Friday, January 21, 2022

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Belly Up To...

Earn a name for yourself at Toad’s Tavern


Aaron Forney stands at your service at 6-foot, 8-inches, yet you’d be pressed to find a friendlier bartender anywhere.

Aaron Forney stands at your service at 6-foot, 8-inches, yet you’d be pressed to find a friendlier bartender anywhere.

If tell someone you’ve never been to Toad’s Tavern, you’re likely to get that slightly condescending response — like confessing you’ve never been to the ocean or you’ve never seen “Animal House” — “Yooooou’ve ne-ver been to Toad’s?!” So if you’ve never been, just go there. Get it checked off that list of things that everyone should apparently experience.

It’s worth the effort, and, unless the city’s is under ice, as it’s been lately, it’s worth the drive over to the east side. In addition to the bar’s online boasting that it’s “winner of the 2013 Cityview’s Best Eastside Bar, Cityview’s Bartender’s Ball Best Staff and Best Eastside Bartender and Runner-up of 2013 Cityview’s Best of for Coldest Beer and Strongest Drink,” the people there are a warm breeze on a brutally brisk night.

“Do you like pancakes?” asked a guy named Mike bellied up at the bar.

“As opposed to waffles? Sure. What’s not to like?” I answered.


He turns to a giant Teddy bear of a man behind the bar and began laying out his instructions: “We’ll need Jameson,” he said, with a crooked finger pointing to the bottle. Bartender Aaron Forney obeyed without question and poured a shot half-full of one of Ireland’s most locally celebrated whiskeys. The rest he filled with ButterShots Schnapps.

“That’s what gives it the pancake flavor,” Mike advised.

Followed by an orange juice chaser, the “pancake” shot was sweet and sticky — a belly-warming treat, for certain — but not quite like a pancake. That’s OK, though. It’s the hospitality that makes it work.

Mike was one of many interesting and friendly characters one will meet on any given night at Toad’s. Like a college frat house or a small-town dive, nearly every guy there introduced himself by a handle he’d earned some years ago — a “stage name,” as Squirrel Nuts calls it. He didn’t let his waning dart game keep him from having another beer. Then there’s Darren “The Boss” (a nickname I gave him, because he shares his name with my boss) proved chivalry was still alive, even during pool league play. His opponent Lloyd is 23 years sober and just here for the pool table and friendly people, he said. Too Tall Paul promised me a spot on the back of his Harley come spring. And Cowboy Bill earned his name in Texas (reckon it’s far more unique of a nickname on the east side of Des Moines than in Houston).

Despite the silliness, the orneriness and the drunkenness, there was an intimate or intriguing moment to be shared in every corner of the room, like a family gathering. Cowboy Bill explained it best, as he straightened his posture on his bar stool, turned off his flirt-o-meter, put down his mini-pitcher of Bud Light and imparted his words of wisdom after 50-plus years walking the Earth: “There’s nothing more important in this world than family — not a husband, not a wife — family.”

Think about it. If you don’t get it. Go to Toad’s Tavern, and see for yourself. CV

Toad’s Tavern
3002 State Ave.
264-TOAD (8623)
HOURS: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
HAPPY HOUR: Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; “Price is Right Happy Hour” 10-11 a.m.
ENTERTAINMENT: Live music by The Snacks on the first and third Thursdays.


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