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The Stuffed Olive brings 115 martini options to Iowa City
New Ped Mall opening offers tapas and drinks in chic space
IOWA CITY — If you’re thirsty and looking for something good to read, take a gander at The Stuffed Olive’s menu — a 22-page binder that serves about 115 martini options at a time.
Whether you’re looking for sweet, fruity, spicy, bitter or savory, Iowa City’s newest martini bar and tapas restaurant on the Ped Mall has a selection for you from A to Z. From the classics to drinks that most people wouldn’t think of as martinis, The Stuffed Olive is shaking up the perception of how versatile martinis can be.
“That’s what makes martinis so cool. It’s hard to make martinis at home unless you make a classic,” said Aaron Schurman, co-owner of Paramount Bar Company, the owner of The Stuffed Olive. “They take a lot of specialized little dining ingredients … to make a drink that tastes like a Girl Scout cookie.”
“People who don’t know martinis usually get a bad one from a bad bartender,” said Darin Beck, managing partner and president of Paramount Bar Co.
If you go
What: The Stuffed Olive
Where: 121 E. College St., Iowa City (on the Ped Mall)
Hours: 3 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday; noon to midnight Saturday; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Phone: (319) 855-5229
Details: The Stuffed Olive has a full menu of more than 100 martinis, flatbreads and tapas in a chic, upscale environment.
Get adventurous with spicy options like the Hot Tropic made with mango habanero whiskey. If you want something sweet, maybe the Girl Scout Cookie or Snickers martini is more your speed. If the heat has you looking for something tropical to match the mood, try the Jamaican Ten Speed made with Malibu rum, melon liqueur, creme de banana and pineapple juice.
If you want to try a classic made with quality and attention, few places can match the specialization of The Stuffed Olive, which does not neglect its namesake. There, you can order your martini with a wide variety of olives stuffed by hand daily with blue cheese, prosciutto, garlic, sun-dried tomato, pimento and more.
An empty stomach is not neglected, either. A robust menu of tapas plates are designed to be shared among friends. Diners will notice a variety of fresh seafood options alongside the rest of the menu — a choice the owner said pairs well with martinis.
“We would like to think we’re elevated beyond bar food,” Beck noted.
Calamari there is made from calamari steak, for example, rather than the rubbery rings with breading that the word conjures for most.
A small but robust number of flatbread options rounds out the menu, all made with naan.
“It’s not supposed to make you think of pizza crust at all,” Beck said. “It’s truly a flatbread.”
This third location opens after the original location started in Cedar Falls in 2004, followed by a Des Moines location in 2014. Iowa City’s site at 121 E. College St. on the Ped Mall is a new build-out in the space formerly occupied by The Union, which closed in 2020 after more than 25 years.
The newest location gives the feeling of New York City, paying homage to Manhattan, where the martini was invented. Sparkly quartz tables and low leather couches are lit with spot lighting and tasteful neon reflected by crystal galore, delivering an upscale, modern and cosmopolitan vibe.
Yet to be installed is a completely digital wall on one side, which will regularly feature new, original art.
Paramount Bar Company’s other holding next door at The Roxxy, which opened late last year, gives Chicago vibes. If you’re still looking for something fun to do after visiting both bars, head down to the basement, where newly opened Tap Tap offers pizza, more drinks and video games.
“Darin and I love to play around with different concepts. We started talking about having less of a big, single nightclub space and trying to actually create the perfect night out,” Schurman said. “When you think of the three (places) together, that is the ultimate night out.”
The Stuffed Olive was started in Cedar Falls by a retired law enforcement officer who drew inspiration from the martini ideas he collected on road trips across the country. Since Paramount Bar Company took over the concept in 2005, the collection of martini recipes has grown substantially to a repository of more than 200 recipes.
“I’ve never seen another martini menu as big or comprehensive as ours in the country. And when I do, usually they’ve ripped it off of ours,” Beck said.
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