As in most cities that have a major university, Iowa City has no shortage of lively bars, funky coffeehouses, and reasonably priced restaurants. Most places in town are quite gay-friendly, but Studio 13 (13 S. Linn St., 319-594-5198) is the one place in town that actually bills itself a gay club. Formerly known as the Alley Cat, and drawing quite a few hetero friends of the community as well, the bar is right downtown, steps from the campus of the University of Iowa.
Studio 13 has a 19-and-older admission policy (you have to be 21 to drink), and has plenty of events to keep things interesting - drag shows, karaoke, and so on. After the bar closes, the crowd spills into the adjoining alley, where jovial mingling and occasionally intense cruising occur for another hour or so.
Just a 30-minute drive north of Iowa City in Cedar Rapids, Belle's Basix (3916 1st Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, 319-363-3194) is the other big gay nightlife option serving the area. It's a popular place for dancing and drag shows on weekends and good drink specials the rest of the week.
In downtown Iowa City, the Deadwood Tavern (6 S. Dubuque St., 319-351-9417) is an old-fashioned saloon with a few sidewalk seats, a cool jukebox, pool tables, and a mellower scene than at the many hormonally charged pickup bars around town. Although it's not a gay bar per se, you'll see a lot of GLBT folks in here most nights.
Another spot with something of a gay following is the cool indie bookstore, Prairie Lights (15 S. Dubuque St., 319-337-2681), which is open until 9 pm most evenings (till 6 on Sundays) and has a lively little cafe that serves good food, wine and beer, and coffee and tea drinks.
Iowa City has several excellent live-music clubs, including the Sanctuary (405 S.
Gilbert St., 319-351-5692), known for blues as well as both contemporary and vintage jazz. This cozy, stone-walled space serves excellent pizzas, bar munchies, and salads, and its beer menu lists more than 130 brands.
In fact, this is a great city for dining out. For outstanding Basque-inspired Spanish fare, enjoy a meal at Devotay (117 N. Linn St., 319-354-1001), which has earned critical acclaim for the sophisticated cuisine of slow-food proponent and cookbook author Kurt Michael Friese. He uses local ingredients as often as possible in such traditional Spanish dishes as patatas bravas, sherry-glazed chorizo, Basque-style chicken sandwiches, lamb stew, and traditional paella.
One Twenty Six (126 E. Washington St., 319-887-1909), which occupies an intimate storefront with exposed brick walls, serves some of the best contemporary American fare in town. Try the applewood-smoked Iowa Berkshire pork chop with sweet potato-black bean-plantain hash, and a roast-pepper chimichurri sauce. There's a long wine list, too. Atlas (127 Iowa Ave., 319-341-7700) is a slick eatery with a swank downstairs lounge. The kitchen turns out big portions of eclectic fare, from Thai chicken salad to roasted halibut with a saffron-tomato broth.
Veg-heads and fans of natural food swear by the fresh cheeses, breads, organic produce, and hefty sandwiches sold at New Pioneer Co-op (22 S. Van Buren St., 319-338-9441), which is also a fine place to pick up gourmet goodies for the road. Affordable Masala (9 S. Dubuque St., 319-338-6199) serves spicy Indian vegetarian and vegan cuisine, including delicious masala dosa (rice-and-lentil crepes stuffed with potatoes and served with coconut chutney and vegetable stew). The down-home Hamburg Inn No. 2 (214 N. Linn St., 319-337-5512) can be counted on for cheap, greasy, but great-tasting diner fare. Since opening in 1948, it's been a source for luscious malts and towering roast beef sandwiches slathered in gravy. It's also become something of an institution as a popular stop for presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle.