Bartender Cali Searles mixes up an Amelia
Rum martini made with fresh blackberries
muddled with Sugar in the Raw, freshly-squeezed
lemons, Clearheart Rum and St. Germain
By Amber Williams
“Muddle” is a fitting word when it comes to
cocktails. Its two definitions complement each
other divinely: First, one can “muddle a drink,”
which means to mix it with something that muddies
and confuses it; and, subsequently, one can
also “muddle things up,” which means to make
a mess of things. In the world of libations,
the latter often follows the former — a consequential
cause-and-effect, if you will. While the former
is the phenomenon we’d sometimes like to forget,
the act of muddling a drink is worth remembering.
If you care to see muddling firsthand, stop
in at the new Coda Lounge downtown. The classy
hotel pub puts the “ology” in mixology, and
muddling is a routine technique used in most
of the bar’s concoctions. The most popular,
the Rum Amelia, involves muddling fresh black
berries with Sugar in the Raw and combining
them with freshly-squeezed lemon and Clearheart
Rum (an Iowa brand). Shake it up with St. Germain
Elderflower Liqueur, and it makes a sweet martini
— blackberry pulp and all.
This is what happens when the beverage director
is also the executive chef — meet John Andres.
While Marriott dictated the original need for
an upgrade to what was once the Monihan’s Speakeasy,
it was Andres who designed the menus both in
the kitchen and behind the bar.
“The idea was to take a classic cocktail and
create an inspired version that’s all our own,”
In fact Andres even picked the new name — codas
signify the end of a musical passage on sheet
music. Much like the term “muddle,” “coda” is
an appropriate name for two reasons — the location’s
tradition for live music and its proclivity
for the “end of the day high spirits happy hour.”
“It sums this place up pretty well,” Andres
said. “We don’t even call it happy hour here.
We call it ‘higher spirits’ because after a
day at work, it’s time to unwind and get into
higher spirits — loosen the tie and un-tuck
“This used to be a pretty-well-known jazz spot
in Des Moines. It was a dark, subdued, smoky
lounge typical of the ’80s and ’90s,” he said.
“The difference between then and now is like
night and day.”
Literally. The big windows overlooking Nollen
Plaza used to be draped, removing natural lighting
from an already drab and dark atmosphere. Now
they’re wide open to the busy intersection.
Although the contemporary design appears upscale
— featuring glass tables and light fixtures,
silver-upholstered lounge chairs, velvety sofas
and a modern art décor — Coda Lounge remains
a “come as you are” kind of bar.
Morning mingling might include businesspeople
having Starbucks coffee or “something stiffer
if they’d like” alongside hotel guests reading
the paper in a robe and slippers. And the evenings
have proven to draw an eclectic night crowd
“This is definitely the place to be before and
after shows downtown,” Andres said, especially
if you want to get a bit “muddled” yourself.
Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel
401 Locust St.
Hours: 6 a.m.-midnight or later, every day
Higher Spirits Happy Hour: 3-6 p.m. and 11-midnight,
Entertainment: Live music every Thursday night
Capacity: about 80