Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Serendipity Strikes in Des Moines IA

I feel like this review has been a long time coming. I've been a Suit at heart long before I got invited to join the team and was assigned my Suit number. A Stranger in a Strange Land, I've found myself traveling around the world, trying to fit in and make a go of it wherever life took me.

So it's serendipitous that my first write-up would be of The Royal Mile pub in Des Moines IA, a haven I desperately needed when I was indeed a Strange Suit in a Strange Land.

The one good thing about the British Empire (perhaps the only good thing other than bringing curry out of India) is the spread of "The Pub" mentality and lifestyle. "The Pub" is a magical, mythical place where the lights are dim, the music is low, new friends are made, good pints are poured, and more than a few laughs are shared.

A good Irish pub is a second living-room to the locals - a home away from home. For the weary traveler, the pub is a place to take refuge from the harsh realities of the road, the airport, the crowds, the noise, the boss, etc. And for a Suit, it's all of these things wrapped into one.

In the case of The Royal Mile, they have plenty of good pints on tap, and 117 bottles of single malt Scotch whisky on the shelf... so you know the laughs are hearty and there’s plenty of craic.

Sometimes I think it's every Irish kid's dream to own a pub. The Royal Mile is the kind of place that every Irish kid who dreams of owning their own pub aspires to. The bar staff is friendly. The pints are fresh and strong. The banter is cheery. The locals are quick to introduce themselves. And so it goes with The Royal Mile.

On one of my first forays into Des Moines nightlife, I was so disgusted with a shall-not-be-named German beer hall (I refuse to spend any more of my hard-earned money there, so another Suit will have to review that craphole) that I needed a refuge.

"Aren't there any Irish people in this God forsaken town? Where is The Pub?!” I asked to nobody in particular. Thankfully, a kind stranger pointed up the street and told me there was “some kind of Scottish bar” just two blocks up the street.

From the sidewalk, The Royal Mile isn’t much to look at. It’s a meager storefront with a few neons in the window. “Oh look, they have Guinness!” I heard one sorority-looking girl proclaim as she stumbled by. Guinness, Smithwicks, and Bass… If they respect The Holy Trinity, how bad could it be? So I opened the door and hoped for the best.

As soon as I walked in I was greeted by a giant Welsh flag and the sense of familiarity that only a real, true Irish pub can welcome you with. Like a big bear hug to a wayfaring, road-weary stranger, the pub enveloped me in its warm embrace.

The Royal Mile has plenty of character and plenty of characters, from barmen named “Willy” and “Eric The Brave”, to regulars like “Big Ern”. Nobody judged me for wearing a suit. In fact, Big Ern bought me a Jager Bomb as soon as he walked in the bar. This is my kind of place!

The Royal Mile claims to have the largest collection of Single Malt Scotch in Iowa, but as Willy was quick to point out, the distinction of having the largest collection in the midwest (and maybe the country) goes to “some bar in Omaha, Nebraska”. It’s that kind of unpretentious attitude that gives The Royal Mile its charm.

The staff is courteous and patient, which was refreshing both because it’s a “local” pub, and because of their rather large collection of beers on tap and single malts.

The waitresses, Whitney and Amanda, were knowledgeable about the beers, and were quick to refer to the barmen, who were equally knowledgeable about single malts. Willy and Eric The Brave were friendly, interesting, and eager to engage me in meaningful conversation and introduce me to their regulars.

It’s the kind of place where you can easily see yourself going native.

Don’t try to order a Budweiser here; you’ll probably get thrown the hell out. They have a food menu, but I’ve never seen it. With a full beer menu - front and back - and a separate one for Scotch whisky, I wouldn’t have had the brain power to compute it anyway.

I ordered a few real ales from their decent selection of hand-pulls, and my expectations were met: perfect temperature, perfect head (or lack thereof), and it tasted great. You can tell that they sell a lot of pints because if the beer sits in the keg lines for a while, it gets stale.

After knocking back a few pints I was pretty hungry and since the kitchen was closed, I went for a bag of potato chips when I needed a quick snack. At $1 each they’ve got quite a selection. I settled on Mesquite BBQ – one of my favorites - and it hit the spot.

For dessert, I had to try one of the single-malts. I settled on Bunnahabhain 12, “The Octave”, which is bottled especially for The Royal Mile. I won’t bore you with the tasting notes, I’ll just say that it was delicious. If I wasn’t driving, I’d have ordered two.

The prices at The Royal Mile are in line with other places that serve high-end single malt Scotch whiskys, and the pours are right on the money: not stingy, but not sloppily generous, either.

The Royal Mile is my new local pub whenever I’m in Des Moines, and I can only hope that they remember me as a regular when I come back!

Rating: would pay to wear the t-shirt!


  1. 117 bottles of Single Malt Scotch... That hits to the very core of my Scottish soul. As for the tasting notes, please share, I'm intrigued. How did I not know of this place when I was in Des Moines last year? Instead I was brought to the German place on multiple occasions...

  2. It's about time we added a fellow Irishman to Team Suits. Save some Guinness for me, Suit 1984!

  3. Go back for the food as well! Easily my favorite Des Moines bar and a very credible place for lunch or dinner as well. The menu is straight out of pub heaven. Cornish Pastie, Scotch Egg, Guinness Pie! Delish!