In Decorah, a trendy college town in Iowa, residents enjoy their drinks and calming farmland ambiance. The local watering hole, La Rana Bistro, may be another weekend meetup for these folks, but city slickers coming into town will be surprised. It’s no order-a-drink-watch-tv-and-leave type of bar. It has a small-town kind of friendliness––regional Iowa cocktails and intimate lighting that could make anyone feel like a local.`
Iowa is a funny state in the way its people act almost like a boomerang. Even if you leave, you always seem to come back. People are noticing this trend, along with the state’s high living standards causing a mass migration to the state. But when I came, I just wanted a little taste of that small-town environment and to meet some locals.
The people here crave peace, quiet and a place to relax. A personal, southern-style bar like La Rana welcomes everyone. After a long day’s work, families love to come together here. Though a unique bar from my perspective, it perfectly fits the Decorah lifestyle.
Here are the two highest recommended cocktails from both the bistro owners and locals.
- Jigger of Vodka
- Cranberry Juice
- Lime Wedge
In a rocks glass filled partially with ice and add a large jigger (1.5 oz) of vodka. Fill the glass almost to the top with lemonade, then add a dash of cranberry juice. Garnish with a lime and enjoy.
Remember when I said they keep it simple? Well, this is as simple as they make it: a rocks glass with a mixed drink and small, minimalist lime garnish. The drink itself is light and refreshing, as are most citrus beverages. The Frog’s little dash of cranberry gives it some pizzaz and a pleasant, fruity flavor profile.
- Margarita Mix
- Pomegranate Juice
- Lime Wedge
Fill a rocks glass with some ice. Fill halfway with pomegranate juice, then top off with margarita mix. Garnish with a lime wedge and enjoy.
The layer here gives the drink some aww while still keeping the Iowan theme of simplicity. Unlike The Frog, there’s more juice resulting in the fruitiness shining quite a bit more. The Pomegranate Margarita’s flavor is more robust and sour. I asked for the zero-proof version. I saw this cocktail in many hands, and it seemed to be the crowd favorite––at least with the group of folks I met.
Like the Pomegranate Margarita, every drink can be made alcohol-free. I even saw families coming in and ordering their kids these sorts of beverages. With everyone knowing each other, customization requests are an obvious consequence. But this aspect I believe is the most comforting part of La Rana. It’s too close-nit for anyone to stay anonymous. You come in as a stranger and leave a friend––and getting the perfect cocktail helps too.