Food & Drink

Gene's and Poindexter welcome guests and locals alike into Graduate hotel

Fluorescent signs point the way to Gene’s (left) and Poindexter Coffee (right) in the Graduate hotel in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Fluorescent signs point the way to Gene’s (left) and Poindexter Coffee (right) in the Graduate hotel in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — At first glance, the yellow walls of Poindexter Coffee appear textured. Closer inspection reveals they are lined with pencils — 170,000 pencils total, all carefully sharpened to a satisfying point.

It’s an homage to the coffee shop’s home in a United Nations-designated City of Literature. It is one of two eateries on the first floor of the Graduate hotel, which opened in 2018 on Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall. Illinois-based AJ Capital Partners bought the hotel, which was formerly the Sheraton, and revamped it as part of it Graduate Hotels chain, which has location in college towns around the country. The company also bought the nearby hotelVetro.

General manager Jose Machuca said the goal for Poindexter and its companion restaurant Gene’s is for spaces that appeal to hotel guests and the wider Iowa City public alike.

“The whole concept is to be part of the University of Iowa community,” he said. “We want this to be a community spot.”

That means welcoming students in to study and socialize in the coffee shop, where along with house-brand coffee the menu includes breakfast sandwiches, pastries and all-you-can-eat bowls of cereals.

Next door at Gene’s, lunch and dinner pair with a full bar. The restaurant has sliding garage doors along the wall facing the Ped Mall. In the summer, those doors can be rolled up, with patio seating outside along the public space.

Though the hotel and restaurant opened last summer, they didn’t get to use the patio seating or fully take advantage of the proximity to downtown Iowa City’s foot traffic because much of the Ped Mall was under renovation. Machuca hopes this summer will change the dynamic.

There are no televisions; “We kind of want to differentiate ourselves from sports bars,” he said. “We want it to be a place you can talk.”

Food and beverage director for the hotel Chad Pavek said they source food locally when possible. The breakfast sandwich, for example, includes bread from the Bread Garden, located next door, and eggs from Kalona. Other food offerings include appetizers like chicken wings and onion rings, salads and sandwiches like chicken Parmesan or a steak burger.

Each hotel in the Graduate chain is different, Machuca said, designed to reflect the town and campus around it. That’s why the Iowa City hotel’s eatery is called Gene’s — it’s named for actor Gene Wilder, a University of Iowa graduate himself.

The space features beaded curtains adorned with tiny cow, pig, corn and football charms and retro, Western-style decor, in honor of Wilder’s role in the film Blazing Saddles.

On the menu, a popular drink is the snozzberry slushy, a nod to Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka.

“Everything here is related to him and his legacy in the 1970s,” Machuca said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

l What: Gene’s and Poindexter Coffee in the Graduate Iowa City hotel

l Where: 210 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

l Hours: Poindexter Coffee: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; Gene’s: 4 to 11 p.m. daily

l Details: (319) 337-4058, graduatehotels.com/iowa-city

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