Covert Cocktails

Get in the Prohibition-era spirit at Iowa speakeasies new and old. These bars play hard to get (into), but the drinks are worth the hunt.

Above: Iowa City’s Clinton Street Social Club dishes delicious concoctions such as the Aviation (with gin, maraschino liqueur, fresh-squeezed lemon and crème de violette) and tasty bites, including oysters on the half-shell, charcuterie and cheese boards, and bacon-wrapped dates.

Prohibition banned the sale of alcohol in the United States during the 1920s and early 1930s. Many bars stayed open, though—they just kept a low profile, sometimes literally (think basement hideaways). Speakeasies, as the clandestine clubs were called, served spirits on the sly to customers who found the right doors, said the right words, and knew the right people. Prohibition ended, but not the appeal of the backdoor booze era. Today, several Iowa bars—old and new—offer that intoxicating air of speakeasy secrecy.

Bar Winslow

Cedar Falls

Find this new-in-2019 Prohibition-inspired craft cocktail bar in the historic Black Hawk Hotel—once known as the Winslow House. Go old-school with an Old-Fashioned, get a little tipsy with a Leaning Sour of Pisa (with nutty Pisa liqueur), or feel the sting of Bees on Fire (gin, lemon, honey and cinnamon). Vintage bonus: original penny tile on the floors. (115 Main St.)

Iowa Taproom

Des Moines

While you wait for a table upstairs at this East Village spot, check out Ken’s, the new, not-so-secret basement speakeasy. Try cocktails like Bootlegger’s Breakfast, County Line Transfer, Dilley’s Printing Press Punch and Hot Buttered Rye. Early this year, the Taproom and famed whiskey maker Templeton Rye threw a party to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Prohibition eve. (215 E. Third St.)

Cellar 626

Ames

In the back of Cyclone Liquors (enter through the beer cooler door), the Cellar is a classy lounge garbed in modern decor and open only on certain nights. The cocktails, twists on classics, are named for current and former employees: The Stan is an Old-Fashioned with an ice ball, the Hannah is a vodka basil smash, and Mercer Style is an Italian margarita. Expect heavy pours. Cellar also offers cocktail, spirit and wine classes. (632 Lincoln Way)

Clinton Street Social Club

Iowa City

Sandwiched between two larger buildings, the entrance is easy to miss. Stairs lead up to the bar—and views of Old Capitol and the Pentacrest. Fresh-squeezed juices and house-made mixers flavor cocktails such as the bracing Destination Wedding in the Arctic Circle (gin, vermouth and green Chartreuse), deadly Grandpa’s Coffin (bourbon, applejack, scotch, sugar and bitters), and cure-all the Penicillin (scotch, lemon and honey-ginger). (18 ½ S. Clinton St.)

R.G. Books Lounge

Cedar Rapids

Open the door in a bookcase wall to enter a dimly lit room with more books. Play the United Nations card by ordering an Irish Russian in Cancun (Patron coffee liqueur, Stoli, cream and Bailey’s). Or stick to one country with the French (Stoli Razberi, Chambord and pineapple juice). For domestic bliss, try RG’s Sazerac (rye, absinthe, bitters, sugar and lemon twist). (3611 First Ave. S.E.)

Barley’s Bar

Council Bluffs

This saloon-style speakeasy doesn’t try to hide, but it has that old-timey feel, with lots of woodwork and brick. Beer is the star (it was illegal during Prohibition, too), with taps rotating lagers, pale ales, malty brown ales and stouts. Barley’s favors Iowa craft brewers, like Exile in Des Moines and Coralville’s Backpocket Brewing, maker of coffee stout Wake the F Up Iowa. (114 W. Broadway)

Iowa City’s Clinton Street Social Club dishes delicious concoctions such as the Aviation (with gin, maraschino liqueur, fresh-squeezed lemon and crème de violette) and tasty bites, including oysters on the half-shell, charcuterie and cheese boards, and bacon-wrapped dates.

Bailey’s Bar in Council Bluffs exudes a vintage vibe. Find an extensive selection IPAs, sours and other beer favorites, as well as pub-food favorites such as burgers and fish and chips.

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