The 7 Best Bars in Iowa City

For locals and visitors alike, Iowa City nightlife is a vibrant scene with plenty of hot spots. I’ve done the research to find the seven best bars in Iowa City, considering drink selection, ambiance, activities, and general vibe. The next time you’re looking for a pitstop or a fun night out, consider one of these seven bars to choose from in Iowa City.

7 Best Bars to Explore in Iowa City

The Dublin Underground – 5 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City // 319-337-7660

We’re diving in head first to one of my favorite styles of bar: an Irish pub. When you first arrive, take the stairs down to the literal underground and you’ll be welcomed by a cozy and friendly atmosphere. You can find some great choices for drinks. Not limited to standards such as Jameson and Guinness, there’s enough variety here to hold your attention.

There’s no food at the Dublin Underground, so come full or be prepared to pick up a late-night snack on your way home. All you need to have a good time is to bring your friends, pull up a stool, brush up on your Irish tunes, and grab a pint!

Joystick -13 S. Linn St., Iowa City // 319-337-6464

Recently, Barcade-style bars have taken off in popularity, bringing together drinking and games in a great way. Situated in the former Iowa City Yacht Club’s location, Joystick has an ever-growing selection of games, which is perfect for a millennial like myself. My favorite has to be the Simpsons Arcade Game from 1991—I have too many memories of this as a kid to pass up the chance to play it again!

This place also carries on the torch of live entertainment when you need a gaming break. Six nights a week, enjoy up-and-coming comics putting on shows as well as opportunities to belt out some songs with karaoke.

Shakespeare’s Pub and Grill – 819 S. 1st Ave., Iowa City // 319-337-7275

Maybe I gave it away with my enthusiasm for the Dublin Underground, but I love a good pub experience. Shakespeare’s Pub and Grill on 1st Ave. is a great spot to get classic fried pub foods like wings, fries, and chicken fingers. Just because I eat healthy at home, it doesn’t mean I won’t chow down on a plate of loaded nachos when I’m putting away pints. The decor isn’t fancy, but Shakespeare’s delivers a fun and comfortable experience night after night.

Roxxy – 127 E. College St., Iowa City // 319-855-5979

It’s literally impossible to get bored at Roxxy. There’s so much going on here that it’s hard to know where to start! Roxxy brings me back to the 80s, featuring classic tracks and a ton of memorabilia. The overall look is eclectic, and the bar bills itself as a celebration of weirdness. Based on what I’ve seen there, mission accomplished! It’s pretty popular, so you’ll want to make sure you arrive early.

No need to worry about being judged for anything, as Roxxy is a truly welcoming place. From your first glance at the guitar chandelier to the cassette wall, there’s no mistaking the uniqueness that is Roxxy.

Sanctuary – 405 S. Gilbert St., Iowa City // 319-351-5692

I have a soft spot for any bar or restaurant that stands the test of time. It’s telling when a business can survive in an industry known for quick turnover. Sanctuary is one of those, having been in operation for more than five decades. It’s not overly ambitious, sticking to what it does best, which is to be a great drinking spot with standard bar fare.

Sanctuary features daily specials (with great-priced pub burgers on Thursdays!) and a generous happy hour that goes until 6 PM on weekdays. My favorite is to get a neat whisky with a burger and perfectly cooked fries, and Sanctuary doesn’t disappoint. It doesn’t stay open especially late, so if you’re bar hopping, make Sanctuary one of your earlier stops.

Chart Room – 2441 James St., Suite 4, Coralville // 319-379-2900

Just outside the municipal boundary, Chart Room is a short drive up Route 6. Chart Room reverses the BYOB concept in favor of BYOF (Bring Your Own Food), letting the staff focus on the drinking experience. It’s not a rowdy college haunt but rather a more down-tempo, enjoyable location. Billing itself as a wine and spirits bar, you can find an excellent selection here to suit your unique tastes.

It’s hard to be sure exactly how knowledgeable staff are at this kind of bar, but fortunately, experience has shown that the bartenders here are great at helping guide guests to find the perfect drink for them. Whether you’re a whisky snob, wine connoisseur, or total novice, Chart Room is not a bar to miss!

Hatchet Jack’s – 101 Hwy 1 W, Iowa City // 319-519-6215

Okay, okay, so Hatchet Jack’s isn’t a bar in the traditional sense, but it does sell beer, so it technically counts! Either way, Hatchet Jack’s is a great time for small groups, work parties, and college gatherings. It’s first and foremost about axe-throwing (which I love), and, coupled with a great selection of craft brews, you can’t go wrong.

Don’t plan on making it a late night at Hatchet Jack’s, as they close by 11 most nights. If you’re thinking of a good night out, make this your first stop before hopping on to the next bar to keep the evening going.

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  • Christopher Gallagher

    Christopher Gallagher is a business manager and freelance writer with a BA degree in history. Christopher has traveled extensively and has lived across the American east, south, and west. Christopher is an expert culinarian and enjoys camping. His writing includes history, banking and insurance, and retirement planning, among other topics.

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