CEDAR RAPIDS — For Jennifer Aiels, entertaining has always been a passion. Now, along with her son Brandon Aiels, she’s turned that passion into a business.
The two opened their new cocktail bar and eatery, Moniker 86 Social Club, on St. Patrick’s Day at 821 Third Ave. SE in the MedQuarter.
“For years we have enjoyed having dinner parties. We always host the holidays for our family. We’ve always loved cooking,” Jennifer said.
Brandon has been working in restaurants since he was 16, he said, and Jennifer recently left a 10-year stint as an operations manager at CarePro Health Services.
The Third Avenue SE building became available just as she was leaving that job, and she and Brandon decided to give it a chance. They had fond memories of dining there under a previous incarnation as Daniel Arthur’s.
The house, which was built in the 1800s as a mansion for the Carpenter family, also was a funeral parlor before becoming a restaurant. It previously housed Cafe de Klos before it was Daniel Arthur’s and most recently, Fusion.
“We just took a leap of faith,” Jennifer said. “For years, I’ve wanted to open a wine and coffee house.”
The idea to make the business Prohibition-themed came after visiting a Prohibition-style bar in Colorado last year.
“I’ve always been obsessed with the 1920s,” she said.
Their cocktail menu focuses on drinks inspired by that era, often with their own twist, such as the Boozie Collins with Tito’s vodka, Champagne, bergamot basil syrup and orange bitters, and the Cocoa Fashion with Templeton Rye infused with cocoa boozie cherries, vanilla demerara syrup and mole bitters.
“We wanted it to be reflective of 1920s cocktails, but our own take on things,” Brandon said.
The last drink on their menu, the Corpse Reviver, with Beefeater gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, absinthe and citrus, is a nod to the building’s history as a mortuary. The second floor of the house includes an apartment, and Brandon said he was startled to read one night that his new bedroom used to be where bodies were stored.
“The building really gave the ideas to us,” he said.
The menu goes beyond the 1920s theme to feature Jennifer’s recipes, most based on things she’s served to family and friends for years.
“Something we wanted to bring to Cedar Rapids was introducing flavors to people they didn’t even know they liked,” she said.
Offerings include things like a smoked salmon platter, Mediterranean bruschetta Thai chicken lettuce cups, and smoked chicken nachos.
They purchased a smoker to prepare many of their dishes, and for their drinks have been infusing liquors and preparing other elements in house. Along with cocktails, they have wine and beer. In the future, they hope to add a few dinner entrees to the lineup.
Jennifer said their goal is to provide a memorable experience, whether people are just in for drinks or also are eating.
“When I was a kid, going out to eat was something my family did to celebrate, and service was phenomenal. We want people to feel like they’re guests here. Service is extremely important to us,” she said.
The cocktail bar is in the back half of the sprawling house, along with a patio complete with fire pits. In the coming months, they hope to open the front room of the building as a coffee shop during the day. A dining room in the middle of the first floor could become a full service restaurant down the line.
For now, they’re focused on getting Moniker 86 off the ground.
“It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it,” Brandon said. “It doesn’t feel like work.”
If You Go
• What: Moniker 86 Social Club
• Where: 821 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 4 to 11 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
• Details: (319) 200-8686
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