In the middle of October, an RV full of over-caffeinated Visage employees barreled down Highway 35 into Des Moines. We had just finished the first of nine events in five days as part of an old fashioned roadshow that would take us from Minneapolis to Des Moines, to Omaha, to Sioux Falls, and finally to Fargo.
Four of the five of us Visage employees are Midwesterners by birth (the fifth being Russian, of course) but we had never really experienced the Midwest that lies to the left of the Mississippi River. We certainly had no idea that Des Moines was so cool– and not just cool relative to metro areas in the Great Plains region, but cool compared to any of the current hippest cities in America. In fact, moving to Des Moines is currently the most hipster thing a person can do.
Anyway, driving an RV four hours from Minneapolis to Des Moines is thirsty work, so we decided to steer it straight to The High Life Lounge. From the antique Miller ads plastered on the wood-panel walls to the Formica bar top mottled orange with Tang (they serve it on tap), The High Life Lounge is everything people in the 90s hated about the 70s– and it’s amazing!We ordered the Bacon Wrapped Tater Tots (which are topped with jack cheese and jalapeños, served with ranch dressing), some Fried Cheese Curds (for the dieters in the group), and about 40 of the most adorable half-size Miller High Lifes you’ve ever seen. [Picture subtitle: It’s important to note that they don’t serve any beers whose production began AFTER 1975.]
If the retro-themed cholesterol-fest hasn’t worn you out yet, you can head next door to El Bait Shop, whose draft selection is as diverse as its menu is, um, whatever the opposite of haute-cuisine is (like this Spam and egg sandwich).Or if you prefer Schlitz to Miller High Life, head to Shorty’s Somewhat Fancy Bar.
Now what? You could go to the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden (not the pizza guy) and stroll around 4 acres of fantastically curated, weatherproof art.Head over to James Beard finalist, Proof, for some Mediterranean fusion cuisine. Want to bring home some proof that Des Moines really is as cool as the guy on the Concur blog said it is? Stop by Raygun for some apparel that’s equal parts tongue-in-cheek chic and Iowan.But whatever you do, make sure your night ends at Fong’s. I can tell you right now with absolute certainty that Fong’s is the best Chinese-restaurant-themed Pizza and Tiki bar you’ve ever visited.Order a round of Kamikazes, put on your helmet, and yell KANPAI! Then order yourself a huge pizza (perhaps the Crab Rangoon pie? No, definitely the Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza) and stifle tomorrow’s hangover.
Don’t take my word for it – just don’t dread that business trip to Des Moines, Boise, Wichita, or wherever. These days, it’s incredibly easy to find authentic local adventure that will make traveling to smaller cities an absolute blast.