Mixing radical thinking with small- town charm, Iowa’s state capital proved a fertile base for the Holmes Murphy team to grow.
Des Moines was once regarded as the capital of Midwest flyover country, a place of abundant corn and corporate conclaves, notable for being the first place to call its votes in every presidential election. The past 20 years, however, have breathed fresh life into Iowa’s state capital: it has a dining scene that’s outsized for a city of only half a million people and exceptional public art collections are commonplace.
Much of the change began downtown, which for decades was a place that emptied of people after 18.00. The turnaround came in the 1990s when city leaders called on the expertise of Argentine urbanist Mario Gandelsonas. He came up with a radical plan to turn vast swaths of urban sprawl into new parks, revitalise the river and build desirable residential buildings. The initiative set things in motion and green shoots slowly emerged in worn-out neighbourhoods.
Today, the East Village is a notable nook, home to excellent shops and places to drink and dine. Despite such growth, the old stereotype of “Iowa Nice” is alive and well in Des Moines but that’s no bad thing: this is a fast-growing city with a small-town soul, as well as a history – and a happy hour at local bar Hello Marjorie – that continues to inspire the Holmes Murphy team.
Hotel Fort Des Moines
A favourite among political correspondents that once had Nikita Khruschev to stay.
1000 Walnut St
Dark wood and deep leather sofas in this artfully restored former bank.
206 6th Avenue
Sunlit shop with a thoughtful edit of international homeware and skincare brands.
418 East 6th Street
The Cheese Shop
Stock up on the best from Iowa’s farmhouses and local and global vineyards.
833 42nd Street
Makes a mean cuba libre-inflected old fashioned; couple it with a steamed gua bao.
2724 Ingersoll Avenue
Horizon Line Coffee
Bright, white coffee bar with friendly baristas and bags of local roasts to take home.
1417 Walnut Street
Bare-brick Italian restaurant with a sharp menu and a warm welcome.
420 Locust Street
Fine-dining institution with an emphasis on honest, hearty Iowan produce.
1301 Locust Street