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Belly Up To...

No RSVP needed — it’s not that kind of country club


Co-owner Gary Stone demonstrates one of the bar’s oldest identifiers, a Ford tailgate no longer fit for sitting after 20 years.

Co-owner Gary Stone demonstrates one of the bar’s oldest identifiers, a Ford tailgate no longer fit for sitting after 20 years.

At the Highland Park Country Club, the best seat in the house is one that probably won’t hold your weight.

“We’re on our 34th year, and that’s probably been there for 25 of ’em,” said owner Gary Stone as he reluctantly lowered the tailgate from a 1970-ish Ford pick-up that looks like it was precariously parked within the wall — with just the tailgate and back bumper visible and appearing as though the rest is sticking out on the other side.

“I just parked it there and got it stuck,” he laughed — a joke you can tell he’s told a time or two. The tailgate creaked with that familiar old metallic moan at the hinges. For a pool player, it was once a unique place to perch and await your turn to shoot. Now it’s just clever decor. With it lowered, the calf, ankles and cleats of 1986 Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Marck Vlasic, posed in play action, is revealed of the hand-painted mural on the wall.

“It was painted by Dennis Beech,” explained Stone. “He was a pretty good local artist who was a steel worker by trade, and he was a regular here. He’s been gone for quite a while now.”

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Gone but not forgotten. Considering its age, Beech’s mural has an industrial strength that even a poorly-parked truck couldn’t chip or dent. His mural is one of what probably amounts to a couple hundred pieces of sports paraphernalia and memorabilia on the walls at the Highland Park C.C. — a collection of a lifelong passion Stone shares with his wife, Lynda, and her parents.

“We’re big Packer fans,” he didn’t have to say but did. “We’ve been Packer fans all my life. My in-laws were, too.”

Among the décor, a few framed photographs are peppered in here and there — between sports-themed bar signs and lights — it’s depicting Gary and Lynda Stone’s lifelong relationship with the Green Bay Packers, including one of former head coach Mike Holmgren.

“We have stuff at home that’s not so old as all this stuff, but I like it. I sort of like the historic feel of it,” he said.

The historic feel remains with or without the sports collection, though, as Highland Park C.C. is one of the oldest neighborhood staples still standing in Des Moines. It’s never experienced a re-branding or tried to wrangle in a new demographic. It’s stood seemingly untethered to the times, despite a neighborhood waxing and waning outside the slits of its windows.

“Three-fourths of our business are locals who don’t drive and who’ve been coming here for years,” Stone said. “It seems like, this day and age, residential bars and neighborhood bars are few and far between.”

So what’s their secret?

“We serve good drinks — heavy drinks,” Stone chuckled. “We’ve always been known for having heavy shots. Other places, instead of increasing their prices, they just give ya less. We don’t do that.”

No. Gary and Lynda Stone like to keep the place as authentic as it was in the early 1980s when her parents opened in that same location. Country Club? Only in the sense that it’s got that rural cow-town feel.

“We’re a diamond in the rough… Well, it’s rough,” Gary laughed. “I don’t know about the diamond part.” CV

Highland Park Country Club
518 Euclid Ave., 245-9229
HOURS: 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday
HAPPY HOUR: 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday

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