Nicer in Iowa

Big city people won’t ever believe you when you say that small-town folk are nicer, but it’s true. It isn’t that they aren’t worldly enough to be savvy, it’s that they spend a bit more time looking at people and getting to know them than most of the world does.

When I lived in Southeast Iowa, they had a great blues bar downtown. It was operated by a guy who loved to play blues and wanted to bring more traveling musicians into the area, but for some reason he never got around to getting a liquor license. And, since it was right across the street from the police station, they weren’t about to fudge it.

So they opened the bar as a “Bring Your Own Beer” joint.

I’m not kidding. Despite the cover charge at the door (to pay for the bands), whenever you planned to spend a night at this bar, you had to first walk a few blocks over to the nearest liquor store, stock up, and walk in with your own beverages for the

Picture this layout: The stage was beside the front door, dance floor just beyond that, and if you pushed your way in far enough you could get to the tables. Along both side walls were hugh ice troughs for you to store your beer, wine coolers, etc.

And it was always a great time. The bands would blow you away. If it got too crowded or too hot, we’d just go dance in the street. If you drank more than you anticipated, you’d usually find someone wiling to do a beer run about once an hour.

Yes, you’d see a total stranger announcing he was about to leave the bar, and you’d hand him your cash, confident that he’d return in a quarter hour with your liquor!

One Friday night, a guy I worked with who had just moved to town from New Jersey said he’d come down after work. I ran into him near midnight and he said it was the greatest bar he’d ever been to. He couldn’t wait to tell all his friends back home about this place! For only $5 cover, you could drink whatever you wanted all night!

That’s when I realized that the “Bring Your Own Beer” concept had never been posted anywhere. We all just knew how the place worked, and word-of-mouth was enough to keep it going. This kid, however, thought it was a normal bar that would provide alcohol and he’d been walking along the ice bins sampling whatever he wanted!

The craziest part of the story, though, is this: when the college boys whose beer he’d stolen found out about him, he didn’t get his butt kicked! We all had a good chuckle about the city boy and decided he’d make it up to them by doing the next beer run.

They did, wisely, send a couple big farm boys along with him to make sure he returned with their change and liquor. Like I said, Iowans are friendly, not stupid.

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