Sneak peek: The Stuffed Olive reopens Friday on Court Avenue

The Court Avenue District’s best martini bar found a new home around the corner. Check out more photos on dsm’s Facebook page. (Photo: Michael Morain)

By Michael Morain

Things are looking up for your next night on the town. Right on the heels of the shiny new Broadway season announcement from Des Moines Performing Arts, the Stuffed Olive is reopening in swanky new digs just a block away.

The popular restaurant and martini bar opened almost 10 years ago in an easy-to-miss spot on Third Street, where a sign taped to the door notes: “We have moved! 200 steps to your left at 216 Court Ave.” It’s probably fewer. I counted them on Tuesday, before owner Brendan Kelley showed me around the new place. It looks much different, and much cooler, than the previous establishment, which was best known for beer pong.

The space is mostly black and gray, with jewel-toned upholstered chairs and gold accents here and there. Giant tulips and peonies bloom across the wallpaper, which Kelley ordered three times from Sweden. (If you’ve ever hung wallpaper, you get it. Third time’s the charm.)

There’s seating for about 180 inside, including a space for private parties up to 70 or so. Take your pick: club tables, high-tops and a few sleek couches for lounging. “Our regulars told us they didn’t want us to lose that cozy feel,” Kelley said. Outside, the 120-seat patio will offer what he called “Italian bistro vibes” when it opens in May, in time for weekend brunches and primo people-watching during the farmers market.

The menu will be the same — mostly small plates, plus a few thoughtful entrees — but that brunch will be entirely new. Kelley recently hired two dozen new staffers to help cover the expanded hours, doubling the veteran staff he kept on the payroll even through the pandemic.

He confessed he was reluctant to move to the bigger space, but enough encouragement from regulars, downtown neighbors and city leaders ultimately persuaded him to make the jump. “I’m 37,” he said. “If I’m going to do it, it’s now or never.”

He seemed pretty calm during our walk-through, just a day before tonight’s soft opening (by invite only) and the public opening at 4 p.m. Friday. Various contractors buzzed in and out while staff set things up in the roomy kitchen. It felt like one of the rare happy episodes of “The Bear,” right before the big night.

When longtime manager Abbey Maas popped in, she mentioned a few additions to the martini menu, including Lemon Shortbread, Blueberry Cobbler, and a mezcal-based concoction called “Passion, Spice and Smoke.” Feel free to read all 120 options on the menu, which, Kelley noted, “gives you something to do on an awkward date.”

Otherwise, just skip right to Maas’ favorite, Daydreaming of Flora, which combines all of her favorites: grapefruit vodka, gin, St. Germain, fresh basil and some fizzy prosecco. The staff is ready for you, whether you want to linger or hustle out for the 7:30 show.

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