‘It should be a safe area:’ Iowa City community responds to fatal H-Bar shooting

H-Bar co-owner, James Miller, said the institution has already done everything they can to prevent the incidents such as joining Iowa City residents to ask police to do more.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

The H bar is seen in Iowa City on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.

Alejandro Rojas and Colin Votzmeyer

Owners of the Iowa City hookah bar H-Bar claim they have been working to increase the safety and security of the bar in light of two recent shootings outside the bar — one of which resulted in a death.

A shooting outside of H-Bar on Oct. 23 at around 2 a.m. left one dead after being taken to a local hospital. It was the second shooting this year at the bar, which is located at 220 S. Van Buren St.; a woman was shot on Aug. 7 and survived.

After the second shooting, Iowa City officials filed an abatement petition on Oct. 28 seeking to close H-Bar from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. If passed by the Johnson County District Court, the petition will keep H-Bar from operating, as the bar’s hours are 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.

James Miller, H-Bar co-owner, said he can’t police the alley next to H-Bar where the crimes happened because it is public property.

RELATED: Victim identified in fatal Iowa City shooting , City of Iowa City files petition to reduce H-Bar hours after fatal shooting

“It needs to be known, and it needs to be made aware that we’re doing absolutely everything within our power to secure and keep the people safe within our power range,” Miller said. “I cannot keep somebody safe if they leave my business.”

The city filed the petition because of the 173 calls made to the police regarding the H-Bar since Jan. 1. The volume of calls is a 4,400 percent increase over calls made to the area between 2016 and 2021, according to an Oct. 28 press release by the City of Iowa City. Iowa City police responded to 23 calls between 2016 and 2021.

According to Lee Hermiston, Iowa City Police Department public safety information officer, provided The Daily Iowan with a spreadsheet disclosing the number of dispatches made to other bars in the area from Dec. 21, 2021, through Oct. 23, 2022.

  • The Summit had 157 dispatches.
  • Sports Column had 140 dispatches.
  • Brothers Bar & Grill had 124 dispatches.
  • The Airliner had 73 dispatches.
  • Bardot Iowa had 22 dispatches.
  • Elray’s Live & Dive had 0 dispatches.

Zoe Yolish, an Iowa City resident who lives near the bar, said she was alarmed by the number of calls made to the bar.

“I think it’s more so a quantity of how many times there have been issues there [that] seems alarming. And also, why is it that place specifically?” Yolish said. “I don’t know if other bars are having shootings like that or issues like that. But if it’s that one place in particular, it seems like that would be strange, and that should be investigated a little bit more thoroughly.”

Katie Sparber, a UI second-year student living near H-Bar, read about the number of calls to the bar and said if there’s a consistent issue, the police should do more to address it.

“I do think that it is important that something [should] happen, whether it’s more police in the area, or if they do have to shut it down, if that’s what they think is necessary,” Sparber said. “That whole area is all student housing basically, so it should be a safe area. I should be able to walk around at night there, but it is the world we live in.”

In its statement for the petition, the city noted the police had increased patrols around H-Bar this year, which has led to several officers working overtime.

Hermiston stated in an email to the DI that the Iowa City Police Department will continue to increase its patrols to the H-Bar area, which began over the summer.

“The City of Iowa City and Police Department are still working to calculate the ongoing costs associated with providing additional resources to the H-Bar,” Hermiston stated. “Due to the pending legal matter concerning this issue, it would not be appropriate to estimate the costs at this time.”

Lee said officers working overtime are paid 1.5 times their hourly wage.

The city said in its statement that it is attempting to work with the owners of H-Bar to address the ongoing issues, but Miller said the police could do more to help, including parking a police car in the alley as a deterrent.

“Park a squad car there, and leave it,” Miller said. “You don’t even have to manage it, don’t even have to put nobody in it.”

Since the shooting, police arrested two Cedar Rapids men on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 for their involvement in a riot that happened the same night as the homicide.

The riot began inside H-Bar before it was taken outside where one of the men was seen punching and kicking a woman until she was unconscious.

The August shooting and October homicide remain under investigation.