Eat + Drink

Des Moines Has a Happening Bar Scene. Who Knew?

There’s definitely a Des Moines nightlife. Try having a drink at the Des Moines Social Club, just like Chris Soules from “The Batchelor.” (Photo: Getty Images)

Des Moines may be a capital city, but it’s of the Corn State. There’s nothing metropolitan about it, right? Wrong! So maybe Des Moines nightlife may not rival the bar scenes in Boston, Atlanta or Austin, but downtown Des Moines has its fair share of cutting-edge bars and lounges, setting their own trends. This is great news if you are one of the wonks and wonkettes due to blow into town for the 2016 presidential caucuses in February. Into ’80s and ’90s arcade games and cocktails? Drink up at Up-Down while playing Pac-Man. Craft beer connoisseur? Hawkeyes are making some mean microbrews; so don’t leave without sampling one of the city’s many artisanal beers.

Hoof It in Nightlife Central

Set out for the East Village, situated in the shadow of the Iowa State Capitol, for its high concentration of bars and clubs. If you’re looking to dance, the Lime Lounge boasts a lengthy martini and cocktail list (coconut mojito, anyone?) and a lineup of local DJs. Try salsa dancing on Thursdays. Newbies get a free lesson at 8 p.m. and the chance to show off their moves when the dance floor opens at 9 p.m.

Beer on Your Bucket List?

Before you go artisanal in Des Moines, go retro at High Life Lounge. The ’60s decor features brand new wood-paneled walls, shag carpet, Formica bar top and vintage wallpaper. What’s on the menu? “The Champagne of Beers,” Miller High Life, is served with a side of nostalgia for the Miller culture of the era. If you get hungry, sample American staples from the ’60s. Liver and onions or a spam and egg sandwich, anyone?

If the High Life is to commercial for you, check out El Bait Shop, a local favorite that bills itself as a 1970s-fishing-themed restaurant/tavern, and claims the world’s largest selection of American microbrews. They’ve pretty much got the primer on how to taste each and everyone, too.

For more worldly flair, Hessen Haus is a must-do. It’s a “Bier” hall offering 30 imported German beers on tap, German food and live music. Partake in the “Passing of the Boot,” a drinking game that has you handing around a large, beer-filled glass boot. You can’t splash or touch the table with the boot or break any of the other “Haus rules,” which all get more difficult with each sip.

Follow in the “Bachelor’s” Footsteps

On season 19 of “The Bachelor,” star Chris Soules (an Iowa native) took his soon-to-be fiancée Whitney Bischoff out in downtown Des Moines. They hit the Des Moines Social Club, a cultural hub housing a cafe and comic book store, art galleries, performance venues and a lively bar. They later dined at RoCA, known for locally sourced shared plates and handcrafted cocktails.

Fans would love to know whether Whitney went back to the luxurious Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel solo that night. Especially after a 15-by-30-foot mural of the couple on RoCA’s exterior wall by Des Moines artist Van Holmgren was unveiled after their meal. Alas, Chris and Whitney’s relationship didn’t last, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show a date a great time in downtown Des Moines.