Sunday, November 28, 2021

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Jelly beans, grandfather clocks and German castles



What do jellybeans, grandfather clocks and German castles have in common? A lady sitting at Des Moines’ east side Maingate Bar knows.

Chrystal Smith alternates between sips from of a glass of Southern Comfort on her left and a Coca-Cola she keeps on her right.


The regulars at Maingate Bar, from left Michelle Howard, Brad Farnsworth and Loni Yarges, say this is the best place to people watch during the Iowa State Fair.

She’s brought in a reading lamp, plugged it in and set it atop the bar. It shines down and illuminates the elaborate jigsaw puzzle she’s doing.

Prep Iowa

“I’ve been doing this for four years,” she said while wedging a puzzle piece snuggly into another.

She doesn’t mean she’s been doing this same puzzle since 2012, but she’s been doing puzzles in general while out at the bar.

As if puzzles aren’t difficult enough, doing them with alcohol around adds yet another layer of difficulty. Sometimes Smith needs to chase people away because they’re too “buzzed.”

“I don’t mind if people help me,” she said. “As long as they’re serious about it. If they’re messing around … you’re fired.”

She puts together different types of puzzles, and this one looks like a difficult one. But there have been tougher challenges.

The grandfather clock puzzle, the German castle puzzle and the jellybean puzzle are legendary among the regulars here.


Chrystal Smith (right) solves puzzles most nights at Maingate Bar. Here she’s in her usual spot with her daughter, Brie Smith (left), who also enjoys her mother’s hobby.

The grandfather clock had actual working parts and kept real time once it was completed. Smith did two of those puzzles — one for her and then another for another bar patron. She had to construct the puzzle in separate sections because it was too wide to fit on the bar.

The jellybean puzzle was only 500 pieces, but the uniformity of all the shapes and colors made it difficult to differentiate one piece from another.

Then there was the 2,000-piece German puzzle.

“It was the hardest,” sighed Smith. “I don’t want to go much bigger than that.”

Puzzles aren’t Smith’s only pastime.

“I’ve been playing pool for 30 years,” she said.

That’s another reason she likes Maingate. The bar offers free pool, always. Apparently someone lost the key that locks the money-keeping portion, so now it’s open all the time.

Chrystal likes the bar for other reasons, too.

“People shy away because of its reputation, but once you’re here, the people are the best people ever,” she said.

Maingate is a biker bar. It has changed ownership several times in the last few years, but it’s been remodeled recently, and it appears clean and safe.

“It’s the best place in the city to people watch during the Fair,” adds Smith’s daughter, Brie, who glanced up from the puzzle. Maingate is directly across East 30th Street from the Fairgrounds.

She might just be saying that because they bring her free puzzles, or maybe it’s because they help her solve the most difficult ones. It’s hard to say what her reasoning is, but one thing is for certain; it’s not as hard as that German castle puzzle. CV




Maingate Bar

2956 E. Grand Ave., 515-266-2716

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. 

HAPPY HOUR: 3-6 p.m., Monday through Friday, $1 off all drinks except keg beer.

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