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Belly Up

May 10, 2012
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From comedy to karaoke, Billy Joe’s keeps customers entertained

Billy Joe’s has a 28-year history in West Des Moines providing open mic entertainment for guests by guests. Look for the upcoming Karaoke Idol. Auditions start May 15.

By Amber Williams

On one of my first “dates” with a guy, he took me to the midnight showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at Billy Joe’s Pitcher Show in 1998. A plump woman dressed in dominatrix leathers invited me on stage for a flogging, as it was somehow revealed to the staff that I was “fresh meat,” a first-timer on the scene. I was also a last-timer — and it was the last time I was that guy’s date, too.

But the freak show at midnight was one of the entertainment offerings that made Billy Joe’s unique and well known for more than 20 years in Des Moines. Although the new owner dropped the Pitcher Show and changed it to Billy Joe’s Lounge, the old bar continues its tradition of providing colorful entertainment varieties to a loyal patronage.

“Everybody knows this place as Billy Joe’s, because it always has been,” said owner Al Bickell. “That’s why we decided to keep the name. A lot of people liked the old Billy Joe’s, and some people didn’t.

“Our lounge crowd has remained basically the same,” Bickell continued. “We have a lot of regulars that came in here before, but we’ve got a wide demographic of people. We’re not a huge bar, so we have that homey, laid back feel. Some people would call this place a dive bar, and some people wouldn’t. I think we’re somewhere in between.”

It’s somewhere in between the area’s major bar districts, too. Located at the nexus of the 86th Street crawl and Valley West area pubs, Billy Joe’s continues its tradition as a destination bar — more for night owls with a plan or a routine rather than the bar-hoppers, it’s a bar that “draws its own crowd,” as Bickell puts it. Regardless of one’s reason for bellying up to the bar or one of the dinner tables, Billy Joe’s is sure to keep everyone in the house entertained.

Depending on the night, Billy Joe’s might have stand-up comedians or musical talents waiting for their turn on the mic, or families and friends who are there for food and entertainment, “but the real bread and butter is the karaoke,” Bickell said.

“I think we get the best karaoke crowds in Des Moines,” he said. “A tremendous number of people come in here, and the main reason is because they like to sing.”

This summer, look for Billy Joe’s Karaoke Idol to replace Tuesday’s Open Mic Night. Idol is a karaoke competition that models “American Idol” with three local musical talents as judges, plus a fourth guest judge, who will be narrowing down auditions after five weeks of hearing contestants belt it out karaoke-style. Some will advance to the semi-finals, and 12 will remain to be judged by the crowd. Three will eventually take the top spots to win prizes including hotel stays, dinner for two, spa days and cash. Auditions start later this month, and the Idol series will end in August. CV


Billy Joe’s Lounge

1701 25th St., West Des Moines


Hours: Mon.-Tues., 2 p.m.-12 a.m., Wed.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-2 a.m.

Happy Hour: Mon.-Fri., 3-7 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 12-6 p.m., Sun., 9 p.m.-close

Capacity: 98

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