116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
VINTON — Old Hospital Pub has brought a new sense of taste to a historic campus for the visually impaired at 916 W. Ninth St. in Vinton.
The former hospital for the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, built in 1903, started serving up barbecue, flatbread, sandwiches, wings and crafted cocktails in a cozy environment on Oct. 27. The school’s campus first opened in 1852.
“The building was just perfect for a little pub,” said B.J. Hobart, who owns 28 acres of the campus with her husband, Jim. “Because we already had success with Bari and because we felt the community could use a place like that, we decided to do it ourselves.”
The owners of Bari Italian in Cedar Rapids’ Kingston Village neighborhood, which opened in October 2019, have accidentally become restaurateurs by way of their historic restoration company, Hobart Historic Restoration. The Hobarts purchased the 11-building campus from the city of Vinton, taking ownership in early 2021.
The Iowa Board of Regents, which previously owned the property and offered it to other state agencies, sold it to Vinton for $1 when agencies declined the aging facilities. After a grand master plan is complete, the Hobarts estimate a $20 million investment in the restoration. B.J. estimated their investment in the renovations so far at about $2 million, half of which was spent on restoring the Old Hospital Pub.
With two floors measuring 2,400 square feet each, plans are in the works for an apartment build-out upstairs. The lower floor serves as the restaurant and bar, featuring a custom wood and marble bar, a two-sided fireplace visible from the main dining area and private party room. There’s seating for about 70 people indoors with space for 40 more on a patio with a fire pit and TV screens.
However, the pub is temporarily closed as the owners seek new experienced staff for front-of-house and kitchen positions.
What: Old Hospital Pub
Where: 916 W. Ninth St., Vinton
Hours: Temporarily closed; expected to reopen after restaffing.
Phone: (319) 318-5027
Details: Old Hospital Pub temporarily closed on Jan. 14 to handle a staff shortage. The pub is expected to reopen soon to offer its menu of barbecue, sandwiches, wings, flatbreads and crafted signature cocktails.
Management is looking for experienced leadership for front-of-house and kitchen positions. If interested, email B.J. Hobart at firstname.lastname@example.org
With backgrounds at Rockwell Collins and in pipe fitting, B.J. and Jim, respectively, started their historic renovation business with some projects awarded in Dubuque.
“Not only is it a niche, but something we enjoy,” B.J. said. “It started growing from there.”
Since taking possession in early 2021, the Hobarts started renovations by removing leftover belongings from previous tenants, like old desks and chairs. Lead paint and asbestos were abated, and work started on HVAC, infrastructure and foundation issues.
“They’re well-built buildings, but they needed help,” B.J. said.
The end result in the Old Hospital Pub is a cozy atmosphere that may remind you of corner pubs in England or Ireland. Vinton’s pub patrons can enjoy signature drinks like the blood orange cello margarita or apple butter old fashioned alongside chicken bacon ranch flatbread, pulled pork sandwich, brisket and more.
AmeriCorps, a current tenant occupying about 75 percent of the school’s campus, remains on a 5-year lease while the Hobarts continue renovation phases, including potential for various housing opportunities. Future work includes adding an outdoor activity area adjacent to the patio and converting the barn into a 150-person capacity event center named after John W.O. Webb, the farmer who donated land for the school in 1859.
The new owners also are working to save room for a museum with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society. Mary Ingalls, sister of “Little House on the Prairie” author Laura Ingalls Wilder, started attending the school in 1881. She graduated in 1889, at age 24.
The building, which was secured by Vinton after a statewide call to communities, came to fruition thanks to land donations and fundraising. For well over a century it provided in-depth education in civics, history and practical skills to an often underserved population.
“Just by the materials they put into (the buildings), you could tell it was a real source of pride. It wasn’t just lessons at the time,” B.J. said. “It’s the heart of the community. That’s why everybody wants to see it come back to life.”
The owners plan to continue collecting and incorporating feedback from the community to revise their vision in a way that better serves Vinton as renovations move forward.
Comments: (319) 398-8340; email@example.com