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Just southeast of downtown Des Moines, Iowa, in an old industrial part of the city, you might stumble upon a building that looks like an old garage: Gulf gas signs and a metal garage door will be your first clue that you’ve found El Bait Shop. A large lot, or a set of bike racks, will accommodate your ride.
Walking into El Bait Shop, you know this is not a garage, or a bait shop. Beer paraphernalia covers the walls and columns, all the way to the high ceilings. There are plenty of tables and booths, and just in case you’ve been traveling, the bathroom is straight to the back. Make your way to the large bar, and admire the top: clear plastic reveals a huge variety of fishing lures molded into the counter. That’s about as “bait shop” as it gets…
If you haven’t noticed already, look up and gawk at the 100 taps lining the wall in front of you. It’s pretty impressive. Hanging signs will let you know if something is new, or a particular favorite of the staff. The staff is very friendly, and willing to make recommendations on what is local and what is good. Sample flights are available. I’m kicking myself a little right now for not taking better notes on this spot, because it was one of my favorites in my cross-country journey. I arrived at lunch on a Sunday, and the place was quiet at first but eventually drew a modest lunch crowd. After connecting with the very cool bearded bartender, I opted for the sampler flight, and sipped my way through some amazing brews.
One word of warning: the food is sub-par. It’s decent bar food for what the small kitchen has to offer.
El Bait Shop is legendary, and is definitely worth a visit if you are passing through Des Moines. Awesome selection, great vibe, and friendly service.
200 Southwest 2nd Street, Des Moines, IA
Downtown Westerly, RI boasts an up-and-coming main street with several consignment stores where you’ll find used, vintage, and crafty items, plus a great musical instrument shop, two yoga studios, and a cute coffee + wine bar, Perks & Corks. One of the most recent additions to downtown is The Malted Barley, taking up two floors of the blue building in the middle of High Street.
Dimly lit, with a long bar and a handful of high tables, the Barley has a high-end feel. Towards the back of the bar, a stairway leads to a basement room with short tables and an outdoor patio. The patio overlooks the Pawcatuck River, and while the river is quaint, the old factory buildings that line it are a bit of an eye sore. Still, it’s a pleasant place to be on a warm spring day, and apparently gets packed during the summer/beach season.
The staff are quick to greet and pass you a menu. Most of the younger folks who work there are newer to craft beer. My most recent beer-tender was very into IPAs at the moment. However, they do their best to understand the beers they have on tap and will offer small tastes if you’d like to try something. If it’s not too busy, they’ll take some time to talk beer, and have always been receptive to learning more. Always attentive and timely, the service has been outstanding.
Of the 37 taps at the Barley, about 5 rotate regularly in my experience. The menu arranges the beers by style. Two taps carry gluten-free, one of which is the Angry Orchard Cider. Showing support for the local breweries, they keep Grey Sail and Cottrell on tap regularly. In addition, about 30 beers are included on the bottle list, but be cautious: some have been a bit too old. I had a White Birch IPA that was about 6 months past its prime. Overall the selection is large and varied enough that I always manage to find something new to drink when I visit.
I usually get a sampler flight at the Barley. Each beer is individually priced for a sampler, from $1.5 for a lighter brew to $3.5 for the Fruli. Instead of pitchers, the Barley offers an 80 ounce barrel for several of their beers, a solid alternative for keeping the beer fresh while you waste away an afternoon on their patio.
Wine and cocktails are also served here, but one of the greatest things about the Malted Barley are their pretzels. Baked crispy on the outside, while still chewy and soft on the inside, the pretzels are made to order, and come with a variety of fillings and dipping sauces. A salted pretzel with their beer brown mustard is a great snack for day drinking. If you’re in a sweeter mood, try the brown sugar & cinnamon pretzel, served with cream cheese frosting.
Track 84 can be a little tricky to find. Tucked back against the east side of the railroad tracks, it looks a bit like a dive from the outside. OK, yeah, from the inside too. Don’t let it deceive you! Dave, the owner and daytime bartender, is a major craft beer fan, and has even been on the great haj to Belgium. And the selection is definitely worth the visit. Not only is there no crap on tap, there’s no crap. Period. Dave admitted that he ousted the big three in favor of crafts and Belgians. They thought he was crazy. I think he’s brilliant.
The bar supports 20 taps and a hand pump cask, and most of the taps rotate on a regular basis. One tap is dedicated to Delirium Tremmens, as you may be able to tell from the ceramic pink elephant in the middle of the bar. There are typically 7-9 Beligians and 10-12 “domestics”: Sixpoint, Harpoon, Sierra Nevada, Smuttynose, Victory, and more. Unibroue has been available on tap a few times. While there are bottles, there isn’t a list. Just look at the fridge, Dave tells me.
Prices are very reasonable, even for the 5 oz. samplers. $1.50 for domestic crafts less than 8%, $2.00 for domestic crafts over 8%, and $3 for any of the 8 Belgians on tap. Except the samples, which come in the standard issue, the proper glassware is used, and it’s very clean. They even rinse with cold water before they pour. Any Cicerone Certified Beer Geek would be proud…
During my visits, the crowd has been mostly working class folks on lunch or happy hour. From time to time, there have been a few college-age folks in Track 84. The food is simple: free popcorn and basic grill items, but there’s also a great sandwich shop next door. Both the sandwich shop and Track 84 are CASH ONLY. ATM charges $2.25.
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