116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
New location is dry bar’s second in Iowa, with first in Davenport
IOWA CITY — After 17 years as a bartender, Unimpaired co-owner Amber Haines said there’s only one thing she doesn’t like about bars: the pressure to drink.
With one location in Davenport, Haines and co-owner Jim Thomson are setting their sights on Iowa City as a place where the fun of a bar without the pressure to drink could make a difference for students at the University of Iowa, which was listed as a top party school by the Princeton Review until 2018.
Despite being a dry bar, Unimpaired has plenty of things to quench your thirst for crafted drinks, original pizza options and the amenities for a fun night out.
What: Unimpaired Dry Bar
Where: 125 E. Burlington St., Iowa City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Phone: (319) 259-7110
Details: Variety of non-alcoholic drinks, handcrafted pizzas and salads, with games and entertainment in a bar-like atmosphere.
Eyes on Iowa City
“Our eyes were set on Iowa City in the very beginning,” said Haines, 37, of Blue Grass. “We wanted to be there more for the college crowd. It’s a big difference between Davenport and Iowa City.”
Working with the University of Iowa’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Advisory Committee and Fraternity & Sorority Life to reduce student alcohol intake, Unimpaired already is making an impact by providing students with an alternative social space that doesn’t revolve around booze.
As programs try to lower the alcohol intake with students, positive alternatives offset the difference. Some sororities are now booking semiformal dances with Unimpaired, Haines said.
“Now that alcohol is sold at games, I think they’re really trying to do their part,” she said.
But with Unimpaired, students don’t need to feel like they’re missing much. Walking into Unimpaired feels like just about any other bar downtown.
“I tried to put together all the different socializing key factors I felt would help people come here to socialize,” Haines said, including a pool table, TVs for sports, bar games, good music and adult drinks that taste like the real thing.
Although the option may appeal to students who are not yet old enough to go to the bars with their 21 and over friends, Unimpaired is a space that extends a safe and fun environment to anyone who doesn’t want to drink.
The pressure to drink
Before purchasing her first bar in her hometown of Blue Grass, Haines decided to stop drinking and reevaluate her relationship with alcohol — not because of personal struggles with alcohol dependency, but to avoid the alcoholism that runs in her family. She’s now four years sober.
“When I do go out, the pressure is unbelievable,” she said. “(Drinkers) act like you’re the weird one that’s not drinking.”
She sees other regulars succumb to that pressure at her one bar that serves alcohol, Mayne Street Pub-N-Grub, even when they set out not to drink.
After opening her bar and regularly serving her brother, she watched him develop an addiction. Her father previously died of alcoholism.
“I almost felt to blame. … While he was in rehab, I had just nonstop turmoil,” she said. “If there was another place he could go to with his friends that didn’t have alcohol, then he would do that. I thought, ‘Why can’t there be a place like that?’ ”
Giving up alcohol doesn’t have to mean giving up the taste of it, with a growing industry dedicated to making zero-proof substitutes that taste like your favorite rum, vodka, tequila or beer.
The Jackless Coke has a similar spiced flavor as one with Jack Daniel’s. The zero-proof gin has the same bite from juniper as your regular gin.
Other cocktails like the Slamber are as fun and fruity as the ones served at other bars and restaurants, with fresh muddled fruit and substitutes that will make you feel like you’re not missing anything. With these drinks, Haines has seen others remember how to have fun without the alcohol.
“I feel like it’s the placebo effect. On a Saturday night when the lights are dimmed low, we have an acoustic act up here, you’re drinking, you’re talking,” she said. “I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”
Not your typical bar food
A handcrafted pizza menu is also showcased alongside all the other amenities of a bar.
A pizza connoisseur, Haines brings the signatures that started at her Blue Grass bar like The Mayne, topped with nacho cheese sauce, tater tots, bacon, sour cream and green onions. More adventurous options include the chili mac with chili cheese and crushed Fritos.
Salads have also been added for a healthy option, and can be ordered with half pizzas.
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