El Bait Shop in Des Moines, Iowa

Barkeep by | Jan 2015 | Issue #96

Jeff Bruning owns a bunch of beer joints. He’s already got a German place, a British place and a Belgian place. And he’s about to open an all-Iowa place next. But when he opened El Bait Shop in Des Moines he says, “American craft was the last frontier.” That was his focus. So he welcomed his first customers in 2006 with 105 draft handles, 100 bottles and a roadhouse vibe complete with distressed wood paneling, big neon signs, picnic tables outside and the idea to pay tribute to the burgeoning beer movement in the US. To do that though, they’ve had to stay one step ahead of the game.

“I have had a longtime rule of getting rid of any beer that sells too well,” Bruning says, explaining his reasoning for eliminating all brewery flagships. “This creates an opportunity for people to try new and exciting beers beyond that well-known beer. We have, on average, 3–4 new beers made available for our customers every day.” Today, El Bait Shop offers 120 drafts and 200 bottles.

Along with his coworkers and the regulars, manager Tim Wilcoxson, who worked at other Bruning establishments before coming to El Bait Shop, cites this ever-revolving assortment of American craft as a source of professional motivation.

“To say every day brings something new is an understatement,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun having new things to sell and talk about almost every time I come in to work.”

Those new things include Des Moines IPA from locals Confluence Brewing, Saison de Ruisseau from Midwestern neighbors Destihl and standbys from the likes of Green Flash, Left Hand and Deschutes. Aside from the never-ending assortment of new, mostly domestic brews, Grant Gillon, a 24-year-old sales manager for a hotel in the Des Moines area, loves the mix of blue collar workers and suits during the week. Like the diverse beer selection, it’s the range of people ordering pints that regularly delights him and serves as a reminder of why he got into beer in the first place.

“This is why El Bait Shop is my favorite bar,” he says. “It brings people together who may otherwise never meet, celebrates the craft, and supports local business. What more could you want from a local bar?”