Well, hello there, Huskies, Buffaloes, and Jayhawks. Take a seat, Governors, Hoosiers, and Mocs. Nice to see you, Wildcats and Seawolves. Chances are that many of you have never been to Des Moines because you've likely never said to yourselves "Hey, let's go to Des Moines." That's understandable. Growing up in Des Moines in the 1990's I can honestly say this: Des Moines was awful. It was a boring town known for insurance in the middle of a bunch of corn and soybeans. The most exciting thing to happen to Des Moines in the 1990's was the flood of 1993. Sad times.
And then something changed. Around the turn of the century, money started pouring in and the city underwent a massive revitalization. This turnaround was profiled extensively in a wonderful piece by Politico's Colin Woodard titled "How America's Dullest City Got Cool." From the article:
In recent years Des Moines has been named the nation's richest (by U.S. News) and economically strongest city (Policom), its best for young professionals (Forbes), families (Kiplinger), home renters (Time), businesses and careers (Forbes). It has the highest community pride in the nation, according to a Gallup poll last year, and in October topped a Bloomberg analysis of which cities in the United States were doing the best at attracting millennials to buy housing.
In short, the Des Moines I see now was nothing like the Des Moines of when I was growing up in the 1990's or even the early aughts. Des Moines is pretty chill now, and I'm glad so many of you basketball fans are going to be able to experience it.
In Black Heart Gold Pants's continued commitment to #ActuallyHelpingTourists, I thought I would throw together a little guide on what to do in Des Moines while you're here. Chances are that you've already got a hotel booked and used the Google to plan your route here so we'll skip that. Let's talk food, drink, and entertainment.
Wells Fargo Arena is located in downtown Des Moines, approximately ½ a mile from Court Avenue, the city's older entertainment district and a little under 3/4ths of a mile from the East Village, the city's newer entertainment district. If the weather is nice enough you can easily walk to either district or use the Skywalks from Wells Fargo Arena to Court Avenue. Parking garages are plentiful in the city and relatively inexpensive, so you could also pick up your car and drive, but as a fair warning, it's probably just easier to walk.
(NOTE: I was reminded that many of the Skywalks are under construction so just walk outside)
Alternatively, you can get an Uber. We have Uber and taxis in Des Moines. The taxi service was awful for years and then Uber came to town and the taxis got all mad because people stopped using them. So they work a little bit harder these days. Taxis, that is.
While there are plenty of places to eat and drink on Court Avenue, I think the best places are in its immediate proximity. If you're looking for a good burger or sandwich and kind of want to be a beer snob, you have to hit up El Bait Shop, as they've got 185 beers on tap. If you're looking for a good burger or sandwich and want to eat in a place where they have shag carpet on the floor go right next door to the High Life Lounge. Yes, they do have Schlitz there.
Feeling German? Hessen Haus not only has a full menu of German foods and beers that you will have difficulty finding anywhere else, but you can drink out of DAS BOOT. Das Boot actually means "the ship" in German but let us not dwell on Americans butchering language, shall we? If you're in the mood for some bangers and mash or fish and chips, the Royal Mile has an English (as in British) inspired menu along with a large selection of beers from the United Kingdom and aged scotches. Just across the street from the Royal Mile is Fong's Pizza, which has...Chinese food pizza? No, seriously, try it. It's wonderful.
Court Avenue Brewery, obviously located on Court Avenue, is one of the four microbreweries located in the downtown area. Personally, I prefer their food but I like Exile's beer better. Exile is around a mile from Court Avenue. Some of the best cocktails in Des Moines are made at RoCA, on Court Ave. They pretty much use Bulleit for everything so it is awesome. I believe there are only 15 or so tables in there so just a heads up.
The East Village is targeted towards more of the "hip" crowd. Everyone and their mother will tell you that Zombie Burger is the best burger in Des Moines and that could very well be true. You have to go if nothing else for their eccentric menu. Beware, as there are frequently lines.
Other interesting places include Tacopocalypse, which obviously has a wonderful selection of tacos but I'm pretty sure they don't serve alcohol (The best tacos in Des Moines are Tasty Tacos, by the way). Same for Krunkwich Ramen House, a place you have to try if you enjoy noodles. For the best cocktails in the East Village, I would hit up The Continental. Their service is not very good but the drinks will blow you away.
If I had you give you a list of places to avoid in downtown Des Moines it would be Legends, Quinton's and the Old Spaghetti Works. Legends doesn't have bad food, it's just that you can get bar food from 100 other places in Des Moines and it won't be as expensive. The Quinton's in Des Moines is nothing like the Quinton's in Iowa City. The service is awful and their food is meh. Finally, Old Spaghetti Works is Fazoli's but you're just in a nicer building.
Also good news: some of the best places to eat in Des Moines are just outside of the downtown area. People will tell you that Jethro's is the best BBQ in Des Moines. Maybe. I think the best value BBQ is Smokey D's. The best "luxury" BBQ is Flying Mango, which is a little bit of a drive. If you want pizza, hit up Noah's Ark or Gusto. Noah's has the best thin crust in Des Moines and if anyone says otherwise I will fight them. Noah's also has excellent Italian food. For sushi try Sakari, on Ingersoll Ave.
If you're looking for a fancy meal everyone will recommend Centro. That's fine. I'll recommend Americana.
As far as the bar scene goes, a lot of the restaurants that I mentioned have a good bar. El Bait Shop and the Royal Mile have an excellent selection of beer, The Continental and RoCA have the best cocktails and places like Mickey's and Johnny's are your generic Irish pub and sports bar. Hessen Haus also has live polka music this Saturday. If you want a martini try the Stuffed Olive. The most famous dive bar, which shouldn't even be called a dive bar any longer considering so many people frequent it has to be Carl's Place. If you're into country music you can give Beer Can Alley a shot.
Food and drink aside, there's the Science Center of Iowa, the State Historical Museum and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park all within walking distance of Wells Fargo Arena. The art museum and zoo are further away and I don't want to be that guy but you aren't missing a whole lot by passing those up.
And no, the fair isn't going on right now so you can NOT get a piece of fried butter on a stick. Sorry.
So please, enjoy our beautiful little city. You'll be surprised at how much we have to offer, how friendly Iowans are and how we aren't the backwards simpletons that we're often stereotyped as.
P.S.: Don't go to Ames.