Valley Junction’s Hawkeye haven, the Longest Yard9/4/2013
Two occurrences exist in life that cause my dad emotions of disappointment: death and the Hawkeyes. I’ve watched him yell, cheer and roll his eyes at the TV screen during regular season games, bowl games and the various arrest warrants issued to many unlucky players on the team, but throughout it all, he remains a true fan. So while having lunch at the Longest Yard in Valley Junction, Dad weighed heavily on my mind.
The Hawks are a point of pride to some fans, a religion to others. Either way, if you’re a Hawkeye enthusiast, Longest Yard is the place for you. A collection of paraphernalia, including black-and-gold ornate bar signs, various Hawk pennants hanging on the wall and even what appears to be a hand-drawn life-size Kirk Ferentz cut-out send the message loud and clear that this is a place to both celebrate the victories and drown the sorrows of any loss. If Hawkeyes is your religion, this is as close to the temple as you can get without driving to Iowa City.
“It can get pretty crazy; we’re usually pretty well packed in here,” said longtime employee and manager Mandy Schwenneker. “We have the TV out on the patio as well, so as long as the weather is staying nice, (customers) are out there watchin’ and rootin’ and cheerin.’ ”
By day, it’s an all-ages bar and grill welcoming a 10-year-old through the door with his parents, a group of college friends gulping 28-ounce “Yard Beers” at a booth against the wall, businessmen having lunchtime cocktails and a pair of old timers bellied up to the bar.
“It’s a good time,” Schwenneker said. “We do a lot of raffles and stuff during halftime, and then every time Iowa scores we play the fight song.” Of course they do.
Although the bar is shamelessly biased, Schwenneker said customers and staff keep everything in good fun if a Cyclone fan walks in.
“They might get a little razzin’ but nothing too bad. We actually have a couple staff members who are Iowa State alums. We tell them they might not want to wear (an ISU shirt) on game day. They might not make as much money and customers might tip them to take it off,” Schwenneker joked. (I think.)
Game days aren’t the only thing that keeps the place filled. Schwenneker said every Thursday night, crowds hit the bar after the Valley Junction farmers market to enjoy live music and drinks.
“It’s central to everything; people come and go.” Schwenneker said. “They start setting up for live music at 8:30 p.m. after the farmers market is over.”
Overall, this neighborhood bar is a place that football fanatics count on, perhaps described best by one 70-something to another on their way out the door: “You don’t want to come in here during football season on a Saturday afternoon, I’ll tell ya that.” CVLongest Yard 122 Fifth St. West Des Moines www.thelongestyardsportsgrill.com Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-close. Happy Hour: Mon.-Fri. 2-6 p.m. Kitchen hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Capacity: 90 inside plus patio space. Entertainment: Live music every Thursday night beginning at 8:30 p.m. after the farmers market and every Friday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.