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Hilltop Tavern attracts locals since 1933

BY GRACE PATERAS | FEBRUARY 19, 2015 5:00 AM

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Each week, The Daily Iowan will provide an in-depth look at a local business.

The Hilltop Tavern is a restaurant and bar that has been serving Iowa City locals since 1933.

The bar, 1100 N. Dodge St., was established right at the end of Prohibition when the first beer license was issued.

Since then, five men and women have owned the business before the current owner, Linda Kuncl, took it over in 1982. Kuncl said the owners have all kept the interior décor as it was since it opened.
It’s hard to notice the brown and green walls behind the variety of beer advertisements, musical artists — such as a Toby Keith shrine, local sports team photos, and Hawkeye sports schedules.
Pool tables and arcade games are also on display.

“It’s got so much history behind it, and Linda wants to preserve it,” frequent customer Pam Sinnott said. “It’s part of the ambiance.”

Sinnott is a regular and is first of three generations to enjoy the restaurant’s atmosphere.

In 1990, she moved two blocks from the Hilltop with her husband and kids.

Her children were 4 and 5 years old at the time and began to tag along with their parents for meals at the restaurant.

Sinnott said during the winter months, both kids would dress in snow pants and walk up to spend time taking advantage of the entertainment offered. At the same time, Kuncl and her two kids would be at the restaurant playing the same games.

“They learned how to shoot pool and they learned how to do darts,” Sinnott said. “The four of them were the same ages, and now our kids kick our butts.”

Now, the children of Sinnott and Kuncl bring their kids to the restaurant with them to this very day.

Another loyal customer, Teri Osmundson, has frequently gone to Hilltop for 42 years. She has seen few changes with the restaurant.

“That’s one of the nice things about coming to the Hilltop,” she said. “It’s really been a consistent bar, [with the] same clientele. It’s a neighborhood bar.”

Since Kuncl’s ownership, the menu has grown with many meals she has put together.

Originally, the Hilltop was just a bar. Now, about 50 percent of sales come from food, Kuncl said.

Customers can view the menu online, where the daily specials are posted a month in advance.

Osmundson plans ahead by looking at the menu to see when her favorite meal — bratwurst and German potato salad — is being offered.

One item on the menu that has caught the eye of many Iowa City residents is the chocolate chip cookies.

Hills Bank and Trust buys the cookies from the Hilltop every Friday and has them on display for clients to take, free of charge, said a Hills Bank executive. All the Iowa City locations offer the cookies.

“Who would have guessed a bar could have gotten so much attention for its cookies?” Kuncl said. “We must make 100 dozen every week, give or take a few.”

Kuncl believes the only way to compete with the other bars in the Iowa City area is to provide good service.

“It’s the only thing that can set yourself apart,” she said. “Everybody has a good product, and they all sell the same kind of liquor we sell, so that’s where you have to make your mark, on service.”

Hilltop workers have seen a variety of customers at the business.

Suit and tie personnel, farmers, construction workers, and university students are all customers, Kuncl said.

One reason regulars continue to choose Hilltop Tavern is because of the friendships made, Sinnott and Osmundson said.

“That’s what a neighborhood bar’s about,” Sinnott said. “It’s a home away from home; you don’t find many places like this around.”


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