116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Food & Drink / Restaurants
Iowa City’s first plant bar blossoms
The Green Room brings a new state of mind to the local bar scene
IOWA CITY — Thanks to a new trend sprouting in Iowa, Eastern Iowans seeking a drink in the garden can get a pour from bartenders with a green thumb.
The Green House, a new establishment by owner Emily Salmonson, is the first plant bar to bloom in the Corridor and only the second in the state, following the opening of Pots & Shots in West Des Moines earlier this year.
With this local venture opening Sept. 3, the hospitality industry veteran hopes to bring a new, slower pace to Iowa City’s bar scene.
“My goal is to have this be a very calming space, but a very fun space as well,” Salmonson said. “I want people to feel comfortable having a glass of wine or a cocktail in a place that’s very open and full of life, and not like a typical downtown Iowa City bar.”
Pairing lush drinks with lush plants available in daylight and evening hours, The Green House aims to ensure having a fun bar and a relaxing space for a drink are no longer mutually exclusive.
With vaulted ceilings and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows on the corner property formerly home to Van B’s Brew, the tranquillity at The Green House starts at the patio’s perimeter. Making ample use of outdoor space, landscaping and an herb garden set the scene for a different type of drink menu.
If you go
What: The Green House
Where: 505 E. Washington St., Unit 1842, Iowa City
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Opening date: Tentatively set for Saturday, Sept. 3
Details: Enjoy floral Busch Light shandies, fruit shrubs, cocktails with special elixirs, Iowa beer on tap and wine by the glass or bottle while surrounded by manicured plants on outdoor patios or an airy indoor space.
At The Green House, shrubs and bushes double as both hardy staples in outdoor landscaping and libations on the menu.
True to Iowa demand, the bush drinks are Busch Light shandies in two floral varieties — rose and lavender.
With special elixirs from Rhubarb Botanicals in Mount Vernon, shrubs incorporate fruit, simple syrup and vinegar into varieties like blackberry basil with sage elixir or pear ginger with anise hyssop elixir. In addition to the digestion aid provided by vinegar, elixirs bring their own medicinal properties to the table.
Cocktails echo the unspoiled aesthetics of the space with a recipe of simple but elevated choices like the Tequila Rose or the Whiskey Hibiscus.
Yet to be determined is whether Salmonson will employ a play on words with the term chosen for the bartenders, many of whom have strong personal environmental interests. “Bartonist,” a cross between bartender and botanist, is reportedly in the running.
A small selection of snacks will complement drinks. With an available kitchen, Salmonson said there’s potential to expand with a menu of elevated small plates later on.
The new space
Repurposing Van B tables and chairs that now look organic in their new environment, renovation of the former brewery meant disturbing a time capsule not opened since the first months of the pandemic, when the former tenant closed.
The newly refinished space comes to life with a framed moss wall, bamboo wood paneling, and a manicured plant selection that brings depth to the site without making it feel overgrown.
Earth tones and plants on racks many feet above your head blend into the theme. Pops of color — from the live orchids in the moss frames to the UFO mural above tactful use of AstroTurf — add enough whimsy to strike the balance between relaxed and sedated.
“I’ve had people question my lack of televisions all over the place. That’s not really my vibe,” said Salmonson, who worked as a director at FilmScene for the better part of the past decade. “I feel like that’s such a distraction — there’s screens everywhere. I wanted this to be an oasis to gather and reconnect after being away so long.”
Will the plants be for sale?
The sale of the beauties that make the space is yet to be determined. Unlike Pots & Shots, bartenders at this plant bar may be limited to making drinks.
The Green House plans to offer plant exchanges and parties on a regular basis.
“We might not be a plant shop — more like a cocktail spot that has a lot of plant events,” Salmonson said.
The owner’s background
Salmonson, a 2005 University of Iowa graduate, has 25 years in the hospitality industry under her belt. She’s worked as a bartender, server and barista, but this will be her first time as an owner.
Despite the substantial risk of new investments in the bar and restaurant industry, she wouldn’t have her first establishment any other way.
“I would feel like I was gambling more if I was going in line with what everybody else was doing,” she said. “This is the only concept I would use.”
With just enough distance from downtown, she’s banking on the site’s aesthetic and appeal. With breathing room in the sun and plants to convert the carbon dioxide from each exhale, the location stands out from the crowd.
She hopes the appeal proves its value in the winter, too, when most people cannot escape to a warmer climate with year-round greenery. After drawing inspiration from plant bars she visited in other states, she said the trend branching out in Iowa is all about incorporating more comfort into spaces.
During the stressful parts of the pandemic, when she felt confined, plants delivered her that Zen.
Comments: (319) 398-8340; firstname.lastname@example.org