Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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Sambetti’s, a Second Avenue legacy


Sambetti waitresses, Candace Nolan and Janie Contreras, serve countless big boy beers daily: 34 ounces of beer for $4.50 (domestic) and $5 (imported/craft).

Sambetti waitresses, Candace Nolan and Janie Contreras, serve countless big boy beers daily: 34 ounces of beer for $4.50 (domestic) and $5 (imported/craft).

I got an education on how to drink beer upon my first visit to Sambetti’s on Second Avenue in Des Moines. My uncle — a veteran drinker even then — introduced me to the cozy booths, the warm Italian food and the term “big boy” in reference to beer. I ordered a 34-ounce draft of glowing Boulevard Wheat, classically garnished with a bright yellow lemon. The pretty waitress threw my uncle a flirtatious smile as she placed a mug of the golden nectar on the table in front of me — a “big boy” mug that I swear was as big as my face. I immediately had doubts that little, 21-year-old me would be able to put the entire thing down.

After my third big boy, I learned, alcohol is not a performance enhancer, as my pool game waned to a disgraceful point, even for an amateur. But at Sambetti’s, it doesn’t matter how bad you are at pool. Everyone’s a good sport — even during mealtime, when people are dining at nearby tables and the butt-end of your pool cue occasionally encroaches into their space. There may be nowhere else in town where drinkers and diners can co-exist so harmoniously.

“This row of tables can fill up with some guys who just want to drink, so then we’ll put people who want to just eat back in that area,” said manager Linda Hammer, nodding toward a peaceful section of tables and booths toward the back of the room.

Hammer has been helping run the classy, old haunt since her brother, Paul Strome, bought the place more than 20 years ago — longer, in fact. Strome bought Sambetti’s from their parents, Sam and Betty Caligiuri (hence the name, Sambetti’s). The Caligiuris started the Italian restaurant/bar in 1979 in its old location on Sixth Street. When Strome bought it from his parents, he moved the legacy into the former Bob and Karen’s Bar, where it is today.


“We have a lot of people who were regulars at the old location who still come in here and have always been regulars here,” Hammer said.                

She said they get a pretty postal crowd, too — post office employees, that is — people looking for a friendly happy hour to unwind after work; families hungry for a reasonably-priced meal; and jokers bellied up drinking big boys.               

For years I returned to Sambetti’s every Sunday for cheap, cold beer, free pool and football. I always thought Sambetti’s was a Minnesota Vikings bar (unofficially). I often found myself drowning my sorrows with like-minded fans, as we watched our favorite team perish in the fourth quarter after a respectable come-back. Oh well, another big boy, please.                

But I was wrong. They were only showing the game their patrons wanted to see.                

“Look around you,” Hammer laughed. “We’re a Pittsburgh Steelers and a Chicago Bears bar.”               

Oh well, another big boy, please. CV


Sambetti’s restaurant and bar

1430 Second Ave.

Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri., Sat.; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.

Happy Hour: 4-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., plus Sunday Funday discounts

Entertainment: Pool leagues, Dart teams, sponsored softball and baseball teams plus occasional karaoke nights — next one is on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Capacity: 99


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