UI alum opens Iowa City bar with ‘botanical twist’

In place of the now-closed Van B’s Brew in Iowa City, University of Iowa alum Emily Salmonson is opening the plant-themed bar The Green House in September.


Isabella Cervantes

Emily Salmonson, the owner of The Green House, poses for a portrait in Iowa City on Tuesday, August 16, 2022.

Sabine Martin, Managing Editor

East of Iowa City’s central downtown shops, a University of Iowa alum is bringing a new kind of bar to the area — one with a botanical twist.

The Green House, on 505 E. Washington St., Unit 1842, is set to open Sept. 3 after completing renovations to Van B’s Brew, which closed its doors in November 2020.

Emily Salmonson, owner of The Green House and a 2005 UI graduate, said she returned to the hospitality industry after being a bartender, barista, and server for years. Salmonson is also formerly FilmScene’s director of operations.

“I love the aspect of connecting with people, and that’s why I keep going back to the hospitality industry because you can have conversations with people, and it’s part of your job,” she said.

Salmonson said a lot of business owners are on the fence to open new locations after the first two years of the pandemic.

“Everybody was unsure how people would come back to bars or restaurants if they would come back,” she said. “Some of them made it work, but the hospitality industry definitely became really hard, which is why, again, when I’m making the plans for this place, I want it to be a very comforting space.”

She is aiming to make The Green House a place where people can connect again in a relaxing space. The bar has gardens bordering its two open-air patios and floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the interior.

Salmonson is working with Beno’s Flowers and Gift in Iowa City to help with interior landscaping.

Benito Ocampo, owner of Beno’s, said The Green House is one of the bigger projects his team has worked on.

“I think that really right now it’s important to support all small businesses because we went through the pandemic and everything,” Ocampo said. “We’re kind of finally getting there, and I think it’s really cool that we are supporting the community between small businesses.”

RELATED: Iowa City food truck owners encounter difficulty amid inflation

One of the main walls in the bar will feature picture frames with preserved moss.

“I think it’s very meditative to tend to plants and to watch them grow, and I think that a lot of people share the same hobby as me,” Salmonson said.

Margo Skornia, a flower designer at Beno’s, said the frames filled with moss took about 10 hours to complete.

“​​We’ve got about 60 plants that are ready to come in and be potted, like ferns, palms, pothos,” Skornia said.

The Green House’s menu 

The bar will have several local beers on tap as well as cider, wine, and kombucha from Iowa City’s Wild Culture Kombucha. Botanical-themed cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages will also be on the menu.

Salmonson said the bar might utilize some of the garden’s herbs to create exciting cocktails, like with the toothache plant, which makes a slight numbing sensation on a drinker’s tongue – similar to the candy Pop Rocks.

The bar will also feature drinks with elements from Rhubarb Botanicals, an herb and flower farm outside of Mount Vernon run by Emma Barber.

“We’re going to be doing a few different shrubs,” Salmonson said. “It is a combination of vinegar, sugar and fruit, and then to put our twist on that, we will add one of the tinctures that Emma has made for us and then add some gin or rum.”

The bar will also serve snacks, like dips and spreads from Iowa City’s New Pioneer Co-op.

Aside from drinks, Salmonson said she plans to host plant-themed events in the bar like plant exchanges and plant cutting parties. 

“I’m hoping to have a lot of regular nights where we have someone come in who’s like an expert in something plant related, and have them talk about succulents,” she said.  “They’ll bring people together not just for drinks, but to actually like learn something or have that knowledge.”