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Belly Up To...

Claxon’s bar has a restaurant around it


Nick Agness shows off his bartender tricks to entertain guests at the bar.

Did you know Mitt Romney’s name is actually Willard Mitt Romney? At a barbecue restaurant in Altoona, the longtime bartender and manager Nick Agness likes to entertain folks with tricky trivia, clever quizzes and quips. Like Romney, Claxon’s Smokehouse and Grill was coined after the middle name of the owner, Andy McReynolds. Claxon? Hmm. Interesting middle name.               

Most people who belly up at the bar will find there’s much more to the place than what’s on the barbecue menu. Hanging out with Agness over drinks, Claxon’s feels almost like a bar with a big restaurant built around it. It’s easy to forget that you’re waiting for food, as Agness entertains his guests with jokes — most of which require a prop from the bar like a towel, a glass or a toothpick (ask him about the toothpick heartbeat trick) — a brain-scrambling trivia question or genuine, friendly conversation.                

“I try to make sure everyone has a good time,” Agness said, tossing a bottle of Jeremiah Weed behind his back like Tom Cruise in “Cocktail” (almost). “I try to do something to make people laugh or smile a little bit. The thing is, you want people to have a good time so they remember this place — not just for its food, but for the service, too.”                

Because it’s a restaurant first, most people who sit at the bar are there for something to do — and something to drink — while waiting for a table, he said. But whether guests are there for the food, the bar or the big game, patronage is as diverse as night and day — or rather summer and winter — Agness said.                

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“We’re right by the (Prairie Meadows) race track, so in the summer we get a lot of jockeys and trainers and families from Adventureland,” Agness said. “We also get a lot of regulars from in town. We get a very diverse crowd. You never know who’s going to be here. You never know what to expect.”                

Since Claxon’s moved from a smaller venue a mile or so down the road to its current spot on Eighth Street, the owner has spruced things up with a new paint job, an additional gluten-free menu that’s increasingly popular with diners and a ceiling dripping in sports banners representing every team in Iowa.                

“The flags cut down noise and show school spirit, and it’s a way we can welcome all the fans and include everybody,” Agness explained.                

Agness added a few innovative touches of his own on the bar side, too, including unique inventions such as the Dreamsicle martini, the Smokehouse tea and the Crocodile Cooler. CV

Claxon’s Smokehouse and Grill
3131 8th St. S.W., Altoona
(515) 967-7979
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Happy Hour: Mon.-Fri. 3-6 p.m.
Kitchen Hour: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Capacity: 192 plus patio

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