LADORA — When the Ladora Savings Bank opened in 1920, its builders inscribed maxims along the ceiling of the vaulted main room. Written above the tall windows are slogans such as “Integrity is the companion of success,” and “Diligence is the mother of virtue.”
Almost 100 years later, “Maybe some politicians could take those to heart,” the building’s current owner, Dimitri Makedonsky, said with a laugh.
He thinks the slogans are apropos to the theme of the new restaurant he has opened in the space. The Caucus Bistro, complete with campaign memorabilia from numerous politicians and historic photos of presidential hopefuls visiting Iowa on the walls, opened Wednesday, replacing the Ladora Bank Bistro.
Makedonsky said he knows passions around politics can run high. His goal, however, is not to provoke — he wants the space to have a nonpartisan feel.
“We live in a really volatile time in this country, and I don’t want to get into political discussions. I want to celebrate,” he said. “Every four years, Iowa is truly on a world stage. Why not celebrate that?”
Political history is mixed with Ladora history in the building. The bank closed during the Great Depression and housed several other businesses before sitting empty for years. Makedonsky saw it while riding his motorcycle along Highway 6 between Grinnell and Iowa City one day. Even with the building overgrown with weeds outside and in disrepair inside, he fell in love.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” he recalled. “This is just locked in time.”
He bought the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and spent several years renovating it, doing everything from replacing the plumbing and HVAC systems to installing a new ceiling. During the process he was able to maintain many of the building’s original elements, such as ornate light globes hanging from the vaulted ceiling and marble bank teller counters.
When it first opened, the bank was one of the first buildings in the area with indoor plumbing and offered a “Lady’s Parlor” complete with a separate entrance meant to offer women in the community discrete access to the indoor toilet. Now, that parlor is a seating area. The bank’s vault houses the wine storage room, while the former safety deposit box room, with the deposit drawers still lining the wall, holds the modest kitchen.
Makedonsky’s original thought was he would live in the building, but a friend in the wine industry convinced him the space would be a good place for a restaurant and wine bar. He agreed, and in 2008, the Ladora Bank Bistro opened.
When the bistro’s chef and Makedonsky’s business partner Jim Vido decided to leave, Makedonsky, who splits his time between Ladora and Des Moines, decided it was time to reinvent the space. The Ladora Bank Bistro closed March 1.
Makedonsky recruited Scott Sukovich, previously the chef at another restaurant in a former bank, Popoli in Cedar Rapids, to be the Caucus Bistro’s executive chef.
The kitchen is small, which limits the possibilities for the menu and led the duo to focus on a “share plate” concept. Along with appetizer plates like stromboli, stuffed dates and baked Brie, the bistro offers naan flat breads. Menu items have politically-themed names like the Incumbent — flat bread with figs, goat cheese, prosciutto and fresh spinach — or the Lame Duck — flat bread with duck rillette, caramelized onion, olive oil, spinach and balsamic reduction. The eatery also serves wine and beer, along with mead cocktails.
“You can always get a tenderloin and fries,” Makedonsky said. “If people are going to drive the long distance to get here, you want to give them something different.”
He recommends guests coming from out of town call ahead and make a reservation before driving to Ladora, which has a population of around 270 people.
“It is a destination spot. This bistro really has served that purpose over the years,” he said.
Once at the bistro, he hopes they sit back and take their time enjoying the historic ambience, along with the food. Whether they talk about politics or not is up to them.
“A caucus is a meeting of like minds. An older definition is a chalice that holds wine,” he said. “The idea is really for people to just relax and engage.”
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If you go
l What: Caucus Bistro
l Where: 811 Pacific St., Ladora
l Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
l Details: (319) 623-7766, caucusbistro.com