Count the ways at 34’s2/12/2014
There’s a secret place around an unsuspecting corner, hidden beneath the hubbub of hub traffic between the two mall hot spots in Valley West — Younkers and JC Penney. If the two department stores were entrenched in a heated match of tug-of-war, 34’s Sports Grill would be that soft, squishy center into which many are happy to fall. It’s that place in the clean, polished mall, where it’s OK to come in a little grimy from a hard day’s work, a little cranky from the competition and perils of the parking lot beyond one entrance, to shamelessly unwind from the shopping madness outside the other. It’s where the non-shoppers go to show their moral support for their credit-card sliding counter parts. Exhale now, and have a cold one.
Upon entering, there could be no finer soundtrack: a little Clapton, followed aptly by some Zeppelin, then The Doors, CCR and so on. A regular crowd of young and old, men and women, drinkers and diners, gamers and loners shuffle in and out of the tables and barstools, steady as a drum, from happy hour through dinner time on any given day of the week. Behind the bar works a quiet man, a bartender in its most classic form. Bar rag draped over a broad shoulder, he never slows his pace, never stops having a task to tend to, doesn’t say too much or even speak unless he’s spoken to. He’s not in anyone’s business, but also not put off by conversation or inquiries from his guests bellied up to the oak bar top he manages to keep shiny despite spills of drinks, sauces and melting puddles of ice. He knows who sang that song that’s teasing at the tip of your frontal lobe. He knows what team won which championship. He knows that the four-letter word for “Car that sounds like its crying” in the weekly Cityview Crossword is: “SAAB.” He knows things, the way a bartender should.
And his right hand, the man at the waiter’s station with the dimpled smile coming back for another tray full of draft beers like clockwork nearly every three to four minutes, knows his role, too. And he performs it just as auspiciously. He’s a friendly people-person in a way that makes you wonder, “Is he really that happy all the time?” He’s the complementing contrast to the slightly grimmer, chief-like man behind the bar.
“Why is this place called 34’s?” I asked. The bartender didn’t even make me feel stupid, though I did of my own accord, as he answered: “Walter Payton, Kirby Puckett, Bo Jackson, Earl Holmes, Nolan Ryan…” and a few more names he rattled off too quickly for me to catch. The answer was there on the walls, all around, in framed jerseys representing nearly every sport there is — a collection of heroes of the game, both local and national, who proudly wore the number 34.
Enough questions. Just drink your beer, and enjoy.
LAST CALL… Twisted Vine Brewery will be featured at a beer-and-food pairing event at Captain’s Quarters and CQ Brewing in Adel on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. Then, starting at noon on Saturday, Feb. 22, CQ will host a Benefit for Branden Bissell, including a silent auction, bake sale and live music by Dirt Road Divide at 8 p.m., 419-1815. CV34’s Sports Grill 1551 Valley West Drive Valley West Mall, West Des Moines 224-4104 HOURS: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily