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Belly Up To...

Jeannie’s Bottle brims with neighborhood nuance


Emcee PamPam the karaoke queen (Pamela Aldrich) offers free vodka Jello shots as payment for singing a song.

Emcee PamPam the karaoke queen (Pamela Aldrich) offers free vodka Jello shots as payment for singing a song.

Jeannie’s Bottle is one of those places that seems like it’s been there forever. Tucked away hiding behind storefront buildings along busy Merle Hay Road, it’s a spot where it seems only people who have been around forever go. But that’s just how it feels. In reality, it’s held its own in that backside corner of the building for about a decade after a history of tenant turn-over. The space was once carved out by Derry’s Lounge generations ago, which moved down the road to provide the Days Inn with a convenient watering hole. Then punks, rockers and bikers quelled the quiet vacancy, as a House of Bricks subculture was spawned from music, amplifiers and raging energy. The walls couldn’t take the tumult. Again, the house was vacated.

Back when the world was still sharing an embarrassed chuckle over the kinky Clinton cigar debacle in the White House, and roving conservatives were littering the landscape of the Merle Hay Road corridor with G.W.B. signs, Jeannie’s Bottle appeared as if by magic overnight. As if the friction of the outside world was just the right kind of rub the old lamp needed, the neighborhood bar re-opened like a smooth plume of smoke leaking from a spout. And unless you remind them, few who belly up there today recall a time when this little bar was anything else than what it is now — an unintended offspring of its predecessors.

“We still do live music. We try to have a band in here at least once a month,” said bartender James McNew, a Rock Island, Ill., native who sees Des Moines with a refreshing optimism. “Someday I want to own a bar in Des Moines. I love this place. It’s a great city.”

“Want a shot, Rocky?” McNew turns to an obvious regular and proud Vietnam vet sporting a member’s jacket and a scruffy beard. One after another, a regular crowd filled the barstools during a weekday happy hour. After two years behind the counter, McNew’s hospitality was natural and intuitive. Drink requests were made with a mere nod, no indecisive or impatient finger-tapping needed. No hem haws or maybes. The bubbles of Rocky’s favorite elixir were settling in the bottle in his hand before a word could be uttered.

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Only moments into the evening, and Jeannie’s Bottle can’t help but show her true form. It’s a common ground. It’s a place where the old timers of Derry’s Lounge and the inked-up rockers lingering from the House of Bricks era — and all who reside in between — collide for conversation and libations… And karaoke.

“Everybody loves the karaoke, and they all actually sing really well,” McNew laughed. “Now we’re doing this thing where, if you sing a song, you get a free vodka Jello shot. Some people say they’re not going to sing, then it’s, ‘OK, just one,’ and the next thing you know, you look over, and they’ve got a stack of empty Jello shot glasses in front of them.” CV

Jeannie’s Bottle
3829 Merle Hay Road
HOURS: 3 p.m.-2 a.m. daily
HAPPY HOUR: 3-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Sun.-Wed.; all day Monday; free pool Sunday
KITCHEN: bar food served anytime; free food during weekday happy hour
ENTERTAINMENT: 9 p.m. karaoke Sun., Tues.-Thurs.; 7 p.m. karaoke Fri.-Sat.


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