The Townie Bar Challenge: Mondo's Draft House

Mondo’s Draft House
516 E Second St
Coralville IA 52241

After a six-month (and unintentional) hiatus, the Townie Bar Challenge returns. On Tuesday, Bobblehead and I ventured to Mondo’s Draft House in Coralville for lunch. His review can be found here. (I forgot my camera, so no pictures again.)

First off, Tuesday’s visit was my first to the Draft House location since the day of the 1994 World Cup Final. The restaurant was called Mondo’s Tomato Pie back then and I vaguely recall replays of Roberto Baggio’s penalty shootout “field goal” sailing over the crossbar on the TVs mounted on the walls. Needless to say, I was probably long overdue for another visit.

(Back in the day, there were two “Mondo’s” locations in the area: the one on the Coralville strip and another downtown. I was never at the downtown restaurant, which burned down in 1999 or 2000, but I always found it annoying when someone would call the Coralville location by it’s full name. I always shortened it to “Mondo’s,” but people would correct me and say, “Don’t you mean Mondo’s Tomato Pie?” Yeah, sure. Same thing. Or maybe not. Whatever.)

Anyway. I checked out the Draft House’s menu before Bobblehead picked me up and was surprised by the prices. The food and drinks seemed pricy for what I assumed was just a sports bar. Perhaps, I wondered, my perception of the Draft House was all wrong. I was soon proven correct.

We arrived and were escorted to a little alcove with a few tables at the front of the building. In the center of the restaurant was a long bar, and off to one side was a space with booths, pool tables, and a shuffleboard table. On the other side of the bar was a dining area — I think. I really did not look over there. Beside the hostess, there were three or four servers. Two were women in short-shorts. A handful of customers, mostly in business formal attire, were peppered around the restaurant. The décor was of tasteful, dark wood, but, to borrow an excellent line from Bobblehead’s review, the walls were plastered with “a century's worth of American kitsch.”

Right away I ordered the “Toppling Goliath feature” (supposedly PseudoSue, but it ended up being Golden Nugget IPA). The beer selection was decent but nothing special — somewhat of a disappointment for a location billed as a “draft house.” In that sense, Draft House is outclassed by the likes of Red’s Alehouse and Blackstone. An interesting and unique quirk were the beer servings. Customers are given a choice of a “Flight” (six ounces), Republican (eight ounces), Democrat (sixteen ounces), and Government (twenty ounces). I specifically asked for a “sixteen ounce” serving. Bobblehead did not specify but was given the same I was, so the default seems to be the ubiquitous shaker pint, which would be a “Democrat.” (This is Johnson County, after all.) Though I was unsure if I would eat anything, I decided to order the vegetable sauté: rigatoni pasta severed with vegetables in a ginger soy and black bean sauce. It came with a thick piece of bread that was sprinkled with, I assume, parmesan. Though not spectacular, it was pretty good.

Bobblehead and I really could not figure the place out. Joseph’s Steakhouse, another Jim Mondanaro restaurant, is advertised as a “restaurant for grown-ups.” Well, Mondo’s Draft House seemed to be a sports bar for grown-ups. At least I think. It seemed to be a hybrid Vine and Red’s/Blackstone: sports bar theme with the price and ambiance of… I am not sure what. Originality? Distinctiveness? Though I have never been to Joseph’s Steakhouse, I got the feeling that Draft House was very similar. It had the feel of a golf course clubhouse restaurant, especially considering the other clientele and the fact the TV I could see was tuned to the Golf Channel. (Mervgotti and I ate at the Pebble Beach clubhouse restaurant. Though it is open to the public, I could not help feeling awkward and very out of place.) Commercials for Draft House show twentysomethings enjoying drinks, live sports, and bar games — a total contrast to what Bobblehead and I experienced Tuesday. Granted, we were there for a late, midweek lunch; the dinner and weekend crowd could be different. Adding to the confusion is the fact the Draft House is also called “Mondo’s Sports Cafe” on its website. To be honest, it truly is more of a café than a bar.

Overall: Regardless of whatever it is, Draft House is not a townie bar. It is what it is. Which is… I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt since it is a pretty nice place and serves Summit Oatmeal Stout (which was not as great as I remembered it). Also, it scores points for the decent eighties tunes playing over the sound system. Whatever music service they subscribe to dug deep into the archive for Johnny Hates Jazz.

The Quiet Man’s grade: B.

Popular Posts