The Royal Mile is an English Pub right here in Des Moines. I consider it is the “crown jewel” of the Full Court Press syndicate, which includes the Red Monk on the second floor above Royal Mile (kind of a separate bar, kind of not), Hessen Haus, High Life Lounge and el Bait Shop. Each bar offers a unique spin on drinking that is not offered any place else in Des Moines. This is niche marketing at its finest.
The Royal Mile is a very authentic distillation of the English pub. This observation is based both on my own limited experience visiting pubs in London and comments from Brits that drop in. I’ve overheard their comments and they are usually stunned to find a pub like the ones back home in a place like Des Moines.
You can get a wide variety of Scotch Whiskys and British beers to quench your thirst and just about every possible type of English pub food — shepherd’s pie, pork pies, pasties, and fish and chips — plus enough other selections to satisfy the most jaded non-Anglophile (chicken wings, spring rolls, hamburgers, etc.). The ambiance is very reminiscent of English pubs and with all the English bric-a-brac you are not likely to mistake it for anything else. In fact, no sensible English pub would outfit itself quite like that, but that is part of the fun of having an English pub right here in our own town. I’m no Englishman, but the food certainly tastes as good as most standard pub dishes I’ve had in the U.K. with the exception of some fantastic beef I had at the Holly Bush in Hampstead just north of London (before its recent conversion to a Fuller’s-owned pub). I manage to get to the Royal Mile several times a month for meals and drinks and it always serves consistently good food — if English pub food is what you are wanting, that is. I’ve not tried their more American dishes because it strikes me as odd to order a burger when you have so many interesting menu items that you are not likely to find anywhere else. I’ve tried nearly everything on the menu over the years and I can’t say that they have ever botched a meal. Sometimes the fish in the fish and chips won’t hold onto its batter quite as well as it should, but that is probably related to the type of fish available that day.
Just keep in mind that these dishes are comfort foods and that there is really not an attempt to go beyond standard pub fare and to get into the gastronomic cuisine race. This is, after all, English-style food. If you want spices and herbs, go to Proof.
The beers selection is broad and they carry most of the well-known British brands and there are a number of beers on tap. I highly recommend concentrating on the beers from the tap. Not only are they going to usually be less expensive, but in my opinion they taste a lot closer to what you get overseas. I have never managed to get to one of their “Firkin Friday” events when they bring in a select cask for tapping. Sounds like fun, though I don’t know that they’ve done this recently. Be sure to check out their database of available beers (Firefox works better than Explorer):
Service is usually very prompt. Like most places, the wait staff comes and goes over the months, and sometimes you will get someone who is on the near side of the learning curve, but they are happy to run down the answer to your question. It is obvious that they know that this is not the typical sports bar where the complexity of the order is whether it will be Bud Light or Miller Lite. I’ve never tried to order Bud Light here, but I take it that they may not have any.
The Scotch Whisky selection is extraordinary. I am fairly certain that it beats the Scotch Whisky selection in a room dedicated to serving Scotch (can’t remember the name) that the Embassy Club had when it was at 801 Grand. The Royal Mile’s online Scotch database has more than forty selections. They have the usual lineup such as Glenlivet, Laphroaig, Glenfiddich, and Dalwhinnie, but they also have some Highland Scotch Whiskys, such as Aberfeldy, Aberlour, and Glengyone that I can’t say I’ve ever heard of and that I will have to put on my “to try” list.
I can’t talk about the Royal Mile without also mentioning the Red Monk just up the stairs. Sometimes you can order Belgian ales while seated downstairs and sometimes you can’t. I think it depends on whether the bar is open upstairs. Anyway, The Red Monk offers a solid selection of Belgian beer, including Trappist Ales, Lambics, and other Belgian-style beers. Check out their online database as well. You have to keep in mind that some of these beers can be fairly expensive. These beers do not the source of $2 pitchers. A single bottle can set you back as much as $9, which is more than most bars charge for a custom-mix cocktail. On the other hand, you won’t find a better selection of the world’s finest brews anywhere in this state, and maybe not in many states around Iowa.
The layout is also more open and the decor, with its church windows, and plank walls, reminds me of a Belgian cafe. In fact, the fantastic Belgian Beer Cafe “Olivier” in Leiden, Netherlands is set in an old building with its own chapel apse.
The ambiance in the dining room is different than the explosion of flags and plaques downstairs and the bar area is a bit more staid than the Royal Mile. Do ask for recommendations, the staff upstairs is usually much more knowledgeable about their products than the here-today, gone-tomorrow help downstairs.
210 4th Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
Phone Number (515) 280-3771
Hours of Operation
Open Everyday: 11am to 2am
except Sunday: noon-2am
Monday thru Saturday: 11am to 9pm
Sunday: 12pm to 9pm
Monday thru Friday: 2pm to 6pm
The Red Monk
Phone Number(515) 280-3771
Hours of Operation
Wednesday thru Thursday: 8pm to 2am
Friday thru Saturday: 5pm to 2am
Sunday thru Tuesday: closed
Wednesday thru Thursday: 8pm to 9pm
Friday thru Saturday: 5pm to 9pm