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The Garden, 30 years and growing


J.R. Cranston is a bartender at The Garden, which will have a big birthday bash on Memorial Day weekend this year.

J.R. Cranston is a bartender at The Garden, which will have a big birthday bash on Memorial Day weekend this year.

Remember that moment in Walt Disney’s animated film “Alice in Wonderland” ─ when the shrunken young heroine finds herself lost in a flower garden and does her best to assimilate with the budding, blooming ladies who belong there by right of roots? Despite her gifts of beauty and song, Alice is shunned by the group for her differences, superficially judged to be “nothing but a common mobile vulgaris” — a weed. She is shoved down, pushed out and expelled from the garden.

For nearly 30 years in Des Moines’ East Village, The Garden Nightclub has grown a bed of flowers all its own. And while those flowers are colorful, musical and beautiful, no such dwarfs are looked down upon the way little Alice was in the movie, washed away down a random ravine of erosion, laughed at and ridiculed; no young lady shoved down; no man is ever pushed out. There is no history of expulsion, period. While many bars make the “come as you are” claim, let’s face it — they’re talking more about dirty boots than they are about a man in a dress.

“For 30 years The Garden has been known as the capital city’s premier entertainment complex for the LGBT community, but The Garden is not just a gay club. It’s an everybody kind of bar,” said new co-owner Jason Kaplan, who partnered with Rusty Brammer last spring to build upon The Garden’s 30-year legacy in Des Moines. Kaplan and Brammer believe in The Garden, what it stands for in Des Moines, what it brings to the community and the potential it possesses yet to be fully realized.

“This year we’re celebrating 30 years,” Kaplan beamed. “We want to continue the tradition of what The Garden was, what it is still and build upon that.”

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Starting simply with a new logo, Kaplan and Brammer have already begun the process of building. Next patrons will see The Garden open longer hours and seven days a week, as opposed to its traditional nightclub schedule of operating only late in the week and late in the evening.

“We recently added seven days a week and extended the hours, but there are a lot more changes in the future,” Kaplan said. “The main thing is more TLC and a focus on raising the bar on our performance level.”

Historically known for its drag shows, The Garden is doing what seemed impossible — becoming even more diverse than it already is. The drag shows will continue but will draw nationally-touring performers in addition to the local talents, including acts like stand-up and skit comedy.

The additional hours will also enhance The Garden’s tradition of supporting local charities and activism, which it has done in partnership with Le Boi Bar and The Blazing Saddle. CV

The Garden Nightclub
112 S.E. Fourth St.
HOURS: Mon.-Fri. 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat. 8 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sun. 5 p.m.-12 a.m.
HAPPY HOUR: Mon.-Fri. 5-8 p.m.
ENTERTAINMENT: Mondays — RuPaul’s Drag Race, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays — open stage, 10 p.m.; Thursdays — Dance Party with Djr (no cover), 8 p.m.; Fridays/Saturdays — drag shows, 10 p.m., 12 a.m.; second Sunday every month — all-ages drag show, 6 p.m.
CAPACITY: 451 main bar; 243 patio; 360 dance floor

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