In the past few years, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of Cedar Rapids haters out there. People think there’s nothing cool to do there or that is smells funny. Recently I spent a few days there, to check out some things I’ve heard about, and I found it to be a fantastically awesome area. So, I’m here to prove the haters wrong and encourage us Midwesterners to take some time to enjoy this city.
The first place I visited with the NewBo City Market. This area was ravaged by the 2008 flood, Cedar Rapids as a whole was greatly impacted by the disaster. But the NewBo neighborhood has joined together to evolve into a really special place.
The NewBo City Market is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays only, and is filled with interesting food vendors of all different ethnicities and nationalities. They have other locally craft goods for sale as well as a great Visitor’s Center, where I got most of my ideas from. Outside the market they grow their own herbs and have a lovely place to eat your treats.
While talking to the very nice lady at the Visitor’s Center, I learned all about the statue parade, “Overalls All Over”. In celebration of (what would be) Grant Wood’s 125th birthday, 25 statues were created of the father and daughter from the painting, “American Gothic”. Each were then sponsored by a business and painted by a local artist.
I had spent the first couple of hours of the day enjoying the market until my partner in crime showed up for lunch. I wanted to go to a new place, so we picked the NewBo Alehouse, which was just across the intersection from the market. Originally I thought we’d go to Parlor City, a great restaurant with a fantastic draft list, but the alehouse caught my eye because I could tell from the architecture that it obviously used to be a bank.
The place was cool, but that’s all I’ve giving it. The service was terrible, it was dead inside and we couldn’t tell who was our actual bartender, because at least 4 people took care of us. The food was not good, the bacon we were served was obviously rancid (and when we sent it back, the “chef” claimed disbelief), and the can of beer you see below was $7. What the hell?
After our lame lunch, we had an hour to kill before hotel check-in time, so I dragged my partner on to the Brucemore tour. Brucemore is a mansion that was built in 1884 and then was occupied by 3 different families over the years.
The garden was beautiful. The whole place was quite lovely and the tour was fun, though they didn’t allow any photography inside.
After our tour we checked into the Hilton. I always pay a little extra to stay here because its in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids, so you can walk to a lot of different places. They do have a pool, but no hot tub.
The afternoon was reserved strictly for breweries. Duh. The first one we visited was Lion Bridge Brewing Company. We got great service, really good beer, and the place had a cool atmosphere.
It was right along a river walk, so we took a little jaunt across the bridge to appreciate the beautiful Iowa River. I love a good river town.
While on the river, we found another statue. This one was inspired by Andy Warhol, the museum behind it was featuring a Warhol exhibit but my partner in crime thinks he’s a crock, so we skipped it. 🙂 Still love that statue though.
Our second of three brewery visits was to Turner Alley Brewing Co. A massive facility. We got to meet owner and head brewer, Bill Patterson, who was an incredibly kind and gracious host.
Our third and final brewery stop of the day was at the newly opened Iowa Brewing Co. 3 for 3 on great beer in the city, 3 for 3 on great service at the breweries, and 3 for 3 on cool places to hang out.
Iowa Brewing Co. is one of the first I’ve visited that has vessels laid on their sides specifically for lagering beer. I was impressed and excited all at once.
One of the things I often do on my journeys is to hit up the local farm-to-table restaurant. Once again, from a tip from the visitor’s center, we had lunch at Sauce Bar & Bistro. Holy cow. I highly recommend this place, one of the best meals I’ve had all year.
I had the Masa Polenta Sopes – 2 tamale cakes with chicken and homemade salsa, black beans, and Jack cheese. The greens were tossed in a green chili and ranchero sauce, which I enjoyed but all of my attention was on the polenta. It was the most perfect texture and the right amount of cheesiness. Yes.
The next day I spent in Cedar Rapids, I visited two other breweries I hadn’t visited yet. Our first time was Quarter Barrel, a brewery and arcade bar that also serves food. We didn’t eat there, but their beer was pretty good.
Then we stopped over at Third Base Brewing. Garbage. The beer was horrible and the atmosphere was suffocatingly tame.
As we drove to Third Base, we passed by a place called Rocktop that had a kick-ass looking rooftop patio (a slight obsession of mine). So after our tasteless experience at the previously visited establishment, we made an unplanned pitstop and refreshed our pallets with a Moscow Mule, one of the best patio drinks.
Afterwards we headed towards our destination for the day, downtown to the Paramount Theater to see a show, a very cool venue I must say.
So to all the CR skeptics out there, open your mind. The area has a lot of fun, cool, locally crafted things to enjoy, give it a chance.