food & drink

Belly Up

June 16, 2011 |

By Amber Williams


Pal Joey’s


Luna Bistro 621 Des Moines, St., 288-9849. Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Keepin’ it clean and classy


It’s far from a Court Avenue meat market; it’s not part of the Ingersoll crawl; and it’s definitely not one of the commoving clubs in Clive. But in its almost 30 years in business at 6224 Grand Ave., Pal Joey’s has seen plenty of action.

" It’s more of a destination kind of place," said owner Frank Yacavona, shoving a white cloth into a sparkling glass before hanging it on the rack above his head. "It’s the kind of place people come to because of the atmosphere."

Frank took over the business in 1982 for his father, Joey (hence the name, "Pal Joey’s" which is also a reference to an old Frank Sinatra movie). But, at the age of 83, Joey Yacavona has no plans of going anywhere anytime soon. The bar "is in his blood," Frank said.

And no doubt, his blood and sweat went into the bar as well, as Joey transformed what was once a Burger Chef restaurant into a classic "Cheers"-style lounge years ago. Nearly the entire place — including the walls, bar, tables, chairs, cabinets, shelves and ceiling — is made of a high gloss cedar wood. When you walk in for the first time, if feels like a place "where everybody knows your name."

It won’t be long before Frank not only knows your name, but also your preferred poison, as he slides a wooden bowl brimmed with freshly popped and well-seasoned popcorn (you don’t have to eat it, but you will) next to a drink and settles in for a chat.

Before long, Frank’s contagious laugh will catch on as he mingles with his belly-uppers, and you’ll feel like one of the gang.

That’s on an average day at Pal Joey’s. Other days, the bar seats and tables will fill with volleyball teams looking to cool off after a day of play at The Sands located next door. But the local volleyballers aren’t the only teams found at Pal Joey’s. On almost 20 sporadically-placed, flat-screen TVs, sports fans gather for friendly rivalries — especially between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, two favored teams by the regulars.

And, "It’s the best place in town to see a Hawks game," one patron told another as they headed with their beer mugs to a shaded patio on one of the hottest days so far this summer. As far as guests go, "you never know who you’re going to get," Frank said.

" It ranges from young business people to people who have followed my dad over the years," he said. "It’s a nice mix of people of all sorts. There’s just no way to categorize them."

Fair enough.

Although many of them are sports fans, perhaps none are as much as ol’ Joey himself, which is exemplified on the walls where framed photographs depict him with sports celebrities such as former Iowa State University head football coach Dan McCarney; University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez; and University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferenz, to name a few.

Pal Joey’s is a classy place with old-school values, which makes it a friendly and safe place to kick back to watch a game or have a drink. It’s open Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., and 10 a.m. to close on Saturday game days. The father/son duo is almost always in the house staying busy, and it shows. The bar is in pristine condition, and the atmosphere is always welcoming and cheerful.

Stop in for a handshake and a cold one. CV