As I noted last August, the end-of-the-line location of the Produce Row Cafe is a two-edged sword: it's either a brilliant hideaway, or a place you forget is there. I usually end up in the latter category, but it does have a loyal clientele. The cafe reopened this week after an extensive remodel, which owner Alan Davis told me took only seven weeks.
It's an amazing transformation inside and out. In the main seating area, pastel murals and tiled walls have replaced the drab tan walls, giving the place a lighter look. A more open feeling has been created by moving the bar from the back wall to the side wall. The non-descript wooden tables and chairs have been replaced by nicer tables, cloth-backed chairs, and velvet couches in part of the space. The pool table -- which was primarily an odd obstacle on the way to the patio -- is now gone, giving the little side room with its deep circular booths a darker, more private feel. Outside, the worn wooden deck has been replaced by a paved patio with more open space and more covered seating. Even the facade has been spruced up.
Here are before and after pictures of the interior ("before" photo credit: Samurai Artist):
And the patio:
For some better photos of the new furnishings, look at John Foyston's writeup or Ezra's report.
The new bar added 3 beer taps to bring the total to 24. About half of those will be comforting Northwest standards, with the other half rotating in some variety. Since Alan describes himself as a whiskey guy, he improved the selection of bourbons and scotches when he bought the place a couple years ago, and added a menu of beer/whiskey pairings. The food menu is looking good: about a dozen sandwiches between $6.50 and $8, a few $12 entrees, good soups and salads.
To get to Produce Row by bicycle, turn on to SE 2nd from Ankeny or from the continuation of the Water Avenue bike path after it turns into Stark. It's just a little too far from the new Hair of the Dog location to qualify as a beer district, but there are some nearby options for a pub crawl or progressive dinner. On the beer side, you could hit the Grand Avenue cluster of bars like Slow Bar and the Side Door; places with interesting food but limited beer include Olympic Provisions just a couple of blocks away and Montage a little beyond that.
Alan said that the entire staff has returned after the remodel. It will be interesting to see if the regular customers also approve of the changes. Will it be like the grumbling about Bridgeport's makeover? You know, something like, "Oh man, I used to go there when it was this excellent grungy place, and now it's all Pearl District and overrun with hipsters/yuppies/lawyers." It would be too bad if that was the attitude; on the other hand, Bridgeport's business doesn't seem to be suffering, so hopefully this revamp of Produce Row will be a similar success.