Jul 12, 2018

A short hop through Rabbit’s Tavern, Grinnell, Iowa

In a recent blog I mentioned how every town – no matter how big or small – seems to have at least one great signature dive bar.  It may not be dive-ish enough to achieve legendary or infamous status like Chicago's L&L Tavern, but it certainly fits the bill for cheap drinks, no-frills decor and no-nonsense surroundings. 

In the small combination of farm town and liberal college community of Grinnell, Iowa, that dive bar would be Rabbit’s Tavern.   

Rabbit’s Tavern is centrally located for almost anyone who lives in or around Grinnell.  It’s just a block off Main Street in the town’s historic, picturesque and still buzzing downtown area.  And it certainly looks grungy and word down enough from the outside to qualify as you approach it on 4th Avenue.  A couple of metal chairs are stationed by the entrance for the welcoming committee, no doubt.  Also, note the bicycle left alone outside while an exercise enthusiast must surely be enjoying a cold beverage after a long ride.  

Did I mention Rabbit’s is open early and closes late?  And by early, I mean 7 a.m., an ideal setup for any third shifter who wants to whet their whistle after getting off work.  That’s another sign of a great dive bar – they don’t discriminate when you drink; they’re just happy you’re thirsty.

The pool cues on the sign outdoors allude to Rabbit’s draw as a billiards venue.  Or, at least the three pool tables in the back to keep the regulars entertained. 

Also, check out the old-school foosball table in the middle of the bar.  That’s a classic.  Some Iowa historical society should step in to preserve it because they really are becoming an endangered species.    

Then there’s the oddly low ceiling and wood paneling which in no way go with the black and white checkered tiles in the front part of the bar, but that just adds to the charm of the place.

Some of those bottles may look dusty, but the bar is undeniably stocked to meet the requirements of most cocktails.  The beer selection is a little all over the place but more varied than most small-town bars.  And, at $2-$3.50, most are cheaper than they have any right to be.  

Also, nobody goes hungry around here.  You have plenty of salty snacks to choose from the rafters.  I’m just not sure how functional that microwave is, or what the purpose is of the tank beside the refrigerator.  Some things you see in dive bars are best left unexplained.

But here’s the clincher that makes Rabbit’s Tavern memorable – they sell pickled eggs in a jar, along with … pickled turkey gizzards! 

I had never known pickled turkey gizzards to be a thing before I walked in here.  As a commoner who prides himself on being willing to try anything once, I am ashamed to admit I did not have the courage to tackle one of these.  The murkiness of the brine in the jar had me wondering just how long the shelf life really was for them, but according to the bartender, they will get sold and eaten well before the expiration date.  Apparently, the following is real and quite loyal.    

Visiting a small-town dive bar is a great way to get a feel for who and what really defines the community.  I feel fortunate to have hopped into Rabbit’s Tavern a couple of times while I was working in Grinnell.  And if I ever get back there, I will definitely be ready to dip my hand into the turkey gizzard jar and give it a try. 

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