Just a 30-minute drive north of Iowa City in Cedar Rapids, Club CO2 (616 2nd Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, 319-365-0225) is the other big gay nightlife option serving the area. It's a popular place for dancing on weekends, and there's karaoke on Wednesday and good drink specials the rest of the week.
In downtown Iowa City, the Deadwood Tavern (6 S. Dubuque St., 319-351-9417) is an old-fashioned saloon with a few sidewalk seats, a cool jukebox, pool tables, and a mellower scene than at the many hormonally charged pickup bars around town. Although it's not a gay bar per se, you'll see a lot of GLBT folks in here most nights. Another spot with something of a gay following is the cool indie bookstore, Prairie Lights (15 S. Dubuque St., 319-337-2681), which is open until 9 pm most evenings (till 6 on Sundays) and has a lively little cafe that serves good food, wine and beer, and coffee and tea drinks. You can also get your caffeine fix at gay-popular Java House (211 E. Washington St., 319-341-0012); with pressed-tin ceilings and cushy lounge seating, it feels like a big living room - best of all, it's open till midnight; there are several other locations around town.
Iowa City has several excellent live-music clubs, including the Sanctuary (405 S. Gilbert St., 319-351-5692), known for blues as well as both contemporary and vintage jazz. This cozy, stone-walled space serves excellent pizzas, bar munchies, and salads, and its beer menu lists more than 130 brands.
In fact, this is a great city for dining out. For outstanding Basque-inspired Spanish fare, enjoy a meal at Devotay (117 N. Linn St., 319-354-1001), which has earned critical acclaim for the sophisticated cuisine of slow-food proponent and cookbook author Kurt Michael Friese. There's a popular Sunday brunch, and lunch and dinner are served every day. Friese uses local ingredients as often as possible in such traditional Spanish dishes as patatas bravas, sherry-glazed chorizo, Basque-style chicken sandwiches, lamb stew, and traditional paella. Motley Cow Cafe (160 N. Linn St., 319-688-9177) is a hip, lively bar and bistro serving largely seasonal and organic fare at brunch, lunch, and dinner. Craft cocktails are also a specialty here.
One Twenty Six (126 E. Washington St., 319-887-1909), which occupies an intimate storefront with exposed brick walls, serves some of the best contemporary American fare in town. Try the applewood-smoked Iowa Berkshire pork chop with sweet potato-black bean-plantain hash, and a roast-pepper chimichurri sauce. There's a long wine list, too. Atlas (127 Iowa Ave., 319-341-7700) is a slick eatery with a swank downstairs lounge. The kitchen turns out big portions of eclectic fare, from Thai chicken salad to roasted halibut with a saffron-tomato broth.
Veg-heads and fans of natural food swear by the fresh cheeses, breads, organic produce, and hefty sandwiches sold at New Pioneer Co-op (22 S. Van Buren St., 319-338-9441), which is also a fine place to pick up gourmet goodies for the road. Affordable Masala (9 S. Dubuque St., 319-338-6199) serves spicy Indian vegetarian and vegan cuisine, including delicious masala dosai (rice-and-lentil crepes stuffed with potatoes and served with coconut chutney and vegetable stew). The down-home Hamburg Inn (214 N. Linn St., 319-337-5512) can be counted on for cheap, greasy, but great-tasting diner fare. Since opening in 1948, it's been a source for luscious malts and towering roast beef sandwiches slathered in gravy.