Category Archives: Des Moines
We got very lucky with the weather Sunday night — it’s been raining off and on (mostly on, it seems) all weekend but the sky cleared for an outdoor concert by Shakey Graves, an Austin singer/guitarist, at the Brenton Skating Rink in downtown Des Moines. The rink — with stage and standing-room only area — is covered by a tarp but for those of us who needed seats, we had to sit outside the rink in the plein air, which had me nervous at first since I cannot get the cast on my arm wet. (I also couldn’t join the standing crowd, for fear of being jostled, with said cast.)
Anyway, we got lucky (and lucky is not what I have been feeling lately): the weather was perfect. Not rainy, muggy or buggy. We could see surprisingly well from our seats near the stage (if we stood) and the band put on a great show, more psychedelic Pink Floyd-esque than expected but still some good ole knee-stomping guitar playing, which is what first drew me to Shakey. The opening band, Twin Peaks – some very young energetic guys from Chicago – was good too.
During another break in the rain, we finally tried some Black Cat ice cream, served out of a window on the side of the Gaslamp bar downtown, across from the sculpture park. not sure its better than Bauders but darned good. especially liked the very fresh tasting peacch sorbet. mint chocolate chip creamy and good too (although Coneflower in Omaha was more garden mint fresh).
Meant to mention a recent visit to Harbinger, the James Beard Foundation-acknowledged restaurant on ingersoll in Des Moines. We went during restaurant week and enjoyed various small plates – the ribs and zucchini/squash flowers stuffed with cheese were my favorites.
Whether biking, walking or driving, I always prefer going in a loop — returning a different way than the one I just rode, walked or drove. New scenery, new experiences, new, new, new! But it’s not always easy- – especially on bike trails around Des Moines.
Now we have a new almost-loop that takes us north of our Beaverdale/Drake Neighborhood, on both sides of the Des Moines River, thanks to the new improved bridge on NW 66th Avenue that crosses the river. It’s all about “connectivity” — in this case connecting the Inter-Urban Trail to the Trestle to Trestle Trail , along the river’s west bank, to the Neal Smith Trail, along the river’s east bank. It’s not perfect — the second connection still requires navigating residential streets — but it’s better than it used to be.
From our house, we ride north to the intersection of Urbandale Avenue and 34th street, where we hop on the Inter-Urban trail, winding through the woods eastward, across 30th street on Urbandale Avenue, past the HyVee on ML King Blvd and onto the Trestle to Trestle Trail, riding north to the Des Moines suburb of Johnston.
In the bad old days, we used to turn around when we got to the ice cream shop (Van Dees) in Johnston (where all good trails should lead) and retrace our route. Or we’d dare to wend our way north and east on neighborhood streets (including the once-scary NW 66th Avenue bridge) to connect to the Neal Smith Trail, where we’d ride south on the river’s east bank.
Now, thanks to the new bridge, getting to the river’s east side is a breeze — a pleasant discovery we made last Sunday.
The NW 66th Ave. bridge now has a self-contained bike lane! On the west side of the bridge, there also is a new section of paved trail that leads briefly into the woods, away from the car traffic. In the past, we had to ride on a sidewalk along the busy road to the bridge and then share the bridge road (which narrows) with cars. At least once, we almost got blown over by passing cars while riding on the bridge’s slim and rough shoulder. NOT FUN!
Thanks to the new bridge, we can now ride safely to the east side of the river, head south to the (Wakonsa) Trestle Bridge and then retrace our route on to the Inter-Urban trail and home.
We had the hardest time using a gift certificate to dine at Simon’s (aka J. Benjamin’s) , a cozy neighborhood joint on Des Moines’ north side. Our first mistake may have been trying on Saturday night. Both times we found a line outside the door (even in the rain). The first night, the small place was dominated by a large table full of prom kids — from far away Ames, no less. We eventually left.
The second night, there was another table of prom kids (this time from the Des Moines area) but we stuck it out and waited for a table, which was actually kind of fun. We chatted with other waiting diners crammed into a little area between the dining room and the front door. We had a drink at the bar and discovered that one of the servers was someone we knew as a kid when she was in elementary school.
When we finally were seated, we found the food unexceptional but serviceable/just fine. We decided it was the place to eat uncomplicated southern Italian staples — spaghetti with meatballs and red sauce; hearty lasagna with sausage from local favorite, Graziano’s, and oozing with ricotta and mozzarella.
But we can see why the place is popular. It has a “Cheers” kind of feel, where everyone would know your name if you told them your name. The small dining room was so packed that when people walked past our high-walled booth, they inevitably peeked in at us — looking like they hoped they’d spot friends. When they didn’t, they smiled. Some people might find this intrusive. We found it amusing — and endearing. Classic Des Moines.
Also, the service was warm, friendly and swift. The young owner, in casual garb, went out of his way to acknowledge that people were waiting and to update them on the wait and the options while waiting (like sitting at the bar). That’s the way to do it! And I’m assuming it was his idea to give us a free piece of delicious red velvet cake at the end of our meal. I gather from Yelp that complimentary cake is not unusual…although I can’t promise it.
Several new (or new-to-me) stands at the Des Moines Farmers Market downtown on Saturday mornings are further testament to the creative entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and well in rural America. Among my favorites is “Judy’s Husband’s Stuffed Pickles” — which not only has an amusing (if somewhat cumbersome) name but has people waiting in line for what appears to be “hand made” pickles stuffed with creamed cheese.
One of my bigger regrets is not going to see the real Prince when he performed years ago in Ames, Iowa (not far from where we live in Des Moines). So last Friday, we took the best we could get, especially now that Real Prince is, sadly, no longer with us. We went to a tribute band that rumor has it was the only fake that the Real Deal approved of.
Simon Estes Amphitheater was packed, with a sold-out crowd, and it was a lovely, albeit wickedly hot and humid June night on the river. “The Prince Experience” wasn’t bad. Fake Prince was a little shorter and thicker around the midriff than Real Prince but he sang well and proudly wore his white ruffled shirt and long purple sparkly duster . Fake Sheila E was working hard too. We didn’t understand why the keyboard player wore what appeared to be medical scrubs, looking like he just left his shift at Mercy Hospital. But he proudly announced several times he was a West Des Moines native so we gave him a pass. It was the kind of concert where you had to be prepared to laugh a little — at the band and yourself.
Here’s a story I wrote (and yes, that’s my son and son-in-law in the photo)…
Midwest Traveler: Des Moines is Iowa’s capital of public art
Des Moines will be busy during next weekend’s annual Arts Festival.
By Betsy Rubiner Special to the Star Tribune
JUNE 14, 2018 — 6:25PM
New York artist Keith Haring’s “Untitled (Three Dancing Figures, version C)” is also found in the Des Moines sculpture park.
“A lot of it, I don’t recognize,” said my 26-year-old son, who now lives in Minneapolis, as we walked around his hometown of Des Moines. “Downtown looks pretty good!”
Some of the credit for that goes to public art enthusiasts, who have not only dotted downtown Des Moines with sculpture, installations and murals but have created an Art Route that helps visitors and locals find 87 artworks. A free app also provides the locations, plus details about artists including Claes Oldenberg, Louise Bourgeois, Maya Lin and Joel Shapiro.
The downtown Art Route’s western portion — dominated by the popular John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park — will be particularly busy June 22-24, when it is the site of the Des Moines Arts Festival, which includes a juried exhibition.
On a sleepier spring weekend, my husband and I explored the 6.6-mile Art Route DSM (artroutedsm.com) with visiting millennials — our son, as well as our daughter and her husband, who live in Chicago.
As a Des Moines transplant, I’ve long admired the art around town. But recently, I started noticing green dots painted on sidewalks and painted street intersections, which, I learned, denote the art route.
On the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation’s website (dsmpublicartfoundation.org), I found out that the route stretches primarily around three west-east thoroughfares: Grand Avenue, Locust Street and Walnut Street. (I also learned that a Canadian street artist painted the street intersections/“installations.”)
PHOTOS BY BETSY RUBINER • SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s “Panoramic Awareness Pavilion,” at left, is a centerpiece of Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines.
Much of the art locations/green dots are west of the Des Moines River near the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, where more than two dozen contemporary sculptures sit on an undulating 4.4-acre grassy site divided by curving paths. Some of the route’s artwork is located along the river or east of it, in the burgeoning East Village neighborhood and by the gold-domed State Capitol.
Because the route does not have a designated start or end (or numbered stops), I arrived with a rough DIY plan and two helpful tools from the public art foundation website — a printout of the route map and the Public Art App, which I downloaded on my phone.
The Pappajohn Sculpture Park proved a logical starting point, thanks to its concentration of art. Opened in 2009, the park is an old favorite by now, so we zeroed in on recent additions including Japanese sculptor Yayoi Kusama’s 8-foot-high “Pumpkin Large” and Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s rainbow-mirrored “Panoramic Awareness Pavilion.”
While visiting a signature park piece — Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa’s “Nomade,” a 27-foot-tall hollow human form made of a latticework of white steel letters — I stumped the Chicagoans by asking them to guess which sculpture Plensa designed in their city’s Millennium Park. (The surprising answer: “Crown Fountain,” the video sculpture that includes two 50-foot glass towers displaying Chicago residents’ faces, whose mouths spout water.)
As we admired New York graffiti artist Keith Haring’s untitled sculpture of three dancing figures, we used another helpful tool — a free audio podcast walking tour from the Des Moines Art Center. Following posted instructions, we dialed a number on my phone, entered the number on a sign in front of the Haring sculpture and listened to an erudite recording. (An engaging family guide is also available on the Art Center website, desmoinesartcenter.org.)
Before leaving the park, we gazed up at the dramatic building under construction nearby, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The five-story Krause Gateway Center — the Kum & Go convenience store chain’s new headquarters — is already a presence, with its massive scale and sculptural look including high glass walls separated by four overhanging white horizontal planes.
“The Piano” is among several architectural gems we passed. Others include the 2006 public library, clad in daylight-permeable copper windows and designed by British architect David Chipperfield; and the recently renovated Catholic Pastoral Center, a 1962 steel and glass modernist building by Mies van der Rohe. Another highlight: two cool contemporary pedestrian bridges over the river — the 2010 Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, which arches over a dam, and the Red Bridge, an 1891 rail bridge that got a modern makeover in 2005.
Heading northeast, we stopped at the familiar and impressive sculpture park beside the modernist American Republic Insurance building. But we also spotted unfamiliar work, including a colorful mural painted on the back of a building we have driven past for years.
Some of the art turned out to be inside buildings closed on a Sunday, but still visible. We peeked through glass to see Maya Lin’s installation “A Shift in the Stream” inside the Principal Corporate 4 building lobby and Sol Lewitt’s colorful painting “Whirls and Twirls” inside the Pappajohn Education Center.
We also realized that the route is long — especially on foot — so we did only a portion before stopping for a drink in the East Village. Next time, we may try the route via bike.
Where to eat and sleep
West of the river, casual drink and dining options include Exile Brewing Co.(1-515-883-2337; exilebrewing.com) and Americana Restaurant (1-515-283-1212; americanadsm.com). East-of-the-river options include the Republic on Grand (1-515-518-6070; therepublic ongrand.com) atop the six-story AC Hotel (1-515-343-6026), with an open-air bar serving brew, bites and city views. Also convenient to the Art Route is the new Hilton Des Moines Downtown(1-515-241-1456).
Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau: 1-800-451-2625; catchdesmoines.com.
Betsy Rubiner, a Des Moines-based travel writer, writes the travel blog Take Betsy With You.