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Classic cocktails with a twist at RoCA


RoCA (Restaurant on Court Avenue) is the latest in trendy upscale restaurants opening in Des Moines.

RoCA (Restaurant on Court Avenue) is the latest in trendy upscale restaurants opening in Des Moines.

I moved to Des Moines in May, as a lifelong Iowan with far too little knowledge of all that its capital city has to offer. When I took up this column, my first thought was, “How long can we go on writing about a new bar every week?”

Little did I know, there are hundreds of places to get a drink in the metro, and new places are introduced all the time. RoCA — short for Restaurant on Court Avenue — is one of those new Des Moines restaurants.

Located in the building that used to be Sbrocco, managing partner Jason Kapela tore through (almost) all the plaster to show off the original brick walls that now house RoCA and its craft cocktails. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a place that offers classic drinks of the past, including early 1900s favorites like the Side Car, Sazerac and Aviation.

And what is a traditional cocktail without hand-cut ice cubes? Maybe you’ve never given much thought to the frozen water floating around in your gin and tonic, but you’ve probably experienced the dreaded last sip that contains a watered-down version of the drink you ordered 20 minutes ago. Well, that isn’t such a problem with RoCA’s ice.

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It comes in 300-pound blocks from Dubuque, and, since it is pure, airless ice, it is crystal clear and apparently doesn’t melt or dilute the drinks. But there is a reason it isn’t a staple at most other eateries in the area. Hauling the giant blocks in to be cut into manageable chunks, then sawed into smaller sections and finally chiseled into the multi-faceted pieces you see in your drink takes much more work than making it in a freezer in the basement.

But RoCA hardly seems like the type of place that chooses convenience over quality. Its cocktails are all made with top-shelf liquor and syrups made in-house. The wine list is extensive and ranges in price from $16 to $99 per bottle. Its menu features shared plates and gourmet options for every palate, from oysters to escargot. Even the mac and cheese goes all out with smoked chicken and pablano portabella.

You’re probably thinking, “Another new upscale restaurant with fancy food, trendy décor and pricey drinks. So what?”

Several new places with similar descriptions — Eatery A and Malo come to mind — have opened in the metro this year as well. What makes RoCA any different from them?

Maybe the menu has just enough unique options to make it stand out above the rest. Perhaps the environment is the right amount of rustic and chic to appeal to a larger audience. Possibly the service and people behind RoCA add to the experience in a way that isn’t matched by other eateries.

Or maybe it’s a combination of all of those elements. Restaurateurs might have just found the key to pleasing the masses — at least, the masses of the metro — lies in this sort of classic-meets-modern themed establishment. It’s been working so far.

When you’ve found the right recipe, you don’t keep on changing it, right? CV

208 Court Ave.
Tues.-Sat. 5 p.m.-midnight
Closed Sunday and Monday

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