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Belly Up To...

Johnny Mac’s is home to charity, good will and bikers


Bikers can get a bad rap — mostly because movies and TV shows paint a rough and rebellious portrait of them as gangsters who spend their lives terrorizing small towns and outrunning the fuzz on steel horses. In fairness, it’s also partly because some of them do have rapsheets to fit the profile. But underneath all that leather and noise is oftentimes a humble man or woman with a beating heart of soft sensibilities, especially when it comes to coping — or helping others cope — with the unfair hands life often deals to good people.

Missy Mac keeps busy with midday regulars for an early beer or a late lunch.

Missy Mac keeps busy with midday regulars for an early beer or a late lunch.

Des Moines’ east side has a handful of tap houses and taverns where such a tribe of motley misfits call home, where a long row of gleaming Harleys often leave little room for much more than a rusty pickup truck or a curious reporter’s dusty Toyota in the parking lot. For 17 years, Johnny Mac’s has been one of those havens.

“We’re having a benefit this weekend for a girl who comes in here, for her daughter,” explained manager Missy Mac (Johnny’s daughter). “Clem’s helping organize it. He’s always doing stuff like that for people, maybe even too much. His phone never stops ringing.”

She said Clem Vestal, who has become a leader of sorts of the local 515 biker clan, has a big heart but a checkered past. She figures he’s trying to do right to make up for any wrongs he might have committed in his wilder years. Once in a while, Iowans will catch a glimpse of him twisting back the throttle on his Chopper leading a pack of pirates out of an east side parking lot to begin a charity poker run for a fallen comrade, a cancer-riddled neighbor or a sick kid whose parents can’t afford the insurance. He’s a blur. He never has the reporter’s mic in his face. He doesn’t want the credit. He just wants to help.

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This weekend Vestal will rally the troops again for little Janyia Laurie. Johnny Mac’s is hosting a free-will fundraising pot luck at noon on Sunday, Sept. 22, and the bikers will fuel their tanks before hitting the road on a charity poker run for baby Janyia and her mother. (“Kickstands go up at 1 p.m.”)

Like most folks who bleed red, Vestal and his posse of bikers melt at the sight of Janyia’s tiny fingers and bright eyes, and they can’t turn their cheeks to the desperation drawn into her mother’s brow.

“She was born with arthrogryposis and hydrocephalus (water on the brain). She wasn’t expected to even survive, but she put up a fight and is still here,” exhaled her mother Jessica.

Janyia was in NICU her first four weeks of life. She has had three surgeries, and now she needs medical equipment her mother can’t afford in order to continue the fight. Follow Janyia’s journey on Facebook, and if you’re not doing anything this Sunday, head over to Johnny Mac’s for good food for a great cause. CV

Johnny Mac’s Bar and Grill
2279 Hubbell Ave.
HOURS: 10 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
HAPPY HOUR: 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat. with daily all-day specials
KITCHEN: Open-9 p.m. daily
ENTERTAINMENT: Karaoke Tues.-Thurs. 8 p.m.-12 a.m.; Sun. night open jam session; DJ Fri. and Sat. nights

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