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The Continental

3/6/2024

The Continental was one of the first restaurants in the up-and-coming East Village district in 2005. Known for its narrow bar, weekly jazz sessions, innovative cocktails and menu sharables, it was a fan favorite.

When the Continental lost its lease in 2020, owner Jennifer DuBay didn’t call it quits. She searched the trusted area and came across a new location just a block away. 

In summer of 2022, loyal Continental fans rejoiced when it reopened in its new location at 407 E. Fifth St., the former site of Dirt Burger. 

The place is intimate with a full-size bar and varied seating configurations. Inside, the lighting is dim, and the décor includes a collection of antique finds, such as a working jukebox, ornate mirrors and photos of retro movie stars and singers. It appears as if Frank Sinatra may just have frequented the place. A row of tall windows lines one wall, perfect for people watching. The weathered look is a nice contrast to the shiny industrial appearance of some new joints.

Although the digs in the new location look different, familiarity returns in its menu. The Continental was on the leading edge of the classic cocktail craze, which is trending among numerous Des Moines metro establishments today. 

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Happy hour from 4-6 p.m. weekdays is a good time to try $7 standard or seasonal cocktails. Happy hour also gets $5 drafts, $8 select appetizers and $11 flatbreads.

Seasonal drink menus include hot drinks in the wintertime. The raspberry hot cocoa infuses Chambord, Baileys and hot cocoa topped with whip cream for $11. Or try the Mezcal You Later, which includes pineapple-infused mezcal, raspberry, Grand Marnier and lime juice with a tajin rim (Mexican seasoning with peppers, lime and salt) around the glass for $12. 

Their refreshing smashes ($10) include drinks with fresh ingredients, which go down smoothly. Or, make it a mocktail, if you want to skip the booze.

Cocktails are tops, but where the Continental shines is its shared plates. Choose from about a dozen scrumptious choices and, yes, share with your friends so you can all get a taste. The avocado egg rolls are stuffed with fresh avocado, sundried tomato, red onion and served with cilantro dipping sauce for $13. It’s not guacamole, but it’s a unique blend wrapped in crispy wontons. 

The spicy meatballs include four large tender pork and beef meatballs with a sauce of spicy marinara, sprinkled with pecorino Romano and served with toasted baguettes for $12.

Other warm and cheesy dips are flavorful, such as the queso fundido and the baked goat cheese. These unique finds are a nice break from the typical bar nachos.

To top off the food and drink ambience, live jazz music sets the vibe on Friday or Saturday nights. It’s a popular mainstay for local jazz greats since the place first opened. 

If you enjoyed Continental years ago, it’s time to return to an old favorite. ♦

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Summer Stir - June 2024