Des Moines’ Azalea offers an excellent value for a good cocktail.

Azalea's BarAzalea is a Des Moines restaurant and lounge on the street level of the Hotel Kirkwood at 4th and Walnut. This is just an informal review of just the lounge, or bar, if you prefer.  First, the setting.  The bar faces the east wall, facing away from the main dining area.  Nearby tables can double for drinks unless the restaurant is really full.  The liquor supplies are adequate with high-quality liquors.  If you are looking for a particular single malt scotch whisky, then this may not be the place to go.  However, the drinks are generously poured in large glasses.  Azalea offers happy hour pricing, so you can get twice as much drinking for half the price as, say 801 Grand — that’s four times the value!

Another feature is that some of the cocktail drink ingredients are prepared by the Chef himself. So, when you order a Manhattan, you don’t get the classic Angostura bitters.  The drink is actually called a “Des Moines.”

Doc Wilson's Sweet Vermouth

The bartender was friendly and knew how to mix the drinks.  The place was not very busy the last two times I stopped by, but there were people there.  Overall, I’d judge this to be a top bar for the quality and value of the drinks. Ambiance is OK, but it does not have the mighty wall of bottles (801 Grand may have the prize for that) that some establishments have – if that is your thing.  On the other hand, it is the lounge portion of a highly rated restaurant, so I have to assume that on some nights the main traffic in the lounge will be from people waiting for a table.  You don’t need a huge liquor cabinet for that market. Witness the Centro bar area, which does not wear its inventory on its sleeve. One advantage that Centro’s bar has is that it is walled off, so you can stay in that lounge without the feeling that the diners are looking at your back the whole time.

By the way, the Azalea web site rocks. I love the animated background of the place in action. You get a pretty good idea of the lounge layout from the web page.  www.azaleadsm.com

UPDATE: Azalea’s low happy hour pricing has increased the crowd and that has resulted in a hike in the prices. Drinks now cost a buck more than they used to during happy hour. But I’ll take a more crowded bar over cheaper prices any day. The place was packed last Friday. Azalea still uses (ri)1 rye whiskey in its drinks upon request, so you are getting some high quality booze for fairly low price. This is a $50 bottle and it was getting kind of low last time I checked, so you might not find it.

UDPATE: Azalea’s is closed. A new “concept” restaurant will go in its place. Too bad. It was a great place for a downtown happy hour. According to the voice mail, it will reopen as a new “concept” restaurant. This blog also has some details: http://locallygrown.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/news-azalea-gusto-a-new-recipe-site-icr-tacos/

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