Guest Review: sLim Reviews The University Library Cafe

libraryUniversity Library Cafe-3506 University Ave
Des Moines IA

Fortunately for all those who dwell in the Eastern and Central Iowa area, more and more craft beer bars are popping up. I always enjoy myself more at these types of establishments. Not just for their expansive beer selection, but because most of them seem to have a quirky, quaint feel to them. You’re usually in for a unique experience each time you go to one.

While the number of bars/restaurants in Iowa with exemplary beer selections is increasing, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about one that’s been around for quite some time. The University Library Cafe has been around for a few decades. It has certainly gone through some changes during that time period, especially in management. Since 2012, the Library has been managed by Full Court Press, the Des Moines company that owns and runs other highly popular establishments like El Bait Shop, Hessen Haus, and the Royal Mile.

When you first walk in to the Library, you can’t help but notice that it’s, well…quite small (although you likely weren’t surprised at this when you saw the outside of the building driving by). It’s tucked into the western part of the Drake campus right on University Avenue. Upon initial reaction, one may expect a ma and pa type cafe that specializes in comfort food and has limited hours. Quite the contrary, this cafe stays open until 2am every night and opens early for breakfast at 8am Friday through Sunday. Due to it’s location, it has a very eclectic crowd. You’ll see your fair share of college students but there usually are some seasoned veteran regulars along with groups of people out for dinner. While it’s no Outback Steakhouse, it’s still family friendly with several booths lining the wall (which serve as the majority of the dining area).

Onto the food; if you’ve eaten at High Life Lounge/El Bait Shop, the menu is pretty similar. There are a few burgers, sandwiches, and appetizers that are served at both of these locations. Some that I recommend would be the Peanut Butter Bacon Burger, Fried Pickles, and the Homemade Macaroni and Cheese. While you can’t go wrong with any of those selections, the Library does offer several of their own unique entrees. There’s the Library Poutine appetizer, the Jalapeno Havarti Burger, and of course, the fabled Meatloaf Sandwich.

The last time I was there, I ordered that legendary meatloaf sandwich. You get a sizable slab of loaf which is plenty juicy and flavorful served on a hoagie bun. A choice of side comes with it; again, I recommend the mac ’n cheese. The Library is also famously known for its nachos (voted best in DSM in recent years). I also placed a order of these. They were plenty greasy but good.

As far as beer, this is where the Library thrives. Despite it’s small space, they employ a tremendous selection of taps. There’s over 40 available; and none of those are wasted on any Bud, Miller, or Coors products. You have a wide selection of brews from great national breweries such as Stone, Founders, Summit, and Deschutes. There’s also plant of offerings from Iowa breweries like Confluence, Peace Tree (including the Rye Porter, rarely seen on tap), and West-Okoboji. On this previous trip I decided to enjoy a Stone Enjoy By Double IPA which paired nicely with the nachos. I would put this terrifically hoppy yet drinkable Double IPA right up there with other favorites from this category like Laguinitas Sucks and Victory Dirtwolf.

The mark of a good craft beer bar is that you can never run out of something new to try regardless of how often you frequent it (unless you’re a complete barfly like Steve Buschemi’s character in Trees Lounge). Whether you’re a Des Moines area resident or just happening to be in the area, mark the University Library Cafe a place to check out. Even though it’s really small, it can cater to a variety of occasions: a lunch date, an early evening meeting spot for a group of friends, or an after work/night cap bar if you’re looking to unwind with the help of a tasty brew. This place is more than just the quality food and drinks available. The atmosphere is probably what I appreciate most. It’s a tight squeeze in there some nights but I think it plays to their advantage more often than not. It gives the Library a cozy, lounge-type feel which is a nice change of pace from the bustling downtown bars located just a few miles east.

Stop in to this forgotten gem located off the beaten path for an experience you’re not likely to forget.


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