When translated, the alpine term Après Ski literally means “after skiing.” From clubs, to restaurants, to ski-in-ski-out mountainside condos, the present day interpretation is a grab-bag term most big resorts use for anything that doesn’t involve the main reason for your visit…which is, presumably, skiing and snowboarding.
We have a lot of great things going for us here in central Iowa; unfortunately being a world-renowned ski destination isn’t one of them. Yet what we lack in snow covered peaks and open bowls we more than make up for with scenic trails and sweeping landscapes that come with one of the nation’s most underrated (IMO) bike trail systems and some of the best breweries. Just because we trade one outdoor sport for another doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the après culture as much as ski bums of Colorado and Utah do.
Now that the weather across the Midwest is proving to be more conducive to outdoor activities on a somewhat regular basis, I present the Definitive Ranking (not really) of four destinations that specifically cater to the après bike lifestyle that you need to patronize summer.
To help, I’ve broken down each spot into four different categories for your reference:
- the ease of access
- the food
- the beer
- the vibe
Let’s get started:
Access: A cruise down to Mullet’s couldn’t be easier if you live in Des Moines proper, but it may be a bit longer ride than you bargained for if you’re coming in from the western ‘burbs. (4/5)
Food: Standard sports-bar variety fast-casual fair. With Woody’s at the helm their BBQ offerings are strong, but the po-boys are a must if you’re in the mood for a sandwich. (4/5)
Beer: This place doesn’t skimp on the good stuff if you look hard enough. After all, Mullet’s is a Full Court Press entity, so you know even the most abrasive beer snob will find something tolerable to drink. (4/5)
Vibe: That said, if your beer snob friend can’t find a drink, all sins will be forgotten with the ample rooftop deck seating. With one of the best outdoor patios in Des Moines, the panoramic views of downtown can’t be beat…even on overcast afternoons. (5/5)
Confluence Brewing Co.
Access: Although conveniently connected to Gray’s Lake park by a gravel trail, you might miss the turn to Confluence Brewing Co. if you don’t know which nondescript brick warehouse you’re looking for…especially once the summer foliage partially hides the patio from plain sight. (3/5)
Food: With beer the primary focus, CBC has no in-house kitchen. That said, guests are welcome to order in and food trucks set up shop in the front parking lot on practically a nightly basis. (3/5)
Beer: All brews, usually with the exception of one guest tap, are made in house. And they are extremely delicious. (5/5)
Vibe: I’m a sucker for a low-key tap room, especially one that’s roughly one-third the size of the actual brewing floor. There is no questioning priorities here. (5/5)
Access: Perhaps the most overlooked on this list, Orlando’s is easy to find from either direction but often bypassed in favor of the other establishments closer to downtown. However, once you’ve arrived you could practically fall off your bike and onto a bar stool. (5/5)
Food: Italian across the board; I’ve heard the house specialty wood-fired pizzas calzones are the bomb. However, my pizza by the slice was probably 45 minutes past its prime; the food deserves a second chance, but for now: (2/5)
Beer: Macro-brewery heavy draft list, but some main-stream craft selections mixed in bottle line up. Good prices, but beware: craft brew aficionados may scoff. (2/5)
Vibe: If low key, under the radar eats and cheap drinks close to home are your bag, than this is your place to be. (3/5)
Access: The true “destination” bar on the list, the Cumming Tap is eight miles (as the biker rides) southwest of Waterworks Park. So if you’re looking to really earn that extra beer, this is the place to go. (3/5)
Food: No menu, no problem: the tap hosts Sam Auen and his Tacopacolypse crew on Tuesday night’s throughout the spring and summer. They also hold a steak feed on Wednesday nights. However, any other night of the week and you’ll have to make due with bar snacks. (3/5)
Beer: Very limited tap selection with a few devoted handles to massively popular craft choices like Fat Tire and Boulevard Wheat (which tastes phenomenal after a long ride). But if you’ve made the trip out, you already know what you’re getting anyway. (3/5)
Vibe: This small-town watering hole has turned into a biker/hipster paradise in the last few years. Visit on a cold winter’s night and you’ll only see regulars, but ride up on a warm summer evening and the patio will be slammed with patrons from all walks of life. Either way, you can’t go wrong. (4/5)
Cumming Tap: 13/20
Are there more than four establishments that cater specifically to the biking crowd? Absolutely. Heck, a more few turns and you have the entire Court Avenue district at your disposal. This just happens to be the section of trail I tend to frequent most often, which is why I started with these four. Obviously this is far from an all-encompassing collection, and like any “best of” list, it’s entirely subjective to the author. Clearly I’m bias towards the better beer options, but there truly isn’t a bad choice.
Did your favorite make the cut? What did I miss? Hopefully, with enough suggestions I’ll have a follow up post later this summer.