The Americana Restaurant and Lounge continues to be the king of the cocktail hill in Metro Des Moines. But that does not mean that others are not nipping at its heels. With the opening of RoCA and Eatery A, there are more choices than ever for the cocktail hounds to hunt down. I have visited Americana more than a dozen times and am always impressed by both the cocktails and the food. As you might expect, it is very busy on weekends. I have not been there for the brunch specials but I’m told that they are the best in the metro, hands down. Americana describes itself as an “urban restaurant and lounge that celebrates the swagger of the cocktail culture, and gives a modern twist on the decor of cabaret & supper clubs.” This marketing theme is consistently used every opportunity they get, including interviews. The “swagger of the cocktail culture” is a meme that is heavily mined. There is a renaissance of sorts when it comes to cocktails, though it has been going on for a decade for those that think this is a new phenomenon.
The place itself used to be an old car dealership, though you would never guess unless you looked up at the massive photographs on the walls showing the place decked out with old cars. This whole area of Des Moines was once home to a number of downtown car dealerships. Big lifts were once used to haul the cars to the upper stories since space was at a premium. The area was even home to a truck stop situated on the southwest corner of where the Nationwide Parking Garage now sits. The place is one of the few bars in Des Moines, that when it is full, and everyone is having a good time, actually has that electric vibe that you hope for in a real cocktail lounge.
The space retains the structure of the previous tenant but has a big island cocktail bar in the middle. The bar does not have a massive number of different drink mixes but it appears to have what it takes to make the usual cocktails. As for the cocktails, the menu features eleven specialty cocktails. Prices range from $7 to $9 unless you order a different ingredient, such as your favorite gin. In that event you will be charged extra. I can’t recall if it is a buck or two. Some people get excited about that sort of thing, so I’m putting that out as a warning. Interestingly, the owners only have one draft beer from their other restaurant, Court Avenue Brewing. It is a Belgian White. The beer list is not intended to compete with the dozen or so places aroudn downtown that specialize in beer. You want an obscure beer then you might want to go elsewhere. This is cocktail country. Otherwise, there are enough craft, imported, and cheap American beers to satisfy just about any grumpy beer snob.
Lets talk about those cocktails. Americana takes an interesting approach to their house or specialty cocktails. They actually print the recipe right in the drink menu, so there is no mystery how they are supposed to make each drink. You can also get a better idea what they will actually taste like. As an example, you can see that their Singapore Sling does in fact contain a total of 8 ingredients, three of them various fruit juices. So, don’t be surprised if it tastes a bit like a spiked pineapple drink. I’ve tried the Side Car, Aviation, and yes, every lady’s favorite, the Strawberry Bitch (I reached over and borrowed a swallow from somebody that I better not ever call a bitch). It is actually really good; so good in fact that my wife is on a campaign to get the ingredients and make it herself. If you look around on a busy night you will see a number of patrons slapping down the Strawberry Bitch.
Americana provides a number of Tapas plates for lunch and dinner but supplements dinner with full-blown entrees. I’ve tried a number of tapas selections and they are all very solid and fairly rich and flavorful. I’ve also tried the loaded cheese plate, scallop lollipops, and fried cheese ravioli. The scallop lollipops were scrumptious and the fried cheese ravioli was fabulous. I could eat those all day. This is a ricotta herb ravioli with butternut squash cream with a balsamic reduction dribbled over the plate and feta cheese sprinkled over everything for good measure.
Give Americana a try if you have not already. If you have not tried the tapas plates, give it a whirl. My verdict is that the Americana is delivering on its promise to bring us the cocktail culture. Americana led the way and both its success and the success of its newer competition suggests that Des Moines has caught on.
Americana Restaurant & Lounge
1312 Locust Street
Des Moines, IA 50309
Mon – Thu 11am to 11pm
Friday 11am to 2am
Saturday 10am to 2am
Sunday 10am to 11pm