Godless Fun in Des Moines During the American Atheists Convention
By Eric Jayne
In 1988 the popular and controversial television evangelist, Pat Robertson received an impressive second place finish in the Iowa Caucus for the Republican presidential nomination. It’s worth noting that he beat the eventual president, George H. W. Bush by six points (Bob Dole finished first). Twenty years later Iowa voters overwhelmingly selected an African-American for the Democratic presidential nomination and one year after that the Iowa State Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of same sex marriage. A few months after the same sex marriage ruling, the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers organization gained attention for their city bus ads that said, “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.” I’ve become increasingly proud of my Iowa roots, and even though I haven’t lived there for 17 years, I frequently make the 4-hour drive to visit family and friends. Since the American Atheists national convention will be held in my beloved hometown of Des Moines this Easter weekend (4/21 – 4/24), I thought I would play the part of ambassador and share some events, attractions, and information in and about beautiful Des Moines, IA.
Fortunately, the American Atheists picked the Embassy Suites in downtown for their venue so many hot spots and attractions are well within walking distance. If you’re not staying at a hotel downtown, you might want to rent a car because as much as I love Des Moines, the public transportation is severely limited.
If you’re a baseball fan and have never attended a minor league game, you’re in for a treat in Des Moines. The Iowa Cubs , Triple-A team of the Chicago Cubs, features up and coming stars, major leaguers who are recovering from injuries, and career minor leaguers who never quite made it to the big leagues. The team plays in a beautiful ballpark (about a 15 minute walk from the Embassy Suites) built in 1992, now known as Principal Park, which puts fans at close proximity to all the action on the diamond. From most of the seats you can view Des Moines’ beautiful skyline and watch the reflection of the sunset on the 23 karat gold leaf dome that adorns the state capitol building. The Iowa Cubs play host to the Albuquerque Isotopes on Thursday (4/21) at 6:05pm and Friday (4/22) at 7:05pm.
Not much of a sports fan, or maybe baseball isn’t your thing? Check out the historic, and recently renovated, Temple for the Performing Arts building on the westside of downtown. Built in 1913, it offers a unique dining experience that includes a midday concert on Thursdays during the spring. On Thursday 4/21, a celebrated local folk band called The Nadas will be performing from noon to 1pm. Be sure to visit Centro (pronounced chen’- tro) in the same building for a delightful Italian menu that is sure to please your palette.
After you’ve had your fill at the Italian bistro, walk two blocks west on Locust Ave. and take in the charming art displays at the John and Mary PappaJohn Sculpture Park . This four acre outdoor park features 26 works of art and is free and open to the public from sunrise to midnight.
Another area of downtown you might want to check out is the Court District where a plethora of clubs, bars, and ethnic cuisine will entice your godless, hedonistic spirit. One bar in particular that might be worth checking out is Sinners & Saints at 216 Court Ave. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the Embassy Suites hotel on the other side of the river. Of course, you may want to stay on the east side of the river and enjoy all of the shops, restaurants, and nightlife spirits in the trendy East Village.
If you find yourself outside of downtown and you’re looking for some grub, you must—absolutely must!—visit Tasty Tacos. You’re not going to find a Tasty Tacos restaurant anywhere else but in the Des Moines area so you’re not going to want to miss out on this opportunity while you’re in town. Founded by Richard and Antonia Mosqueda in 1961, the first restaurant opened about five blocks from the state capitol building. Fifty years later Tasty Tacos has become a chain of five restaurants spread throughout the metropolitan area. The original restaurant is the closest to the Embassy Suites—about one mile east on Grand Ave. You can’t go wrong with any menu item, but I recommend the Original Flour Taco with a side of Tasty Tators.
With all the events the American Atheists will have going on there might not be a lot of down time so I’ll offer just two more suggestions: the Des Moines Art Center (4700 Grand Ave.) and the Earth Day celebration at the Botanical Center (909 Robert D. Ray Drive) on Friday (4/22) from 9am-5pm. Both are sure to provide a unique educational and cultural experience for the low, low price of…FREE.
For more information (demographics, statistics, or visitor’s guide) about the city of Des Moines, be sure to visit www.dmgov.org. I am excited to celebrate freethought and secular humanism with fellow atheists from all over the nation in my hometown over Zombie Jesus weekend. Hope to see you there!