Iowa City bar Coa Cantina offers fresh food, tequila

The new Mexican restaurant and tequila bar opened its second location in Iowa this weekend.


Shuntaro Kawasaki

Beer taps are seen at Coa Cantina on its grand opening night on Feb. 24, 2023.

Madeleine Willis, News Reporter

Coa Cantina, Iowa City’s newest Mexican restaurant and tequila bar, held its grand opening this weekend, bringing a new homemade food and dancing spot to the area.

The new addition to Clinton Street this weekend did not go unnoticed by passersby, as the restaurant’s agave logo was projected onto the sidewalk during the bar’s grand opening.

Coa Cantina is a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar that was first established in Des Moines in 2020. This past weekend, owners Brian Rorris and James and Ashley Thyberg brought the restaurant’s Mexican food to Iowa City. 

At the soft opening Wednesday and Thursday, Ashley Thyberg, who is also the general manager of Coa Cantina in Des Moines, said it’s been difficult, but rewarding to open the bar. 

“Opening a bar in Iowa City and living in Des Moines, we bring our lives here,” Ashley Thyberg said. 

Rorris said he was looking forward to welcoming in the new customers and creating an environment that is a “crazy dance bar.” 

In the spirit of this environment, music played, strobe lights flashed, and people gathered at the bar. Inside the restaurant, two large LED signs hang in the two stairwells located in the building. 

Rorris said he is expecting a third LED sign of the agave for the bar. The two current signs in the restaurant read “Coa Cantina” and “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

The restaurant’s food is made from scratch in the kitchen. The menu includes everything from chips and salsa to vegan tacos with handmade tortillas. 

Ashley Thyberg said she thought the initial soft opening went well, and the staff so far has been great. The restaurant operated as a tight-knit group of people to begin so everyone could acclimate, she said. 

“I think it will just be busier and busier every night, and then as far as this weekend goes, it’s just going to be crazy town, hopefully,” she said. 

Katherine Van Arnum, a senior at the University of Iowa studying marketing, attended the grand opening on Friday. She and her boyfriend went out for dinner at Coa Cantina. 

“It was fun to try a new place,” Van Arnum said. 

As the night went on, Coa Cantina began to fill up, Van Arnum said. 

“It was a different atmosphere and different vibe than the other Mexican restaurants that we have in downtown Iowa City,” she said. 

Ashley Thyberg said she was in the restaurant during the grand opening to ensure operations went off without a hitch. Alongside her were the 65 employees for the Iowa City location, as well as employees from the Des Moines location. 

Ashley Thyberg and her husband James Thyberg are both bar owners and bartenders. Coa Cantina has three bars located within the new Iowa City location. 

“Obviously I’m going to be all hands on deck,” Ashley Thyberg said. “I’m ready to jump in and help.”

Ashley Thyberg said she was confident that the staff was prepared to handle everything during the weekend. 

Jason Herbal, a bouncer at Coa Cantina, said he has worked at the Des Moines location but will now work primarily out of the Iowa City location.

“I love my crew, [the] family that we have built, the smiles on peoples faces,” he said. 

Along with looking forward to the grand opening, Herbal was excited to have everyone in to enjoy the food, music, and have an overall good time. 

“We just want to have fun with everybody, and we think everyone is going to have a good time,” Ashley Thyberg said.