Off Hours: Building a bar cart at Blind Pig, eating steak de burgo and can't-miss happy hours

·7 min read

Hey, friends, I'm retail reporter Hannah Rodriguez and in my nearly quarter of a century living in the Midwest... I still hate the cold.

Welcome to Off Hours, a free weekly newsletter covering entertainment from the Des Moines metro. Stay warm and cheers to a new year!

Love snow but hate the cold.
Love snow but hate the cold.

The Deal

Here’s the deal: I turn 25 this month and my bartending skills are abysmal. I know how to open a bottle of wine and I can pour you a tequila shot but beyond that I’m lost. As I become a wise old soul, it feels essential to elevate my drinking skills and have the tools to make a margarita or something else beyond just a beer.

To get my at-home bar started, I went to the Blind Pig Cocktail Bodega in West Des Moines’ Valley Junction and Hy-Vee’s new Wall to Wall Wine & Spirits in West Des Moines to pick up some essentials.

I initially went to Wall to Wall to shop for some alcohol and mixers, but the massive liquor warehouse has a wide selection of cheeses, snacks and charcuterie options, which is all I really want to live on for my 25th year.

The Blind Pig Cocktail Bodega is tucked in West Des Moines' Valley Junction.
The Blind Pig Cocktail Bodega is tucked in West Des Moines' Valley Junction.

Ryan Cooper, owner of Cooper's on 5th and The Winchester, opened the Blind Pig in April 2021 after the coronavirus pandemic restricted everyone’s public drinking habits. He said his customers at Cooper’s would often try to buy rocks glasses and other glassware from behind the bar, so it made sense to consider selling inventory after the pandemic closed his other businesses.

“Everybody is doing home bars and drinking at home because they can’t go out and back then… who knew what was going to happen,” Cooper said. “This came out of the shutdown and as far as I know, we’re one of the only stores like this in Iowa.”

If you need to build a bar car, head to Blind Pig.
If you need to build a bar car, head to Blind Pig.

Cooper, manager Regina Riordan and executive sales associate and muralist Mallory Joan helped me build a bar cart at Blind Pig with some of the products at the bodega. Cooper said a lot of his customers come through Blind Pig thinking they “need stuff but don’t know what.”

Cooper, Riordan and Joan picked out some products for a bar cart prepped to build a Winchester's Old Fashioned. The recipe includes Elijah Craig bourbon, orange bitters, black walnut bitters, Carpano Antica vermouth and brandied cherries.

There’s obviously essential glasses, shakers and booze and if you’re like me and have no idea what to use bitters for, Blind Pig showcases recipes everywhere in the shop. Cooper said the bodega sells new and vintage glassware that antique pickers find for him at estate sales. Tucked in the back of Blind Pig, one of his pickers, Christina Crooks, even has a pop-up vintage shop with home décor.

Everything in Blind Pig is for sale including their unique bar carts that doubles as art and storage.
Everything in Blind Pig is for sale including their unique bar carts that doubles as art and storage.

I invite everyone to adopt my mantra and treat themselves to small luxuries for the rest year. With omicron and other variants, the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon so the best we can do is buckle in and keep the winter blues away. I never thought I’d have a pandemic birthday, not to mention two, and it’s time to move into my mid-20s with better drinks and maybe a fancy new cocktail. Cheers to 25!

What should I make at my new home bar? Email me your suggestions at herodriguez@registermedia.com or send me a direct message on Twitter @byherodriguez.

My Top Three Happy Hours to Wet Your Whistle

In 2022, we are treating ourselves.
In 2022, we are treating ourselves.

1. Barn Town Brewing: When I'm not drinking cocktails, you can probably find me sipping some craft Iowa brews. Barn Town Brewing at 9500 University Ave. in West Des Moines not only has daily specials, the brewery has happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday with $4 core beers and half-off most appetizers. Try my favorite, the Enamored Amber.

I'm so glad I live in a world with flights of gin.
I'm so glad I live in a world with flights of gin.

2. The New Northwestern: Sitting in 321 E. Walnut St., a building that was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the New Northwestern Cocktail & Wine Bar offers the newest happy hour in the East Village. Find half-off wine and cocktails from 3 to 6 p.m. The bar's menu also includes gin-and-tonic flights that are customizable.

My Amaretto Sour drinking buddy at The Whiskey House in Ankeny.
My Amaretto Sour drinking buddy at The Whiskey House in Ankeny.

3. The Whiskey House & Bourbon Grill: While there are countless happy hour specials in the Des Moines metro, belly up to Whiskey House in Ankeny from 3 to 6 p.m. for $2 off cocktails and $1 off beers and wines Monday through Friday.

Eat This, Drink That

I wish I could have Simon's Steak de Burgo for every meal.
I wish I could have Simon's Steak de Burgo for every meal.

Steak de burgo — $27.95 for a six-ounce cut: I'm drooling just remembering this. Each meal at Simon's comes with a free piece of red velvet cake making the cozy, neighborhood bistro so perfect for a birthday or celebration. I've also been planning my first steak de burgo since I moved to the metro in April and I was not disappointed.

Get it: Simon's is open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 p.m. Make a reservation at 515-255-3725.

Meals at Simon's come with a free piece of red velvet cake, my favorite.
Meals at Simon's come with a free piece of red velvet cake, my favorite.

How does Simon's rank? Tell me your favorite steak de burgo in the metro at herodriguez@registermedia.com. Free cake is always welcome.

Agua de Jamaica and Horchata at Tacos La Familia in Des Moines.
Agua de Jamaica and Horchata at Tacos La Familia in Des Moines.

Agua de Jamaica and horchata — $2.50 for a small: Sometimes when you can't pick one, you pick both. Agua de Jamaica is a sweet, hibiscus flower iced tea-type of drink that tastes faintly like cranberry juice. Horchata is a sweet cinnamon rice milk that can make even the spiciest of Mexican food feel tame.

Get it: Tacos la Familia is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 515-244-6659,

48 Hours Off

A portrait of Ravleen S. for Julie Houghton's 90 Days of Masked Portraits.
A portrait of Ravleen S. for Julie Houghton's 90 Days of Masked Portraits.

Thursday evening: At the start of 2021, before COVID-19 vaccines eased some of the serious effects from the pandemic, Des Moines artist Julie Houghton challenged herself to produce a drawing each day for 90 days. The result: 90 Days of Masked Portraits. Meet Houghton herself and view the exhibit for free from 5 to 7 p.m. at the downtown Des Moines Central Library, where it will be on display until March.

Native Iowa wild residents overlook the Annett Nature Center polling place Nov. 2, 2021.
Native Iowa wild residents overlook the Annett Nature Center polling place Nov. 2, 2021.

Friday evening: Just because it's winter doesn't mean we can't enjoy nature. Register for Thursday or Friday night's minute to win it challenges at the Annett Nature Center in Indianola. Space is limited but the event is just $5 per family with proceeds benefiting the center's educational exhibits.

Geneviève Salamone (left) and Hanna Wolle of The Dueling Fiddles.
Geneviève Salamone (left) and Hanna Wolle of The Dueling Fiddles.

Saturday evening: Visit Newton for a free, high-energy concert with two violinists going head-to-head. First meeting on the Des Moines Symphony, Hanna Wolle and Geneviève Salamone are the dynamic The Dueling Fiddles. The pair will be performing at Fore Seasons Golf at 6232 Hwy, S74 S. from 7 to 9 p.m.

From the Kitchen of My Uncle Matt

Wisconsin is a wild land where anyone under 21-years-old can drink if they're with a parent or legal guardian that is of legal drinking age. Needless to say, some of my favorite family trips growing up were visiting my Uncle Matt's cabin in forested, rural Wisconsin where we would sip the state's variation on the classic Old Fashioned. The recipe swaps the whiskey for brandy and adds a splash of Squirt for a sweeter drink.

Yummy Wisconsin old fashioned, brandy sweet just how I like it.
Yummy Wisconsin old fashioned, brandy sweet just how I like it.

Here's how he makes it:

Ingredients:

  • two sugar cubes

  • three dashes of orange bitters

  • orange slices

  • cherries and splash of cherry juice

  • ice

  • around two ounces of brandy

  • splash of Squirt

Add your sugar cubes to a rocks glass and soak in bitters. Add orange slices, cherries and juice and muddle or stir. Fill glass with ice, add brandy and top with Squirt.

My Uncle Matt doesn't play by a rulebook so feel free to eyeball measurements and play with the recipe to make it your own.

Around Town

Hannah Rodriguez staff photo, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.
Hannah Rodriguez staff photo, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

My Day Job

Thanks so much for reading! As 2021 came to a close, I wrote about some of the businesses that closed and others that opened to paint a picture of the current retail scene in Des Moines.

With the fresh year ahead, keep an eye out for more coverage on Hy-Vee's expansion plans and the latest additions to the metro. Follow my retail and business coverage here or on Twitter @byherodriguez.

Don't miss next week's newsletter to hear from our entertainment editor Susan Stapleton on her quest to rediscover Des Moines after a five-year hiatus.

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This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Build a bar cart at Blind Pig and eat steak de burgo in Des Moines

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