George’s Buffet is celebrating its 80th anniversary on Saturday

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George’s Buffet 80th Anniversary Party

George’s Buffet — Saturday, June 20 at 4:30 p.m.

George’s Buffet — Bill Adams

It wasn’t a surprise that George’s Buffet won “Best Home Away from Home” in the inaugural Best of the CRANDIC Awards last year. The Northside bar with its old-fashioned wooden booths, Skyscraper-Moderne-style back bar, ’60s-era flocked wallpaper and welcoming atmosphere seems like it’s always been a part of Iowa City. And for almost everybody living in Iowa City, it has been.

George’s is celebrating its 80th anniversary on Saturday. Apparently when George Kanak opened the bar in February 1939, he meant to make it stand out with a buffet. But oddly, the first newspaper ad for the “tap room” only highlights the fact it was serving sandwiches and soups, along with “All Popular Bottle Beers” and Miller High-Life on tap. The Press-Citizen’s brief notice about the opening of George’s doesn’t mention food at all, focusing on the bar’s new two-story building instead.

“The building features the latest in fixtures, lighting, and modern construction,” the Press-Citizen said.

George Kanak, the original owner and builder of George’s, in 1945. — image courtesy of Mike Karr

There’s no buffet at George’s, and there hasn’t been an owner named George since Clarence Ruppert bought it in 1948, but neither of these things matter to its patrons. Since 1989, it’s been owned by Mike Karr, who had been a bartender there since the mid-late 1970s and has maintained the bar’s name and unique atmosphere. He’s also kept up its decades-long tradition of serving great cheeseburgers.

The burgers are made with fresh meat from Ruzicka’s Meat Processing in Solon, and prepared on a Clark electric broiler from the 1950s. The burgers earned George’s national recognition in 2012, when Esquire magazine named it “one of the nation’s 24 best late-night food establishments.” (George’s also won a CRANDIC award last year for “Best Late Night Food.”)

But the burgers aren’t the only big food attraction at the buffet-less bar. George’s is the only place Pagliai’s Pizza will deliver to, thanks to an agreement between the two establishments back in the 1960s. (The flocked wallpaper is also an artifact of a ’60s cooperation between the two Iowa City institutions. Pagliai’s bought it while remodeling, and sold what was left over to George’s.)

For its 80th anniversary, George’s is celebrating with a beer garden, a pub quiz and live music from The Recliners, Crystal City and Dave Zollo. “Adult sno-cones” will be available, and of course, there will be cheeseburgers.

In addition to being the bar’s 80th, this year is also the 30th anniversary of Mike Karr buying George’s, as well as the anniversary of an employee who predates that change in ownership: Helen Roushar, a much-beloved bartender, is celebrating 35 years at George’s.

A George’s burger — Frankie Schneckloth/Little Village

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  1. George’s is where Brian Cooney bartended while at U of I. He later opened his own bar, Cooney’s, in Des Moines. Cooney’s is loosely configured like George’s Buffet. Definately an inspiration.

  2. Hopefully you never sell this place to the current owners of Sanctuary. Sanctuary has really gone down hill since the new owners took over.

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