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A Traveler’s Guide to Hawktown

So you’ve decided to go watch your team play in Iowa City. Here are some things to do while you’re there.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Last year I wrote about what game day is like at Kinnick stadium. What else is there to do during your weekend in Iowa City? Here’s a list of the best places to eat, drink and hang out based on the very scientific method of my own personal preferences.

[Note from the “writer”: as soon as I finished this I realized that every place is within walking distance of each other. You could feasibly leave your hotel and grab a drink at each place before heading to Kinnick all without calling an Uber]

Best Burger: Short’s Burger and Shine

So you’ve been on the road all day driving from your cozy midwestern town to Iowa City. You’ve finally arrived and your wife and kids are starving. You’re really craving a giant, sloppy burger and some deliciously greasy french fries. Welcome to Short’s.

Owned by former Hawkeye and San Diego Charger Nate Kaeding and located right across from the Pentacrest, Short’s has a very deep bench when it comes to burgers. Their menu has a variety of regional tastes thrown together on delicious buns with giant beef patties. You can get a simple cheeseburger if you wish, but you’re wasting a trip if you don’t get at least a little adventurous. My personal favorite is the Columbus Junction but whatever you get, make sure you grab a plate of bacon cheese fries to go with it.

Bonus: they have a pretty good selection of beers on tap.

Best Cocktails: Clinton Street Social Club

After dinner, you decide to go out for a drink. Knowing you’re going to be pounding beers in the morning, you decide to go for a more sophisticated form of intoxication. Welcome to the Clinton Street Social Club.

Connoisseurs will know the kind of place that CSSC is: Top shelf whiskey, house made bitters and infused liquors, and delicious gastropub cuisine. Whether you prefer your booze dry or sweet, smoky or light, shaken or stirred, CSSC is a place you just have to stop by. My personal favorite cocktail is the Blazing Saddle, while my food of choice is the rarebit.

Bonus: For fans of Mad Men, Clinton Street has oysters on the half shell. For those of you who watched La La Land and suddenly got into jazz, they frequently feature live jazz musicians.

Best Wings: The Vine

I’ve traveled all around this country of ours, and I have yet to taste a chicken wing I like more than The Vine’s. I don’t know how they do it, but their wings are just stupid delicious. Their sauces are amazing. The spicy end of the spectrum is great for those of us who like a little kick, and the barbecue flavors are top notch. The mild and medium buffalo styles somehow still pack a lot of that buffalo wing flavor while being edible for people who shun our dear friend capsaicin. My personal favorite is the maple hot (honorable mention to superhot)

The real magic in their wings, however, is the crispiness. The hardest thing to get right in chicken wings is the texture. Too many places put amazing sauces on a soggy, greasy chicken wing. I don’t know how The Vine does it. The wings are naked and not breaded, but they’re crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and delicious the whole way through.

Bonus: Vine Steins are giant glasses of chilled red ale for $3 (last time I was there anyway) and wash down a plate of superhot flavored wings with ease. Their apple pie shots are nothing to scoff at either.

Best Beer Selection: Sanctuary Pub

I’m sure I’ll get some pushback on this one from the townies, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Sanctuary. They’ve got a rotating tap featuring a lot of midwestern staples like Founders, Boulevard, Surly and Bells, as well as coastal brews like Lagunitas and Clown Shoes. As for bottles, they’ve got an amazing selection of imports from all over Europe that few bars in small towns can match.

Sanctuary is a place where beer snobs can bring their friends with less gifted palates and everyone can be satisfied.

Bonus: They serve one of the more underrated pizzas in town.

Best Pizza: Sam’s

Let me clarify something: if all you want is a simple pizza pie, I’m willing to concede victory to (in this order) Wig and Pen, Falbo’s, Pagliai’s, The Mill and Mesa. But if we’re talking about the most delicious possible dish that’s made out of pizza, it’s Sam’s or GTFO.

I’m talking Chicago style. Sam’s has the best Chicago style stuffed pizza west of the Mississippi River, and I won’t budge on that. One slice will make you full. Two slices will put you to sleep. Three slices shouldn’t be attempted without permission from your physician. They don’t mess around with their Chicago style.

If you want thin, foldable New York style, that’s fine. Go somewhere else. A slice of Sam’s is three inches thick of cheese, sauce, sausage, onions, peppers and whatever other toppings you prefer followed by a long nap.

Pro tip: when reheating leftovers, do it in the oven instead of the microwave. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.

Best Music Venue: The Mill

So in my opinion, there are 3 bars in Iowa City that are the absolute best when it comes to the music scene: Gabe’s, The Blue Moose, and The Mill (Yacht Club is overrated). I absolutely love Gabe’s and Blue Moose as far as bars go, but gave the edge to The Mill because of two factors.

1: The Mill has the most intimate setup of the three. It’s very small and there isn’t really a separate room for people going there for the show. As such, it feels more like you’re watching your friends play in their parents’ garage rather than at a concert.

2: Due to the intimate setup, they also have the easiest access to the bar. It’s right there. You don’t have to leave the show.

The Mill gets some amazing artists from the indie and college scenes, and there is no better place in eastern Iowa to grab a few beers and catch a show.

Bonus: The pizza is fantastic.

Best Breakfast: Hamburg Inn No. 2

The Hamburg Inn is famous for politics. You might have heard of it. They were on The West Wing. Bill Clinton ate there. Ronald Reagan ate there. Michele Bachmann was harassed by a U of I professor dressed up as a gay robot there. For these reasons alone, Hamburg is a destination you have to visit.

But I’m here to talk about the food. There might be fancier, nicer or even tastier places to grab breakfast in Iowa City, but I promise you that no other restaurant will nurse your hangover quite like the ‘Burg. They have the biggest, greasiest, cheesiest omelettes in town. They offer a stack of “mini pancakes” 7 inches across as a side that comes with said omelettes. I recommend the Iowa omelette with a side of corn beef hash: guaranteed to annihilate the most vicious of hangovers.

The decor is great. The food is both inexpensive and immensely satisfying. The coffee is bottomless and delicious. Do yourself a favor and head over to Hamburg on Sunday morning after the game.

Bonus: Get yourself a pie shake. They literally take a slice of pie and throw it in a blender with ice cream. I can’t even describe how amazing this concoction is because the words do not exist. Just get one.

Best Dive Bar: Dublin Underground

I don’t really know if Dublin Underground is technically a dive bar or not, but I’m putting it on the list because it is my absolute favorite place in Iowa City. True to its name, Dublin is a quiet little Irish pub that is literally underground.

The beer selection is simple: Guinness, Smithwicks, Guinness, Dempsey’s, something from Millstream, Guinness, Bud Light and more Guinness. Here is an incomplete list of reasons why I love this place:

  1. The decor features random Irish war clubs, old timey diving equipment, books and a host of other random old stuff. It’s really neat. Also there are fish.
  2. The jukebox is perpetually playing whatever music I’m in the mood for. Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits...whatever. It’s chill and it includes zero tracks from Imagine Dragons.
  3. They have a functioning cigarette vending machine.
  4. I used to go there on weeknights just to watch Twin Peaks with the bartenders.
  5. The bartenders are awesome by the way. Yes they’re quick to refill your drink, but they’ll get into a long discussion with you about music, literature, philosophy, or random pop culture nonsense. They also really know their way around bourbon and have some great recommendations for you.

If you came all the way to Iowa City and didn’t hit up Dublin Underground, you have failed at life.

Bonus: Other bars make an Irish carbomb with two fingers of Guinness and a shot of Bailey’s. Dublin Underground does it the proper way and gives you a nearly full glass of Guinness and a shot of half Bailey’s/half Jameson.

I really hope you guys can come hang out in Iowa City for a weekend some time. It’s my favorit place in the world. Hawk fans: feel free to cover any venues I missed in the comments.