1. BEER FEST ALERT: Don't miss FUNK Boston: A Wild & Sour Beer Fest on June 14-15!

Sanctuary Restaurant & Pub

Your Rating: None
Sanctuary Restaurant & PubSanctuary Restaurant & Pub
31 Ratings
Sanctuary Restaurant & PubSanctuary Restaurant & Pub

Type: Bar, Eatery

405 S Gilbert St
Iowa City, Iowa, 52240-4918
United States

(319) 351-5692 | map

On street parking is limited but there is a new "City Parking Ramp" two blocks west of the bar.

View: Place Reviews
User Ratings & Reviews
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters
first ← prev | 1-25 | 26-50  | nextlast
Ratings: 31 |  Reviews: 25
Reviews by mynie:
Photo of mynie
4.5/5  rDev +2%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4

Absolutely fantastic atmosphere. An old building, lots of wood trim. Wonderful soft lighting that doesn't come off as trashy. No loud music, no loud kids--just the pleasant chatter of middle-aged hepsters and the clink of ice against glass. The dining area is small and cozy. Everything just *works*.

The beer selection was huge and varied and the only American macro I saw sight of was PBR (which might have explained the lack of college kids in a college town at 9:00 on a Friday night). A complete list is available at their website. All the beer's were quite reasonably priced, too.

The food was good, but not great. They were fresh out of the pasta dish that my fiance and I wanted so we got a pizza instead. For a pizza it was above average, the sauce might have had a bit too much red pepper in it but that's just personal preference. I've been told that the actual entrées are a lot better.

The waiter was very nice. I didn't need to test his beer knowledge, since all the beers are summarized quite nicely on a beer menu that each tables comes replete with. The menu is a great touch in a place like this, to not have to walk up to the bar and stare down into the fridge and point to what you want like a kid at an ice cream truck). Some beers even had their high Beer Advocate scores listed next to them!

It's a hard choice between this and OC. From what I've heard about the crowds the OC draws at night, though, you might want to go there for lunch, shop downtown Iowa City for a few hours, and then stop by Sanctuary for dinner.

 1,555 characters

More User Reviews:
Photo of GranbyBrewer
4.25/5  rDev -3.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4

We came to sample local brews. They had 2 on tap. The Turner Alley Wood's Wheat was a pleasant way to spend a day of driving. A perfect example of a simple Wheat beer. The Lion Bridge Yard Sale IPA was drinkable without over powering hoppiness. The bartender knew about the local brews as well as the good selection of some regional and well known offerings. The shepherds pie was made with local lamb and the Ham and Fontana sandwich made with regional ingredients. Iowa City is a College town and the Sactuary would be a great place to hang out after class.

 572 characters

Photo of Taybeh
4.2/5  rDev -4.8%
vibe: 4.25 | quality: 4.25 | service: 4.25 | selection: 4.25 | food: 3.75

Photo of wapcap
3.9/5  rDev -11.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3.75 | service: 4.25 | selection: 3.75 | food: 3.75

Stopped in for a visit based on reviews from BA. This place seemed like a bar/eatery from the 1980's, as it was dark inside and just the vibe was like that.
Good selection of craft brews. Menu for food looked promising.
If you are in Iowa City for a few days, this place would be worth checking out.

 299 characters

Photo of Doctor_Bogenbroom
4.45/5  rDev +0.9%
vibe: 4.25 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4.25

I went to the Sanctuary many times during my graduate school days, and I was always pretty impressed with the beer selection. The food is a bit on the expensive side, but the atmosphere is fairly inviting and there are a variety of different beers on tap. Service quality depends on how busy the establishment is at the time, but overall, I'd say it is worth checking out.

 374 characters

Photo of mbenda
4.64/5  rDev +5.2%

Photo of KAF
4.5/5  rDev +2%

Photo of PBIU
4.5/5  rDev +2%

Photo of teraflx
4.5/5  rDev +2%

Photo of Bkoop
4.5/5  rDev +2%

Photo of cpolking
4.2/5  rDev -4.8%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 4

The Sanctuary has a very good selection of Iowa craft beer (including the delicious Toppling Goliath beers), American craft beer, and Belgian beer. Quite a few selections on draft (I think at least 30?), more in bottles. There is a good selection of food, and the food is solid, not gourmet, but above the average bar food. The prices for beer and food are reasonable. It has a cozy, dark atmosphere, lots of wood. The bar staff is knowledgable about beer. Near downtown and the ped mall area. I go anytime I am in Iowa City.

 525 characters

Photo of quaybr
3.78/5  rDev -14.3%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4

Stopped by here with my wife and friends on a trip back to Ohio for the winter holiday.

I wasn't fond of the atmosphere. It was dimly lit, on the verge of dark. I could have tolerated that if it were quiet, but it wasn't. Acoustics in that place were crazy: no music, but the narrow and long room just created some kind of noise chamber.

Service wasn't great, but above average. The server had no idea what the styles of beer were that they had on tap. I'm always a little confused by a "beer bar" that employs people who aren't knowledgeable about beer.

Selection was decent. Only a small portion of the tap list was made up of regional breweries (I believe three at the time). Otherwise, some pretty standard microbrews.

Food was good, a bit expensive.

Overall, this is a nice bar given its selection. A bit too pricey for my liking.

 840 characters

Photo of GoinGoinGone
5/5  rDev +13.4%
vibe: 5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 5 | food: 5

LOVED this place! I recently went in there on a Monday night while in Iowa City visiting some friends. Great ambiance! Blues and Jazz music playing in the background. Dimly lit with dark wood and green lanterns. This place was exquisite considering that its in a party-oriented college town.

For a Monday it was quite busy. I assuming because it was their deal night (3.45/pint). The bartender was extremely cordial - I think his name was Nick - and answered all of my wife and I's questions thoroughly on top of having us laughing our pants off. And if I didn't know any better I would say that the bartender and the two servers were related! The way they interacted was hilarious and very comfortable. It was like brothers and sisters jokingly pick at each other. They were very pleasant and made our time at the Sanctuary fun and relaxing. We felt as if we were part of a family. A+++ for service and ambiance.

The selection was pretty good. Would have liked to see some more Oktoberfests on tap, they one had one. But they had Old Rasputin on tap which was fantastic and some other notable beers including; Gulden Drak, HooblanChoufe, Framboise Lambic, and (not remarkable but oh so good!) Rogue Hazelnut Brown.

I also had the Spaghetti and Meatballs which was AMAZING. I was expecting run of the mill food, but the dish was outstanding. My wife had some MahiMahi dish which she loved.

Overall, I was incredibly surprised by the place. I can't believe I went to college/grad school there and never found it. Shame on me! But if you get the chance, you will not be wasting your time there! Service is phenomenal, food is wonderful, beer is variant and high quality, and the ambiance is low-key and relaxing. Dont miss this one!

 1,737 characters

Photo of emerge077
4.34/5  rDev -1.6%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5

Criss-crossing across Iowa, we needed a place to stop and take a break, and Sanctuary fit the bill. Late Friday night there was a manageable crowd, the bar area was only half full so we opted for a two top table.

Inside the front door, there's a door off to the left marked "Red Room" with additional dining/lounge space. Inside the narrow main room, the bar was on the right, with tables and lounge seating on the left. Antiqued leather chairs, dark wooden tables and dim green lamps gave it a cozy, relaxed vibe. The bar and tables were a dark reddish wood, and the back bar was rustic with illuminated stained glass panels. Above that there was a row of brewery mirrors and decorative wooden crates. On the exposed brick walls was an eclectic mix of framed artwork. The place had the feel of an English pub or european cafe. This was reflected in it's broad selection of import bottles, covering a variety of styles.

Seeking local Iowa beer, there were a couple that we settled on, Golden Nugget IPA from Toppling Goliath, and Hop Wrangler from Peace Tree. The bartender and patron next to me were happy to chat beer and give local recommendations. He mentioned the Hop Wrangler was the end of the keg, asked if that was ok, and only charged a short pour for it. On a shelf above the bar I noticed a bottle of Utopias and a few 750's of Saison-Brett. Bottle list was extensive, sorted by country with tasting notes.

We didn't try the food this time, but it looked good from what was coming out of the kitchen. Overall a cozy little place, a good spot to spend a couple hours with some good company and quality beers.

 1,625 characters

Photo of Yetiman420
4.36/5  rDev -1.1%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5

Stopped in on for what I thought would be a quick stop on a Tuesday around 4pm after a stop a John's Grocery (for beer glasses).

A tad bit off the beaten path which is fine for me. Meter parking around the corner. Plan exterior which opens up to a very cozy, dimly lit European interior. I made my way to the bar where there were two other people.

Twenty seven beers on tap. Eight Belgians, one cider (Ace Pear), and the rest a good blend leaning to pale/IPA.

Remarkable selections include:
Brother Thelonious 10oz $6
Framboise Lambic 10oz $7
Gulden Draak Brown Ale $7
Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast 10oz $8
New Belgium Grand Cru and La Folie 10oz $5
IPA's form local breweries Toppling Goliath and Peace Tree
Old Rasputin $6

My bartender turned out to be the owner, Woody, and I got to chat him up after his shift. Wound up spending a hour too long here as I had to be in Des Moines that night. The next set of bartenders included a guy on his first day who was a regular prior to that but I'm not quite sure he had the hang of proper glassware and pouring - no big deal.

Very nice place and highly recommended to fill the void of no brewer in a college town like this.

 1,178 characters

Photo of MarcatGSB
4.75/5  rDev +7.7%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 5 | food: 4.5

Stumbled upon The Sanctuary only because I heard they had quite a few taps. I knew nothing else. I found a great world behind those pub doors.

They have 27 taps. They have a great bottle selection. Their food is fun, inventive, and tasty. The atmosphere is sophisticated and chill at the same time.

What more could you ask for?

If you are in Iowa City and would like to escape from the typical downtown frat bar scene that is Iowa City, go to the Sanctuary. They have affordable, great beer. The bartenders will treat you with respect, the music is not overwhelmingly loud, and most likely is some mellow classy jazz. No where else in Iowa City, or eastern Iowa can you get the vibe that you find at the Sanctuary. A great place to spend your hard earned dollars.

 768 characters

Photo of AugiePrimrose
4.25/5  rDev -3.6%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 5 | food: 3.5

A:A dimly lit pub with a nice sized bar area and seperated dining section. It's definitely a little more 'classy' than your average Iowa City meat market type bar. The kind of place where your worries disappear the second you walk through the door. Great vibe for conversation.

Q and S:One of Iowa's better(top 3?) tap/bottle lists. 25 or so taps from Rogue to Flying Dog and some from across the pond. A nice, well rounded selection in which there's something for everyone.

Service:Always attentive and on top of almost empty pints. Sometimes younger guys bartending, but they're not punks or meatheads.

F:Was happy to see some veggie options(not always so in Iowa) for the wife and the pizza is good enough. Probably wouldn't eat here if not for the beer selection though.

V:Can be a bit pricey on the pints($6), but they have weeknight specials which knock them down to $3. I think Monday is any pint for $3, then the other days are certain beers like Anchor Steam or Fat Tire.

 984 characters

Photo of AndrewD1022
4.3/5  rDev -2.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5

This was a great place to find in Iowa. Not familiar with the surrounding bars I found this place asking around. It is one of my favorite bars that I have visited of recent.

The pub styled restaurant is very dark but lively, the bartender was very nice and very knowledgeable in his beers. Found off the beaten path of most Iowa City bars, it did not bring in the typical college crowd.

The selection of beer was very impressive and overwhelmed me at first. With beer from all over the world I was taken aback at how many countries were represented. Even outside the common ones like Belgium, Germany and now America.

On tap there was a great selection of about 20 beers, all different.

Overall, if you are within an hour of this Beer Bar/Restaurant and want a great place to get a drink, you need to stop by. You may find something on tap or on their menu that is new.

 873 characters

Photo of bnietz
4.64/5  rDev +5.2%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 5


OK, so I'm getting carried away, but this place was exceptional, especially for middle america.

I counted 20 or so beers on tap and the bottle list is extensive.

I had the Blanche de Bruxelles on tap. Of course the little Manneken Pis on the beer tap drew my eye immediately. My friend had a Fuller's London Pride on tap and his wife has a Pinkus Ur Pils from a half liter bottle. Both seemed fresh and tasty.

Sad to say, it had been a long day and I was driving so I only could try one.

Not usually open over the lunch hour, so plan on going there in the evening.

 574 characters

Photo of cullenvens
4.8/5  rDev +8.8%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 4.5

This place is an amazing breath of fresh air in the vast open plains of Iowa. I have never been to a bar in Iowa that has such an immense selection of delicious, hard-to-obtain beers.

The selection varies from month to month, but there is always something wonderous that will surely please you, your family, or a date. Beer exploration is a must in this world. As such, I have found it necessary to keep this place on my list for years.

Don't be fooled by the location, stuck inconspicuously between two much brighter locales, or the drab interior, you will enjoy yourself if you enter. What sets it apart, other than the exceptional beer selection, is that it is not a loud college puke/slutfest. It is calm, quiet, fragrant and somber.


 749 characters

Photo of hoffman
4.44/5  rDev +0.7%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5

The sanctuary is a great place to grab a beer. Tucked away off of the beaten path a bit in IC, you can escape the mardi gras esc atmosphere of the ped mall. The Sanctuary is certainly a quieter atmosphere, and is all about good beer, good wine and, from what I could tell, good food.

The 15 taps are include 4 Rogue taps, including DGA and Shakespeare 4 taps from Fullers a tap from Bells, Lindeman's Frambois and a few others.

The bottle selection was the best I have seen in a while, several Belgian options, harder to find Rouge (I2PA, Old Crusy etc). I had a pint of Fuller's ESB, a sample of North Coast Red Seal, and a 12 ounce bottle of Trubadour blonde.

I was fortunate enough to meet and converse with the owner, an engaging fellow, well traveled, and willing to discuss all things beer etc.

In addition the beer menu is laid out well with BA ratings in suffix, the service was good, I didn't like the fact that there was quite a bit of smoking going on, the beers on bottle were also plenty cold, I am nitpicking but observations none the less. Overall a great experience.

 1,087 characters

Photo of Willibomb
4.95/5  rDev +12.2%
vibe: 5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 5 | food: 4.5

While planning a trip that involved driving though IC, I looked this place up on this website. After the initial reviews, my wife and I decided to give it a shot, and what a nice suprise it was!

First off, it was "Dead Guy night" with $3 pints and $9 dollar pitchers, yes pitchers of rogue. Each pitcher could pour at least 4 pints, so it was definately a cheap night out. Also, as a little bonus, the bar was recently picked up as a JLS provider, which made the trip worth it completely with just that. The rest of the selection was made of about 20 unique brews from various brewers, with the most mainstream being newcastle, and the most exotic being a brew by Lambic (which my wife got a free taste of, and was very pleased).

The bar was less than packed, so service was a sinch, most of the time, I was conversing with the bartender (Connor) about beer, college, and different places we have been. While my wife ordered garlic bread for $3 (very good), I told him that I thought that Newcastle had a strange flavor in the midwest, he disagreed and brought me a 1/2 pint of it on the house, and he was right, the last bar I had it in, was serving old beer or at least bad beer! (Buffolo Wild Wings)

If this bar is a great bar, and if you take into account that it is but a handful (3 that I have found) in iowa with rogue on tap, this bar is the top of the small beer-oriented bars in Iowa. Coupled with great food, and a great service, it is a real A+. Even give free beeradvocate magazines! What more could you ask for?

 1,534 characters

Photo of scoobybrew
4/5  rDev -9.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3 | selection: 5 | food: 4

Our homebrew club stopped here for dinner on a recent trip to Iowa City. The place is dimly glowing; with dim lights everywhere, giving the bar section a very classy feeling. The dining section has a fireplace going which gives a very home like feeling. The beer list selection is unbelievable for a beer bar making selection wonderfully difficult (how often does that happen in a restaurant). The beer was also served in its appropriate glassware (Belgians & lambics had tulips & snifters, pales pint glasses and weizen glasses for wheats, etc.) The food was excellent and we really enjoyed our time spent here. My only small complaint was that I had to wait on occasion for a beer. However, I was pretty thirsty and the beer was going down easily

 748 characters

Photo of woodychandler
3.66/5  rDev -17%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3.5

As I entered this establishment, I was faced with an immediate decision – the lady or the tiger. Oh, wait. That’s for a different review. No, here, it was “Pub Room” dead ahead or “Café Rooms” off to the left. The WoodCompass always points to “Bar” and so it was off to the former. As I entered, the stygian darkness put me in mind of my favorite bartender of all time, Russell “Rocky” Albrecht, who would come on-shift, announce, “Okay, people, nobody ever came to a bar to get a suntan!” and then dim the lights waaaay down. He would swoon over this place. I had to feel my way along, past the snug to the immediate right, past the tables and stools on the right, and finally I bumped into the long, simple, dark-wood bar with desk lamps built into the bar trough. I felt like I was in a WWII spy movie, dictating notes by the merest of lighting. The back bar was an immense wood and mirror affair with its several wine racks, and an extensive liquor selection. To the left of the bar was a short dividing wall with stools and a shelf. Further left were booths and a fireplace that utilized candles, vice wood, for illumination. In front of the fireplace were two leather couches facing each other, plus a coffee table. The washrooms were all of the way aft. Also, if you go, do take note of the “native quarried stone walls and hand-hewn timber lintels.” I love that sort of thing.

The “Café Rooms” were slightly more brightly lit, with standard restaurant tables and chairs, heavy burgundy curtains dividing the space in half, and most of the way aft, a short passageway connecting the two buildings.

The selection was decent, with sixteen (16) taps and a load of bottles in a cooler. I had a couple of beers and moved on.

 1,753 characters

Photo of Metalmonk
4.22/5  rDev -4.3%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4

Why oh why didn't I frequent this place more often when I lived in Iowa City? Easy answer: I was pretty much flat broke then. And I didn't have the refined taste for beer that I've gained as I've gotten older and (hopefully) wiser. But wow, what a lost opportunity to have started the beer journey years ago, extra spending money or not.

Last time I visited the place was quiet (I like going to beer bars early in the week for this very reason) as we sat and slowly sipped our beers. The selection is great, everything served in appropriate glassware. They offer a huge international variety that would take many visits to exhaust, but I couldn't help it: I went for the Belgians again. Prices were on the high side for some of the rarer and higher-ABV beers.

The service was fair, not overly friendly but certainly not rude. The atmosphere of this place is key: lots of old wood and candles, a real cozy, almost medieval pub atmosphere that enhances the quaffing of fine ales. An excellent slice of class and comfort in a wonderful little city.

 1,051 characters

first ← prev | 1-25 | 26-50  | nextlast
Sanctuary Restaurant & Pub in Iowa City, IA
Place rating: 4.41 out of 5 with 31 ratings