Hull Avenue haunt revived2/20/2013
Most bar owners claim their establishment is a “Cheers” kind of pub. Not Tom Morris, owner of The Hull Avenue Tavern. It’s simply not that kind of place.
He does claim, however — in bold writing on the new sign out front — that his bar is “Des Moines’ oldest tavern, since 1933 and before.”
“The history traces back to 1910 when this place was a speakeasy. It was built by coal miners,” Morris said. “When prohibition ended, a bar called the North Star, up on Hull and East 14th, was the first to get its liquor license (in Des Moines), and this place was the second. When the North Star eventually closed, that made this bar the longest standing liquor license in Des Moines.”
Much the way inmates built their own prison in San Francisco’s Alcatraz, local “Snusville” coal miners built their own bar, and the history there is rich. From the outside, you can tell the building has been there as long as anyone can remember, and not much has changed over the years… until now.
The new sign above the front door isn’t the only upgrade at The Hull. With the help of some handy friends and loyal patrons, Morris closed the place for renovations on New Year’s Day. Seventeen days later, it was unveiled to the public with Earth-tone walls, a new wooden, U-shaped bar, hardwood floors and eight nine-foot pin-up models.
“The pin-up girls are a huge talking point now,” Morris said. “The other night the guys in the band were taking pictures of them with their phones and sending them to their girlfriends.”
A friend at Iowa Beverage helped Morris with the idea to plaster one wall with ’50s-era pin-up girls — each is custom-made and features a different model touting a different beer. They took four days to print, he said.
The girls make a nostalgic backdrop to one of Des Moines’ oldest stages, but they’re long legs and sexy curves aren’t the only thing that’s new. The stage itself is bigger to make way for more band members and equipment, as The Hull plays host to live music every weekend, which it’s done for decades. It remains one of the few bars in the metro that draws local and out-of-state musical acts without charging a cover at the door, something Morris said he’s proud to maintain.
“I just don’t feel we need to,” he shrugged. “I just pay the bands 20 percent of our sales and enough people come out to see the show, so we don’t need to.”
Despite the punk, metal and rock-n-roll roots, The Hull Avenue Tavern really is a neighborhood bar to the core and brings a lot of history and energy to an otherwise quiet, residential district.
“Excuse me? I found this phone in my backyard,” said a neighbor wandering in from the back door. Morris laughed, shook his head and immediately called his friend to come retrieve the lost property. Yes, it’s that kind of bar. CV
The Hull Avenue Tavern
834 Hull Ave., (515) 255-9338
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat., Sun. 12 p.m.-2 a.m.
Happy Hour: Mon.-Sat. till 7 p.m.; all day Sunday
Entertainment: Live music Wed., Fri., Sat. 6-9 p.m.; Karaoke Wed., Thurs. 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m.