Coffee Shop Coworking is a series that highlights cafes and coffee shops in and around the Des Moines metro perfect for entrepreneurs, freelancers, creatives, and remote workers to get things done. Each installment will highlight what a particular location is best for, what you can expect from its work environment, and what sets it apart from other local alternatives.
Nestled in the heart of Des Moines’ Sherman Hill neighborhood, Smokey Row is a cozy coffee shop known for its retro diner style and constant stream of customers. The triangle-shaped brick building welcomes coffee-drinkers of all types in droves through its doors for meetings, late night study sessions, or simply a much-needed burst of caffeine. Located just over the interstate from Drake University, this local favorite pulls large crowds of students (both high school and college) and entrepreneurs alike.
With locations in Pella, Pleasantville, and Oskaloosa, Smokey Row has become a central Iowa mainstay for good coffee, friendly service, and an inviting (albeit noisy) atmosphere to get things done.
With worn hardwood floors and twinkling Christmas lights brightening the exposed ductwork overhead, there’s a certain vintage charm about Smokey Row. The coffee shop feels like a 1950s diner or soda fountain brought up to speed for the 21st century without seeming kitschy or contrived. Patterned Formica tables and squeaky vinyl-covered chairs make up most of the coffee shop’s seating, paired with a handful of worn blue booths and heavy wooden tables perfect for larger groups. You can also opt to pull up a stool at the counter and take in the bustle of the cafe’s baristas as they fill orders for customers, both inside and from the drive through.
When it comes to java, Smokey Row has a plethora of options. The shop roasts its own coffee beans and offers a variety of traditional as well as flavored coffee options to drink in-store or take home to brew yourself. Smokey Row also offers a wide variety of teas and individual ceramic pots to steep your beverage of choice tableside while you work.
When it comes to snacking or fighting off any hunger-related crankiness, Smokey Row has got you covered. The coffee shop has a robust menu including sandwiches, soups, and a variety of breakfast items. If your sweet tooth is raging, Smokey Row also offers a wide variety of pie, ice cream, or biscotti, among other treats. Personally, my go-to’s are a blueberry scone or, if you need to treat yourself, a tornado (the Smokey Row alternative to a blizzard).
The Work Environment
Unless you have some pretty serious headphones or don’t need to get too much important work done, Smokey Row might not be your ideal work environment. Personally, I enjoy some of the hustle and bustle of the coffee shop when I’m trying to focus in on work of my own, but recognize that’s certainly not how everyone operates.
Smokey Row is often loud and almost always busy so you’re lucky if you can grab a seat near an outlet or better yet, a booth by the window to set up camp for awhile. Even though Smokey Row opens early (6:00 AM most days) and closes late (typically 10:00 or 11:00 PM), I’ve rarely visited this local favorite when it wasn’t packed.Tables are typically scarce and you’re exceedingly lucky if you can snag yourself one of the coffee shop’s coveted window booths. If you’re not having a lucky day, consider taking your coffee to go and heading a few blocks east to spend a few hours at Gravitate to enjoy the best of both worlds—Smokey Row coffee and a quieter environment.
That being said, Smokey Row’s long hours mean it’s a great place to get some work in before heading to your full-time gig or to put in some extra hours in the evening. Plus, the atmosphere is inviting and tolerant of laptop-toters who need someplace to recharge (literally) for a few hours over a cup of coffee. This isn’t a shop where you’ll feel like you’re overstaying your welcome.
Fun fact: Smokey Row is also a favorite for campaign buses, news correspondents, and this past winter, a live broadcast of NPR’s “Morning Edition” with David Green.
Best Place For: Meetings and Brainstorming Sessions
When it comes to working at Smokey Row, the popular coffee shop is perfect for those with giant headphones or with less focused work to complete. Regardless of what time of day you stop in, there always seems to be a lot going on. The coffee shop is typically noisy and bustling with people, which means it might not be the ideal place to work for long stretches of time if you’re someone who is easily distracted. On the other hand, the constant stream of customers and low hum of Smokey Row make it a perfect place to get together for collaborative projects.
The coffee shop offers a variety of different work areas, including a few private rooms that can be reserved ahead of time for your recurring team meeting or larger group event. You’ll also find some two-person and four-person tables as well as larger round tables perfect to meet with a group and still be able to hear everyone over the din of the other patrons. No matter the time of day, Smokey Row is a great place for brainstorming meetings or quick coffees to hash out details before an upcoming deadline.
Latte: $2.80 ($3.35 with flavor)
Black Coffee: $1.65 (with free refills)
Coffee Quality: 3.5/5
Work atmosphere: 3.5/5
Get to Work
1910 Cottage Grove Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50314
Monday – Thursday: 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Friday: 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Saturday: 7:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Sunday: 7:30 AM – 10:00 PM
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Photo Credit: Smokey Row on Facebook