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Speakeasy proposed in lower-level of Iowa Taproom


It’s probably not surprising that as the operators of the Iowa Taproom planned this week’s “Last Day of Freedom” event, the idea emerged of opening a speakeasy in the basement of where the popular tavern is located.

Not only would a speakeasy be a unique offering in the Des Moines area, it would also provide a place for people to go as they waited for a table at the Iowa Taproom, located at 215 E. Third St., said Jeff Bruning of the restaurant group Full Court Press. It can take two or more hours to get a table on Fridays and Saturdays, he said. 

The group responsible for bringing themed restaurants and bars to Des Moines such as Hessen Haus and the Royal Mile wants to open a “not so secret” speakeasy called Ken’s.

“We’ve wanted to do something with that space for a year or more,” Bruning said. “We’re turning away business in our event spaces, so at the very least, the downstairs could be another place for events.”

Speakeasies — secret, out of the way places where alcohol was served — were popular during Prohibition, a time when alcohol was illegal in the United States. 

Th 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of alcohol, was ratified on Jan. 16, 1919. However, the amendment didn’t immediately go into effect because President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the law that would have enforced it. Congress voted to override the veto in October 1919. The law prohibiting alcohol in the U.S. went into effect on Jan. 17, 1920.  

On Thursday, the Iowa Taproom and Templeton Rye are hosting an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the day before Prohibition went into effect. 

The “Last Day of Freedom” event will feature a preview of cocktails that could be served at Ken’s, the proposed speakeasy, Bruning said.

Des Moines’ zoning board of adjustment on Jan. 22 will hear a request from the Iowa Taproom to expand its operations into the lower level of the building that is owned by developer Jake Christensen. The restaurant and bar now take up nearly 13,000 square feet of the building, constructed in 1900. The expansion would provide about 1,500 square feet of additional space, Bruning said.

Once the Iowa Taproom receives all of the necessary city approvals, it would take about a month to get the lower level ready for use, Bruning said. He said he’s working with West End Salvage on designing the space, which will include artwork and furniture from the Prohibition era.

Ken’s would be among several themed establishments that Full Court Press operates in the Des Moines area. In August, the group opened Skøl, a Viking-themed tavern at 401 S.E. Fifth St. The group also plans on opening Crazy Horse Burgers and Beer in the 2300 block of University Avenue.

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