The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Harry’s Bar and Grill brings retro spin to Iowa City

The grill’s owner, Hart Epstein, pulls inspiration from East Coast sandwiches and Southwest flavors, and his late father’s 1970s bookstore.
Carly Schrum
Hart Epstein, the owner of Harry’s Bar and Grill, poses for a portrait in downtown Iowa City on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023.

Iowa City’s newest dining experience, Harry’s Bar & Grill, brings a unique perspective to the old-school diner vibe and an all-day breakfast menu with East Coast inspiration.

Owner Hart Epstein opened the restaurant with a desire to come back into the industry after the pandemic forced him out a few years earlier.

Epstein previously owned Bluebird Diner with a business partner.

With the release of Bluebird ownership in 2020, Epstein moved to house painting until he was ready to reenter the restaurant industry.

“I wasn’t really done,” he said. “I felt like I had more to say, more to do. I just really missed it. The restaurant culture is unlike anything else.”

He said his excitement for opening Harry’s stemmed from the idea that he wouldn’t have to compromise his vision or his recipes.

“It gets to be exactly what I want it to be,” he said. “I don’t have to run it by anybody.”

The menu

Epstein regularly created comfort foods with a Southwestern-style taste during his time at Bluebird Diner. With Harry’s, he wanted to give Iowa City something new.

Taking inspiration from the East Coast’s classic sandwiches, he created a menu filled with flavors and ingredients uncommon to Iowa.

“There are some of my own sorts of spins on these items,” he said. “Even though we say we have traditional Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, there’s still a little bit of an Epstein stamp on it.”

The menu includes items like “sammiches,” including a fried chicken “sammich.” Harry’s also offers nine different omelets, many baked goods, specialty burgers, and other iconic breakfast dishes.

The use of Hatch chiles is one such spin on the inspired items. Also known as New Mexico chiles, the pepper is only grown in a small region in southern New Mexico. Epstein had 200 pounds of the pepper delivered with hopes of making them last for the restaurant’s entire first year.

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Harry’s general manager, Lyndsey Ambrose, said it has been great to have different food options, crediting Epstein for the work he put into the venue.

“He makes everything from scratch as much as possible,” Ambrose said. “I really respect and admire Hart’s cooking.”

The restaurant also has a full bar complete with specialty drinks and an espresso machine.

Sydney Krommendyk, a bartender at the business, said her favorite mixed drink is the Harry’s mule.

“It’s the ingredients you would get in a regular mule,” Krommendyk said. “You’re also going to get some crème de violette. That’s the unique ingredient that just makes it pop. It’s incredible.”

She said it’s also her favorite drink to make, having memorized the recipe because of how often she recommends it to customers.

The Legacy of the Epstein name

Harry’s was created with an intentional dedication to Hart’s father, Harry Epstein, the owner of a previous local business, Harry’s Bookstore. Before closing in 1977, the store occupied a portion of the area now known as the Pedestrian Mall and was run by both Hart’s father and uncle.

Hart’s father died three years ago but is remembered and celebrated through the decor of his son’s new business. The restaurant is adorned with photographs, canvas prints, and a large painting inscribed with “Harry’s Bookstore” to commemorate the Epstein name.

“No one has ever really done much with that in terms of legacy, other than fondly remembering,” Epstein said. “This isn’t the exact address that the bookstore was at, but it just seemed like a good tribute to him.”

He said he is thrilled to see the business grow and thrive in the future.

“We’re still kind of grinding the gears right now,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to hitting that sweet spot where we’re busy all the time, but it’s not uncomfortable, and have ten people talking and pots and pans clanking.”

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About the Contributors
Sydney Becker
Sydney Becker, News Reporter
Sydney is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism, while also obtaining a writing certificate. Previous to her role as a news reporter, she worked as a sports reporter for The Daily Iowan during her freshman year and as an editorial writer for campus organizations.
Carly Schrum
Carly Schrum, Photojournalist
Carly is a freshman majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and potentially majoring in sustainability. She works at the Daily Iowan as a photojournalist.