Iowa City’s John’s Grocery – “Dirty John’s”

Iowa City’s John’s Grocery, also known as “Dirty John’s,” is the last totally independent grocery in Iowa City.  For that reason alone it is a very unique place and well worth a visit or worth being added to anybody’s “must visit” list.  But it is the sale of alcohol in all of its various forms for which John’s Grocery is best known. John’s Grocery is known nationwide as one of the best places to buy beer. 

A sign in the window advertises “Beers from around the World over 3,000.  I don’t know if they mean 3,000 different beers or just 3,000 bottles and cans. Despite my natural skepticism, I somehow think that they are telling the truth.   I know I saw at least a thousand different brands in just one end of the beer room.  In addition to the beer, there is an impressive selection of hard liquor, with many varieties of Scotch whisky and Irish Whiskey that I’ve not seen before.  The wine selection, though fairly modest if you compare it to most wine stores, had some unusual and well priced selections.   True to its name, John’s also sells some regular grocery items, though it looked like a fairly limited selection. A deli counter serves a variety of meats and sandwiches.

This is a grocery that, with the exception of the liquor selection, is like a step back into time.  I somehow doubt that they stocked booze back in 1948 when it was established.  The building originally housed a Pabst pub in the late 1800s, so it has genuine credentials as an alcohol establishment. I remember as a kid and seeing the tiny neighborhood grocery stores and it never occurred to me that they would totally disappear from the landscape.

The place also featured a solid selection of locally distilled products, including the full range Clearheart products, including gin and vodka from Cedar Ridge together with their rum and bourbon. I also found Iowa Corn Whiskey from Two Jays  in Newton (Broadbent Distillery).  As I wrote in a recent blog entry, I had not even heard that Two Jays had started up its micro-distillery, so I was sure to snag one of their bottles.  I didn’t see any of Indiana’s best Rye Whiskey known in these parts as “Templeton Rye.”

There is a walk-in cooler to supplement the “warm racks” of beer.  The beer room is a collector’s heaven, chock full of an amazingly large selection of hundreds of beers, stouts, ales and mead. Mead? how often do you see mead for sale?   I am pretty sure I never even found it offered in any of the pubs I visited in England; but Iowa City has it.  Next door is another jointly owned store that I’ve not checked out which sells beer swag — bottles and other beer memorabilia.

Why is it called “Dirty John’s?” Their own website says that it is because they were one of the lone suppliers of Playboy back in the 1950s.  I didn’t check to see if they still carry anything like that.


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