New "social club" attempts to bring some atmosphere to downtown Iowa City


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In a brick-wall room with wrought-iron light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, customers at Clinton Street Social Club are encouraged to take a seat at the leather armchairs and read books.

When owner Brian Vogel built his gastro pub, he wanted it to feel like one big home.

“I built the kind of place that I was longing for in Iowa City,” he said. “A gastro pub in its purest sense is kind of the happy medium between a townie dive bar that is also gourmet with high cuisine.”

Clinton Street Social Club, 18 ½ S. Clinton St., has been open for almost two weeks, and Vogel said it has been busier than expected.

While the restaurant is open for lunch beginning at 11:30 a.m., the owner said most of his customers seem to come in around 10 p.m. looking for a full meal to eat.

Originally, that was a clientele that Vogel thought he would have to build his restaurant up to, but instead, it happened overnight.

“We are trying to develop a place downtown that gets a mature client base to come and socialize to kind of resurrect a part of Iowa City that is being beaten down by college kids,” Vogel said. “I feel that sometimes we are all sort of guests in our own town, and it’s pretty easy to get tired of all that.”

In an effort to add to the “speakeasy” feel to the restaurant’s atmosphere, Vogel will have live jazz every Friday night and local folk and blues musicians on Saturdays. Customers can also put their pool skills to the test in the pool room.

But what makes the gastro pub different from other bars around the downtown is the gourmet food served on the menu.

Chef Kenneth Tuttle uses products from local farmers to create the dishes that resemble tapas or shared-style menu.

“The food that is going to come out of this kitchen is going to be very bold,” he said. “We are going to try to keep it interesting, because you can get bar food or a good hamburger anywhere in town.”

When creating the menu, one item Vogel wanted to see was a corn dog. Besides the fact that he loves them, he said, it’s the perfect metaphor for the attitude of the menu.

“You can take a carnival novelty, like a corn dog and then turn it into a true gourmet experience,” he said.

The Clinton St. Duck Sausage Corn Dog is just one of the items on the menu in which Tuttle has taken a traditional dish and put a twist on it.

And instead of the typical poultry or protein items customers are familiar with, Tuttle decided to put goat on the menu.

To his surprise, people have loved it, and the restaurant has sold out of the meat.

“People seem to want goat, and I don’t know if it’s because it’s a novelty or if people just enjoy it as much as I do,” he said.

Simon Maurer, an Iowa City resident who has tried many items on the menu, said his favorite is the Confit Duck Leg because, besides its delicious taste, it’s not usually something you can find at other bar/restaurants downtown.

He laughed, then said he has been to the restaurant around 10 times in the past week and there is definitely a buzz from the patrons who have eaten there.

“I like that the atmosphere is different from other bars downtown,” Maurer said. “You don’t have hip-hop music blaring; you can actually have a conversation with someone, and it’s a more mature crowd.”

For Vogel, that is the kind of reaction he wants to hear from his customers.

“I would just like to see [Clinton Street Social Club] become a part of a certain resurrection of downtown that has had a lost culture,” he said. “I want it to be a sanctuary for people who feel alienated by that."

Clinton Street Social Club
Where: 18 ½ S. Clinton St.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Phone number: (319) 351-1690

Must-try menu item: Duck Sausage Corn Dog

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