Atlas Restaurant to rebrand as Saint Burch Tavern next month

Atlas restaurant in April 2017. — photo by Frankie Schneckloth

Update: An earlier version of this story stated Saint Burch Tavern will be dropping Atlas’ Buffalo-Chicken Burrito. Little Village has been informed that the burrito will remain on the new menu.

Longtime downtown fixture Atlas will be getting a new menu, a new concept and a new name, as it becomes the Saint Burch Tavern this spring.

After purchasing the landmark Iowa City restaurant last year, Craft Concepts Group has unveiled plans for their new venture which will roll out in mid-March.

“It’s been a big challenge rebranding a restaurant that’s been around for 17 years,” said Executive Chef Ben Smart. “In the restaurant business, to last 5 years is almost unheard of, and to last 15 years is a testament completely to what Jack Piper and James Adrian created.”

“We hope to be here in another 15 years and to be able to do that, when we finally made the decision to rebrand, we kind of had to go all in. It couldn’t look the same. We can’t just change the name, change a few menu items. It didn’t feel right to us,”

Many current Atlas menu items will disappear from the menu, replaced by more classic items served in iconic Midwest taverns and supper clubs, such as prime rib, porterhouse steaks and seafood towers.

“We all kind of had this romantic idea of a tavern. And we all grew up eating in them,” Smart explained.

“I grew up half a mile from a tavern as a kid. There’s a part of each of us that just loves being where we’re from. We’re all local Iowa people and we like to remember those things that remind us of home,” added owner-operator Cory Kent.

The name of the new tavern reaches far back into Iowa City history. It’s named for Burch, a black bear from Idaho, who served as the mascot for the University of Iowa’s football team from 1908 to 1910.

Alongside the steaks and tavern food, patrons of Saint Burch will be able to indulge in a raw oyster bar, sampling fresh oysters from the coasts. Wanting the raw bar concept to resonate with customers, the restaurant plans to offer an oyster happy hour right off the bat. Seen as the high point of the new menu, the oysters are poised as the counterpoint to some of the more typically Midwestern food on the menu, like cheese curds from Dan & Debbie’s Creamery in Ely, or decadent poutine.

Asked about the menu, Smart said, “A part of me really likes to take it way too far and get really fancy with refinement and plating and get artistic, but that’s not what I’m going to do here. I think the food will naturally lend itself to being beautiful and composed and put together, but I don’t want it to be over the top. I want really good food to speak for itself.”

Burch the bear in 1908.

The food offerings at Saint Burch will provide a mix of stick-to-your-ribs food paired with fresh seafood for something lighter and fresher, alongside classic dishes that have an old-school feel. With plans for Fish Fridays and Prime Rib Saturdays, the group hopes to combine the refined and the rustic, and become a place for everyone.

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This idea of a space for all is further emphasized in the plans for the basement space of the restaurant. Once a favorite spot of nearly every twenty-something in town, the downstairs lounge had recently been primarily reserved for private events and large groups. Hoping to capture some of that bygone energy, the group plans to transform the space into a cocktail lounge called The Den.

“A lot of people in our age range remember this basement and the fun times we used to have down here and we’ve heard it a million times, ‘Oh, are you going to bring back the lounge? Are you bringing back the lounge?’” Kent said. “There will be some red neon signs, some taxidermy. Just kind of fun and playful. It’s going to be pretty edgy, with a Grandpa’s basement-vibe: leather booths, cool old furniture.”

Smart described the restaurant as a dual concept.

“It’s going to be a really stark contrast from upstairs to downstairs. We really want to play off that,” he said. “The upstairs, Saint Burch, will be much lighter, comfortable, and really beautiful. Down in The Den, it’s going to have that grit and it’s going to feel very much like an entirely different space.”

Saint Burch and The Den will each offer something unique, but a uniting factor between the two will be the beverage program. Overseen by Beverage Director Joy Buehler, the upstairs and downstairs will both offer a well-developed cocktail program — a hallmark of restaurants from this group.

Coming from a group known for their locally crafted brews (partners Doug Goettsch, Cory Kent, Nate Kaeding, Ben Smart and Matt Swift have a hand in Big Grove Brewery in Solon and Big Grove Taproom in Iowa City), both the restaurant and lounge plan to champion local beer, highlighting not only some of their own brews, but also the best of other area breweries. While the food at Saint Burch lends itself more to wine, the group aims for a good balanced program.

Remodeling at Atlas will begin next month. The group hopes to open Saint Burch Tavern and The Den in the middle of March.


  1. I like the menu changes but I hope the remodeling will address the high decibel level. I always avoided eating inside at Atlas because it was so deafeningly loud.

  2. VERY glad to hear that they will be keeping the Buffalo Chicken Burrito. The new menu items sound like great additions to the Iowa City scene. I hope they will be using CHOMP delivery service!

    1. I’m surprised because Atlas is my favorite restaurant. I love the atmosphere and menu now. Nicer and quieter than most of the other downtown sports bars/ restaurants but we tend to eat early before it get crowded. I have always had quality food there. I didn’t realize they were not doing well and needed a change.

  3. Interesting The Burch is Stella’s Corporate Name. Actually The Burch Llc. It’s named after Burch the bear. But I guess you thought of it first.

  4. There are some really different items on the menu here. I’d prefer that diversity to more “traditional” food – surely there is plenty of that around?

  5. I don’t get it. Why pay $$$$$$ for food from the coast when the tastiest vegetables in the world are grown right here. I hope they rethink it.

  6. My favorite restaurant but maybe not anymore – tomato soup, potato soup. tenderloin with pea pods and that fabulous sauce, incredible burgers, best mac and cheese in IC – and now an oyster bar

  7. I’m sorry but this is probably is the worst restaurant idea for Iowa City I’ve ever heard of. It’s a bummer they couldn’t make Atlas work. Anyone else sick and tired of restaurant groups opening self-serving concepts over and over? We need more mom and pops—not more “hey let’s own everything in town” restaurant groups. Enough is enough–focus on the beer and be happy.

  8. The Atlas burger is the *best* burger in Iowa City. I will be very disappointed if they take it off the menu in favor of hipster seafood crap.

  9. I think this sounds kind of terrible and unoriginal. Iowa City could use more vegetarian/vegan establishments who source from our local farmers instead of seafood from the coasts.

  10. How many local beer spots does Iowa City need??? Can one restaurant survive this group from turning everything into a craft beer hangout? I love atlas. It’s a shame that a handful of idiots own 90% of iowa city bars and restaurants.

  11. I love seeing new restaurant concepts and menus. The “Den” sounds great. I look forward to welcoming this new restaurant and bar to the list of places I like to visit!

  12. Oh, I hate to see Atlas and its unique menu go….. Wonderful tomato and black bean soup and great alternatives to the usual heavy foods offered elsewhere. We have too many places with similar menus. Please, please keep some of Atlas’ best. I wish you success, but this is really sad news….

  13. Sounds great! I loved Atlas, but I absolutely think change is a good thing in Iowa City. I also trust anything that Cory and Ben are behind. Good luck, I will certainly be supporting it!

  14. We have enjoyed the unique menu for years now. If the Mac & Cheese, Tuna Crisps or Tomato Bisque are removed from menu, please let me know now. I drive an hour to enjoy these and if they’re gone, I won’t be back. Thank you.

  15. Atlas has been a favorite of mine since they opened. It’s always been great for large or small groups since they had a good vegetarian and meat eaters selections. This new concept does not sound vegetarian friendly AT ALL. I will be walking past this new restaurant and headed straight to Basta.

  16. I know Jack and James. Jack and James are friends of mine. Craft Concepts, you are no Jack and James.

    Service and execution has been sliding since the sale. Completely changing the name is the best thing you can do to stop spoiling the name and reputation of Atlas.

  17. This is the LAST thing we need here! I second the thought that we need more vegan restaurants, but this group will never do that. Even if they pay lip service by adding a vegan option, I wouldn’t eat there under the shadow of the corpses hanging on the walls – I find nothing “fun and playful” about taxidermy! But what can you expect – the restaurant is named after a bear who was captured, imprisoned and exploited here for 2 years – and who knows how he ended up – or will he be part of the decor?

  18. Probably the worst decision made but who am I to judge, I’m just a regular Atlas customer month after month that no longer has an interest in visiting Saint Burch. I know my sister will be thrilled she made a 2000 mile flight for a creme brulee that is no more.

  19. Probably the worst decision made but who am I to judge, I’m just a regular Atlas customer month after month that no longer has an interest in visiting Saint Burch. I know my sister will be thrilled she made a 2000 mile flight for a creme brulee that is no more.

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