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The Cork in Johnston


When walking into a bar, an instant vibe is set off. Is it a dive or too high-end? Or does it get lost in the shuffle, trying to please everyone?

At the Cork, the vibe matches what they do successfully — focus on unique wines. The Cork 50131, located at 6205 Merle Hay Road in the Johnston Town Center, opened December 2022. 

The Cork offers about 175 different wines. Posted on their chalkboard is a list of 15-20 rotating wines by the glass, including bubbly, whites, rose and reds. The majority of the wines are available by the bottle. There’s no corkage fee. If you don’t drink it all, take it home. But who has that problem?

Wine costs between $10-$15 a glass for a 5-ounce pour. Bottles of wine are all across the price spectrum, with many in the $35 to $45 range. If you and your friend each drink two glasses of wine, do the math and buy a bottle instead. 

Their most expensive is a $350 bottle of 2017 Component Demi Lune Bordeaux from France and certified French region grapes.

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A good way to sample wine is a four-flight for $22, which gets you 2.5-ounce pours from any wines posted on the chalkboard. Arrive from 2:30-6 p.m. for happy hour Monday through Friday and get $2 off flights, wine by the glass and food items; or $1 off beer and spirits.

Yes, non-vino lovers can choose from a dozen or so spirits, Pulpit Rock beer from Decorah and a couple cans of domestic beer including Busch Light. Side note: After writing countless Belly Up columns, I’ve concluded that if you own a drinking establishment in Iowa, you must serve Busch Light. 

The Cork doesn’t have a kitchen; however, they offer “bites,” which include a charcuterie tray, flatbread with La Quercia meats, lava cake, chocolate chip cookies or a premium bar mix. This salty and savory bar mix goes beyond a few seasoned pretzels, as my friend picked out the crunchy toffee nuts. Snack mix in a generous-sized bowl during happy hour costs just a buck. Patrons can bring in their own food if desired. 

The place is an ideal spot for viewing outdoor Johnston Town Center activities in the summertime, as the back patio overlooks the area. Upcoming music in 2024 at the Town Center includes the Pork Tornadoes.

The Cork offers wine tastings, paired with cheeses and meats, about once a month and live music about every three weeks.

Cycrena, Cork’s assistant manager, was knowledgeable in wine selections. After telling her I liked dry reds and no sweet wines, her suggestions were spot-on with my taste buds. She assured me they don’t sell any Iowa wines. They secure wines from nine different distributors. The owners and staff do wine tastings about once a week, and favorites are kept in stock. 

“You won’t find these wines at Costco or Hy-Vee,” she says.

The decor is simple, classy and relaxed — a vibe you’ll want to try next time you’re in Johnston. 

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