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ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion

New location brings restaurant, brewery and nightclub into one space over three floors

ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion
ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion
ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion
ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion
ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion
ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion
ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion
ReUnion Brewery opens in downtown Iowa City, positioning brand for out-of-state expansion
A freshly poured ReUnion Brewery beer on Thursday, Oct. 20 at ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
ReUnion bartender Noah Walden pours a beer on Thursday, Oct. 20 at ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
The first floor bar undergoes last minute adjustments ahead of ReUnion’s upcoming grand opening, on Thursday, Oct. 20 at ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
The upstairs dance floor is illuminated by a disco ball on Thursday, Oct. 20 at ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
A Ward 8 (left) and Japanese Slipper cocktail, two of the ReUnion Brewery cocktail specials, on Thursday, Oct. 20 at ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
Wall art welcomes patrons ahead of ReUnion Brewery’s upcoming grand opening, on Thursday, Oct. 20 at ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — With several separate areas spread out over three floors at its second location, 113 E. College St., ReUnion is no longer just a brewery.

A dance floor on the top floor is open until 2 a.m., serving its own food menu until 1:45 a.m., so it can turn on a dime into a disco or an acoustic music hall.

In the basement, two more spaces offer a venue for smaller groups, more intimate melodies and private banquets with a relaxed atmosphere.

On the main floor, a New Orleans chef works in the kitchen behind the fermenting barrels, where his menu has potential to make ReUnion Brewery a strong contender as a restaurant.

And after you fall in love with the brand’s aesthetic plastering the walls with Jonathan Sims’ psychedelic and cartoonish style of art, stop by the fully-realized merchandise store on your way out for a sweatshirt.

“We wanted this location to be a chef-driven restaurant. I want people to come for the food and have good drinks or beer. We didn’t want to isolate it to just beer,” said Kris Kass, chief operating officer of ReUnion Brewery. “If you like beer, we’re going to have beer, but we’re not just going to be that.”

Building on a foundation that started in 2016 when Mondo’s Draft House became ReUnion Brewery, the new location, which opened Oct. 24, is putting its best foot forward as a brand, with eyes set beyond Iowa’s borders.

“We’re looking to expand out of Iowa for distribution, starting to move the brand outside of Iowa,” Kass said. “Getting into more grocery stores, wholesale.”

With new brews, the Iowa City location will give ReUnion a dry run as it acclimates itself to new audiences. Joining the ranks of breweries that have made a name for themselves in Iowa, Kass said ReUnion hopes to be more than a place to eat and drink.

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“You can look at Big Grove and the culture they bring to their restaurant. Their beer’s good, but people also go there because of the culture,” she said. “We want to have our own culture here.”

If you go

What: ReUnion Brewery

Where: 113 E. College St., Iowa City, on the Pedestrian Mall

Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday and Wednesday; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Hours will expand later.

Phone: (319) 379-2349

Website: reunionbrewery.com/

Details: Serving dinner, beer, cocktails plus late-night food as late as 1:45 a.m. Hours will expand to later include lunch service. Cajun-inspired appetizers start at $11; entrees range from about $14 to $27 with ample selection of sandwiches, pastas, soups, salads, flatbreads and large plates.

The beer

Unmistakably, ReUnion still is a brewery in its new location on Iowa City’s Ped Mall.

The site will bring in mainstay varieties, like its Tank Puncher IPA. But as ReUnion pivots to reach an entirely new audience away from its first Coralville location, it will strategize use of its five-barrel system in Iowa City with an entirely new repertoire of drinks.

With smaller batches of flavors, Iowa City’s sours, seltzers and niche productions will be complete with their own release parties. The flavors exclusive to the Iowa City location will join varieties produced by ReUnion’s seven barrels in Coralville and 30 barrels at the Juice Factory in eastern Iowa City.

“Things people have never tried, they’ll try to do here,” Kass said.

With a full-time, in-house cicerone — the equivalent of a sommelier for beer — they’re well-equipped to venture into new territory.

The space

With 12,000 square feet, the new spot is about twice as large as its Coralville location. After extensive renovations, the industrial new space connects the footprint left behind by three separate spaces in the Dooley Block building.

Yet most of the building’s spaces have potential to be remarkably intimate, with several across all three floors carefully partitioned with proportions that could make a crowd of hundreds feel at ease with small groups of friends.

Givanni’s previously occupied the southern third of the building, where a smaller dining area and prominent staircase are now lined with eccentric art on the main floor.

The middle of the building, previously Fieldhouse’s dance floor and catwalk, is where the main floor of ReUnion — the one that makes the location recognizable as a brewery — greets patrons with a bar and bevy of high-top tables owner Jim Mondanero envisions as a communal space. Original brick walls are plastered with floor-to-ceiling art and vaulted, unfinished wood ceilings are anchored by equally industrial floors.

The northern side of the building, previously home to Graze, features a well-rounded merchandise shop that shows how serious ReUnion is about its brand in a move that positions it to expand out of state.

And that’s just the main floor.

Downstairs, a smaller bar with room for about 100 offers a cozy space suitable for banquets or private parties. Next door, a separate speakeasy is in the works.

There, they hope for a rugged space complete with original cobblestone walls, a fireplace, a movable book case and chill vibes.

“We’re hopeful people who miss social clubs and that atmosphere — whether graduate students, professionals or people living downtown — can come here and have a jazz night,” Kass said.

Upstairs on the third floor, one of the building’s largest spaces centers around a bar island, a counter to order late-night tacos, a versatile dance floor that can double as an acoustic concert hall, and a DJ booth.

With an eye for live entertainment, Pete Becker, the music and stage manager, said the first month will primarily feature DJs, easing into more and more live music as the venue gets a feel for the beat of its own drum. The upstairs has been outfitted with a full suite of professional lighting and sound equipment in hopes of attracting a higher caliber of talent.

The food

Starring New Orleans Chef Brack May, the ample new menu in Iowa City is elevated but approachable, with Cajun flair peeking around every corner.

After years of injecting Midwestern influence into his shabby-chic restaurant’s upscale menu in Louisiana, May returns to Iowa to sprinkle some new flavors onto the local palate.

“We’re just trying to do cool, fresh food with stronger flavors,” May said. “It’s simple pub food, really, but it’s a little bit elevated.”

For starters, Cajun Boudin Balls offer fried balls of moist pork on a Creole mustard sauce. BBQ shrimp and grits are made with homemade Worcestershire sauce, and fried brussels sprouts come with aged sherry vinegar and shaved manchego cheese.

Sandwiches include burgers, Cubans and a French dip, alongside fresh salads, flatbreads and pastas.

If you want something a little bigger, the “big plates” feature jerk pork tenderloin with Jamaican rice and sweet plantains, salmon with scallion grits, steak frites and crusted cod with crab boiled potatoes.

Wall art welcomes patrons ahead of ReUnion Brewery’s upcoming grand opening, on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, at ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)
The basement bar offers guests a more relaxed atmosphere on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, at ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Comments: (319) 398-8340; elijah.decious@thegazette.com