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‘Rock Star’ spirit ignites on south side


The old south side haunt has been transformed into a rock-and-roll haven, where, aside from the people, the libations and the food, it’s mostly about the music.

The old south side haunt has been transformed into a rock-and-roll haven, where, aside from the people, the libations and the food, it’s mostly about the music.

Confession: The south side has been deliberately neglected by this column, because a reporter has to have her hideouts. Just over the Southwest Ninth Street viaduct is a business stretch that fits no pigeon hole offering thrift stores, restaurants, groceries and gas. And a different bar beckons conveniently from nearly every block. If you’re looking to meet singles, Army Post Road has a spot for that. If conversation or cards is more your forte, head up the hill a couple clicks. Fried food, cheap drinks, live music, karaoke, pool? Check, check, check to all. Des Moines’ old Italian district may be the metro’s most uncelebrated nightlife jewel, just out of sight of the Court Avenue decoys.

And its newest member is just a shot away from becoming a new personal favorite for an almost-local like me. Years ago, it was Smokey’s BBQ, then Liquor Lounge. Now, the bar most recently known as The Rusty Nail has been re-christened as Rock Star Bar. It better be cool with a bold new name and claim as that.

“You can’t put a yuppie bar on the south side,” new co-owner Jen Wilson admitted. “But we wanted to offer something different.”

As the name might suggest, the new soul of the old bar is more jive than vibe. “Its focus is on the music,” Wilson said, though that goes without saying. The treasure trove of collected records, vinyl art, instruments and CDs meticulously glued to the walls, the bar and stage, combined with the positive vibrations of “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley tweaking the eardrums from overhead speakers upon entering, tell patrons upon entering the bar’s new story.

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There’s no jukebox. Instead Wilson and her business partner, best friend and the other half of their musical duo act, Rick Ludwig, invested in a $100,000 sound system, DJ-ed in-house by Wilson.

“We’ll play whatever you want,” she guaranteed, proving her promise with an improv performance on a casual corner stage. Light reflected off hundreds of CDs, which had been individually mounted to the shallow platform and gave the setting a unique disco ball glow.

Her 15-year-old son Wes, who was there for homemade biscuits-and-gravy breakfast on a typical Sunday, stood in for Ludwig with a prodigious affinity for the six-string acoustic, backing his mother’s sexy-smoky vocals covering Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” (which, ironically, makes women cry). An encore request turned over “Don’t Cry” by Guns-n-Roses. Apparently they want us to be happy. You had most of us at gravy.

Happy indeed were the guys watching football and feeding their faces sitting at the bar as well as the women paired off in booths across the room. But none perhaps were exuding true joy in quite the carefree style as a group of 10 clamorous women gathered at a long table wearing their PJs and bedroom slippers “just for the hell of it.”

“We just decided, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to just stay in our jammies today?’ So we did,” laughed Kathy Tweedy.

Rock Star redefined. CV

ROCK STAR BAR and grill
2301 S.W. Ninth St.
HOURS: Sun. 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; Mon.-Tues. 3 p.m.-12 a.m.; Wed.-Thurs. 3 p.m.-2 a.m.; Fri. 2 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat. 3 p.m.-2 a.m.
HAPPY HOUR: All day Sunday; 2-7 p.m. daily, including free food Mon.-Fri.
KITCHEN: 3-10 p.m. daily except “free tacos” Wednesday.
ENTERTAINMENT: Live request DJ every day; monthly live music.


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