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Hessen Haus proves glass shoes aren’t just for Cinderella


The Passing of the Boot is one of the most popular nightlife traditions in downtown Des Moines’ bar scene.

The Passing of the Boot is one of the most popular nightlife traditions in downtown Des Moines’ bar scene.

“Das boot! Das boot!”

That’s the cheer of a group ready to take on the Haus Rules and share a glass boot full of beer.

On the list of “Passing the Boot” rules: “Drink without pointing the toe away from you…and you drink again”; “Splash yourself while drinking from the Boot…and you drink again”; “Touch the table with the Boot…and you buy the next one.” And that’s only half.

The boot is a treasured tradition at Hessen Haus, and it’s suited to just about any group. The serious boot drinkers know the rules by heart and won’t let anyone get away with a missed step. The groups that want to follow the rules but haven’t yet achieved Serious Boot Drinker status will consult the laminated list sitting on every table. They’ll probably be a little more forgiving if you forget to flick the boot with your finger before passing it on.

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And then there are those who came simply to chug a lot of beer. Those people are most likely to forget the rules — and probably won’t be able to read them through their beer goggles.

Crowds flock to the bar with the boot, making it sometimes hard to find a table and even harder to see just how big the venue really is. Dozens of tables and spacious booths fill the space inside, along with a fenced-in deck attached. It seems that on any given weekend you can find hundreds of people packed in, but no one is complaining about a lack of space. The only complaint you are likely to hear is a lack of boots, which sometimes come with a short wait list.

The staff keeps about 15 boots on hand each night, though they’re prepared with replacements on hand for the ones that get broken — which, apparently, happens more often than one might think. Or maybe not, considering all the hands one of the 67-ounce boots pass through night after night. It’s bound to slip sometimes, right?

Aside from the mighty vessels beer is served in, the other big draw to Hessen Haus is the beer itself. The Haus serves 201 varieties in bottles, 11 cans and 29 beers on tap, 21 of which are imported straight from Germany.

Kristina Linnane, a bartender at Hessen Haus, explained that the difference between German and American beer is in the brewing. It started back in 1487 with the Reinheitsgebot — that’s the “German Beer Purity Law” for those of you who don’t know German. It required beer to be produced using only three items: water, barley and hops — no additives.

Hessen Haus is said to have the largest German beer selection in the world. And since the beers do have to travel all the way from Europe, it can sometimes take a few months to get more when they run out. Considering one weekend of boots alone could drain about six or seven kegs, it’s not hard to see why. CV

Hessen Haus
101 Fourth St.
Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.l Sunday, noon to midnight
Breakfast on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. during the Downtown Farmers Market


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