electronic wrist band after you choose what size glass you prefer between 12oz and 28oz. Choose which beer you want to try, place your wrist band over its electronic sign, and wait for your glass to fill. Iowa Chop House offers an expansive list of craft beers on tap, so don’t worry about not getting enough samples of new brews.
When your energy is diminishing and you need a boost the Java House coffee shop is the coffee shop to go to in town. Order your coffee and watch it brew at the one-cup coffee bar adjacent to the cash register. With your to-go cup in hand, you’ll be ready to turn and leave but you’ll be drawn in by the atmosphere. People congregate at the Java House to socialize, study, play chess and read. Grab a seat at one of the antique chairs and finish your coffee at the shop as you listen to the soft jazz playing in the background.
There are several cute boutiques located in and near the Ped Mall, but there is only one that is to this day my favorite clothing store. Even after moving away and traveling across the country, I haven’t found a store that offers the same great finds for amazing prices. Revival is a second hand store that offers a variety of brands including designer brands if you have a good eye and are willing to do some digging. I found my favorite Citizen For Humanity and Madewell jeans each for thirty-five dollars, a Theory blouse for fourteen dollars, and a French Connection tunic for sixteen dollars! The women who run this shop have a great eye, so don’t miss out on this little gem of a store.
Lastly, and why I am always drawn back, are the people. Iowans are incredibly friendly and down-to-earth. When I decided to move to Iowa City, I loved how passionate and proud the locals were to be Iowans, and even more so Hawkeyes. I wanted to be part of their tight-knit community and I was immediately welcomed. No matter how far I travel from the cornfields these days I will always run into another Hawkeye repping the tiger hawk on at least one article of clothing. I love being one of them and high-fiving or shouting, “Go Hawks” to one another.