Iowa City’s UnImpaired Dry Bar opens as new space for students

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Iowa City’s newest bar has everything you need for a Saturday night out: pizza, a pool table, big game TV screens, and an extensive drink menu.

The only thing he doesn’t have is alcohol.

The UnImpaired Dry Bar hopes to show a clientele likely to be college students that it can meet all of their needs without the buzz.

The UnImpaired, Quad Cities’ first dry bar, opens its Iowa City location to the public on Friday. It’s at 125 E. Burlington St. across from what used to be the Mill.

Amber Haines, co-founder of the operation, said in an interview with the Press-Citizen that the dry bar is not averse to alcohol. He just wants to offer an alternative space for people looking for a night on the town.

“We’re more determined to prove that a bar could be more of a social atmosphere,” Haines said. “We hope we can truly be this place for students.”

The UnImpaired Dry Bar’s offerings are meant to encourage the creation of a social atmosphere, from a pool table and dart board to a lounge area with comfortable and more intimate seating.

The UnImpaired dry bar is hoping to eventually add live entertainment. He has already planned open mic, karaoke and trivia evenings every Thursday.

Work with the community, provide an alternative scene

In a city home to the University of Iowa, which was on the Princeton Review’s Best Party Schools list for a decade until 2018, the presence of the UnImpaired Dry Bar can seem contradictory.

Haines insists not.

Haines said the Dry Bar has always had its eyes on Iowa City, but now understands better that the UnImpaired should be near colleges, where it may be an option for the 18- to 21-year-old crowd.

The Dry Bar has reached out to UI groups including Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Alcohol Harm Reduction Advisory Committee, a group of faculty, staff and students who are exploring ways to reduce alcohol abuse. high-risk alcohol consumption among students, said CEO Amanda O’Donnell.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a 2019 national survey of drug use and health found that about 52% of full-time students reported having consumed alcohol in the past month and 33 % had engaged in binge drinking.

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Haines said there had been awareness from the UI regarding a “sober hatchback,” with the UnImpaired, and the Dry Bar will also look to students on its staff for further suggestions.

The dry bar will also donate 2% of all pizza sales to the University of Iowa Stead Children’s Hospital, according to O’Donnell.

Amber Haines poses at her new UnImpaired dry bar, which opens Friday at 125 E. Burlington St. in Iowa City.  The alcohol-free nightclub follows a similar location in Davenport, with plans to expand into Des Moines.

Haines, who has been sober for four years, explained that she does not struggle with alcoholism. She just doesn’t like alcohol.

She owned a bar in Blue Grass and often watched regulars who had no intention of having a drink would end up getting drunk due to peer pressure.

Haines wondered why having fun while enjoying a soft drink wasn’t enough for some people.

As for Haines, she always wanted a place to hang out and dance or sing karaoke.

“I thought to myself, why can’t there be a place like this, where people can go? ” she said. “They can still dance and sing and not worry about peer pressure and have a good time.”

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What’s next for intact people

This is the second location of the UnImpaired Dry Bar, which opened in Davenport in 2020.

Haines said the Davenport location has become more of a destination for customers, with customers from Wisconsin, Chicago and even a couple from St. Louis stopping there.

Further expansion is planned for the UnImpaired Dry Bar, with Des Moines on their radar, according to Haines – though the company is considering franchising first.

While the Davenport location tends to have an older crowd, Haines said, the UnImpaired in Iowa City has set its sights on the student body.

According to O’Donnell, the dry bar is looking to incorporate more coffee-infused items into the menu. Haines said the dry sea bass will also have kombucha on tap.

The dry bar serves energy drinks, something students can stop and purchase on their way to class, O’Donnell said. It will also serve pizza by the slice, aimed at students looking for something on the go.

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The UnImpaired Dry Bar is open from 11 am to 11 pm Sunday to Thursday; Fridays and Saturdays are from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle, and the arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Contact her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.


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