Get the freshly-squeezed tradition at Charlie’s Filling Station10/17/2012
Like my first step when I was too young to remember; like Graduation Day; like my first time to the election booth; April 4, 2011, was the long-anticipated day that served as that proverbial rite of passage that is the 21st birthday. For my first legal drink, I chose Charlie’s Filling Station Lounge in West Des Moines. I bellied up to the bar and ordered myself a tall vodka on the rocks tempered with freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice dubbed the Greyhound.
Freshly-squeezed. That’s what the establishment is known for. For those who don’t know that already, it’s quickly realized upon entering by the parade of oranges and grapefruits that line the bar next to two “dueling juicers,” as loyal customer Jeff Brammer puts it. Brammer’s been sitting on the other side of the bar for 35 years. For more than three decades, he and his late wife, Mary Ann, have made chili for Charlie’s famous Saturday morning chilidogs. Sovich also offers free beef burgers on Mondays and the “best bar popcorn in town.”
It began in 1977 when Sovich and two of his buddies decided to open their own “party spot.” But nowadays it’s just Sovich running the place along with a loyal staff, including the practically permanent bartenders Sherry Scarpino and Raney McLaughlin, who have 43 years (Sherry accounting for 28 alone) of experience at Charlie’s between them.
The customers are just as loyal as his staff, Sovich said, and it starts with something as simple as remembering people’s names.
“Knowing and remembering everyone goes hand in hand with who you’re dealing with and gives you a good first guess on what they want to drink,” Brammer agreed.
Such common sense customer service has been successful in both retaining and enticing customers young and old — from the assimilated family members like Brammer, to the Val Air Ballroom concert-goers who bring lively color to the vast smoking patio. And while the neighborhood has been loyal to Charlie’s, so has the bar been loyal in return.
The former gas station (hence the “Filling Station” name) has seen a number of its neighbors come and go and change (Safeway closed and Farleys Family Fun Center became Tokens Family Fun), but the small bar continues to draw new people looking to fill up with something other than fuel — a fresh-squeezed screwdriver, or my unforgettable first Greyhound, perhaps? CV
Charlie’s Filling Station Lounge 305 Grand Ave. (515) 224-9041 Hours: Mon. – Fri. 3 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat. – Sun. 11 a.m.-close Specials: Daily specials, Wifi, Monday nights free beef burgers, Saturday Chili Dogs 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Capacity: 83