Two years after venturing into restaurant ownership, one Des Moines partnership is hoping to bring new life to a well-situated patio bar downtown.
The team behind Rico’s at Drake opens Vibes Kitchen & Bar at 1303 Walnut St. on Friday. The Grumpy Goat Tavern previously occupied the space, but the owners of Vibes envision taking the space in a different direction.
“When you come in here, we want to send that message of, ‘Hey, new owner, new team, new concept,” said Vibes floor manager Tony Truong. His sister, Thi Truong, and his nephew, JaRon Crews, in partnership with Rico and Elma Gafford, are the owners of the new business.
Those new vibes begin at the door, where a bright neon “Vibes” sign greets customers and a backdrop of greenery carries through into the lounge’s interior.
Velvety green stools flank a long bar and tables, and the fanning leaves of birds of paradise plants line the booths. Greenery arrangements in recycled Patron bottles from Rico’s decorate the tables. Large parties can rent a separate party space with games and its own garage door that opens to the adjoining sidewalk. The bar back opens to the east-facing, covered patio for dual indoor and outdoor service.
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The idea for the bar and restaurant came after the Truongs participated in CelebrAsian and the World Food and Music Festival in the Western Gateway under the Rico’s at Drake’s name. Passing the large, but not crowded, indoor/outdoor bar and patio, they wondered how they could transform the space if they ever got the chance.
That chance came in April, when building owner (and Grumpy Goat Tavern owner) Steve McFadden leased the space to the new management team.
The Truongs and the Gaffords opened Rico’s at Drake together in 2020 at 2314 University Ave. Named after owner Rico Gafford, a Des Moines native who now plays football for the Green Bay Packers, the neighborhood pub is known for its classic food and po’boy sandwiches as well as its specialty cocktails.
At Vibes, chef Tyron Collier Sr. is taking bar food up a notch with chef-inspired, modern American dishes such as a roasted corn salad, spinach biscuits and a specialty hamburger with a grape compote and goat cheese on a toasted brioche bun.
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While the kitchen will be open every night until 11 p.m., customers can look forward to a late-night menu that the Vibes team hopes to roll out in the near future.
The full bar will feature beer and prosecco on tap with specialty prosecco cocktails, slushies and a line of Asian food-inspired cocktails.
The Pho-garita with Patrón tequila and fresh citrus juice is shaken with pho spices and topped with aromatic herbs for a lightly sweet drink that recalls the popular Vietnamese soup. The tomato-red Bunbotiny is based on rich and spicy bún bò huế soup. While you won’t find beef broth in this gin cocktail, a house-made ginger and lemongrass syrup fuses with tomato juice and Tabasco for a warming but crisp sip.
Tony Truong is the brains behind these unique cocktails, which he said come from his travels around Southeast Asia while working in Vietnam for 15 years after attending Drake University.
“That’s the one thing I miss most about being back here: I can’t get spicy cocktails,” Truong said. “We don’t have stuff like that around here… You have to bring it in. You have to bring in the flavors that you like, and I think Des Moines is ready for that.”
Vibes is open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight, and the kitchen is open daily until 11 p.m.
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