Gator’s/Club AM owner Larry Smithson
says the new Gator’s trolley will help
connect the East Village to the downtown
bar districts by transporting patrons
back and forth for free.
By Amber Williams
Young people won’t admit they like classic
rock, and older people deny they dig grooving
to the new age pop, “but when they have a few
drinks in them, they get out on the dance floor
to anything with a good beat,” according to
long-time Des Moines bar tycoon Larry Smithson.
A few cocktails from a fish bowl and a thumpin’
bass line is all it takes to get the ladies
shaking it on the dance floor in front of a
mirrored wall at the new Gator’s/Club AM to
what Smithson likes to call a “party music mix.”
“I like mixing it up,” he said. “Some old ‘Tootsie
Roll’ or ‘Put Your Ass Into It’ from back in
the day thrown in there with some of the new
stuff, and people like that. That keeps the
place fun, and fun people are what we’re looking
That’s why the new Gators/Club AM offers party
specials that include free drinks for the bride/groom-to-be
as well as for anyone who had a birthday that
week plus a friend.
“They drink free all night,” he said.
Gator’s brings a late night energy to downtown
that caters to the habits of a typical club
crowd which often starts the night late and
finishes early — in the morning, that is. It’s
the original home of the Saturday All Night
Party, which kicks off at 9 p.m. and doesn’t
send people packing for home until the Sunday
morning church-goers are putting on the morning
“I know a lot of people that leave the bar,
and go to breakfast, because they’re not ready
to quit,” Smithson said. “They don’t want to
go home yet. I think people look for an alternative.”
When seeking that alternative, late night carousers
along Court Avenue and the East Village can
hail the Gator’s trolley bus for a free ride
to the after-hours party just east of the river.
Although no alcohol is served after 2 a.m.,
the lights and the music stay on until people
get it together enough to head back out into
“I like to tease people, you’re not really a
gator unless you crawl out of the party,” Smithson
snickered. “Entertainment venues are like radio
stations, and most people who listen to the
radio are button jumpers. The trolley makes
that more user-friendly and brings Court Avenue
and the East Village together.”
It’s not hard to miss. The big red trolley seats
more than 30 people, and the letters “FREE RIDE”
painted down the broad side are self-explanatory
— additional evidence that Smithson truly understands
his surly clientele. Likely places to hop on
are at the Komodo Klub and Pints in the Court
Avenue District, but anyone can hail the trolley
down curbside, and the driver will be happy
“I’m constantly driving back and forth from
here to Court Avenue and all over downtown,”
said driver Rick Stougard. “Everybody on the
trolley is giggling and having a good time,
and it has a nice stereo system.”
For those who liked Club AM as it was, some
favorite attributes remain, such as the dancers’
cage and the DJ, but the new beach atmosphere
and frozen drinks offer a friendly, high-five
feel that’s new to downtown and a hideaway escape.
217 E. 2nd St.
Hours: Saturday 9 p.m.-4 a.m.
Happy Hour: 9-11 p.m.