A local take on the classic American diner arrives in downtown Iowa City today as Pullman Bar and Diner opens at 17 S. Dubuque St.
Located in the space formerly occupied by Orange Leaf, the interior has been completely transformed in recent months. The long, narrow space and curved ceiling subtly reference a railcar. Vintage lighting, exposed brick, red vinyl booths and a long, white marble countertop give Pullman an old-time atmosphere.
“We wanted to hearken back to the roots of the diner, paying homage and celebrating craftsmanship and industriousness in America,” said co-owner Nate Kaeding, just before seating customers on the second night of Pullman’s soft opening last week.
Kaeding is one of six owners who include restauranteurs Faye and Matt Swift; Big Grove Brewery co-owner Doug Goettsch; Reds Alehouse manager Cory Kent; and Ben Smart, executive chef at Big Grove Brewery.
Adding to Pullman’s ambience is its music, curated by Mission Creek Festival organizer Andre Perry, as well as paintings by local artist Jamie Boling. And in a welcome absence, there are no television screens at Pullman. Instead, diners are encouraged to watch Smart and his team work in the open kitchen that abuts the bar.
“You’re never going to find a more open kitchen,” Swift said. “The action is what we want you to watch — our people crafting the food. It’s an interactive experience.”
Smart has worked to develop Pullman’s menus. Brunch includes inspired breakfast classics like granola crusted brioche french toast, as well as the Pullman burger and other sandwiches. The dinner menu offers a selection of the brunch items, as well as small plates and entrees like steak frites and buttermilk fried chicken.
“We’re keeping the menu simple while making great entrees affordable,” Kaeding said.
Pullman also has a full bar offering their take on classic cocktails and a variety of craft beers.
Over the weekend, the restaurant was buzzing as staff hosted soft openings in preperation for today. Swift has been a part of several other establishments and said the hardest part in any project is taking a leap of faith. He said success is not just getting to opening night, it’s conducting business right and staying consistently on track.
“There’s a lot of moving parts in this industry,” Swift said.
“I enjoy being a part of creating something,” Kaeding said. Less than five years after the 21-over ordinance was passed by the City Council, Kaeding is working to diversify the eating and drinking culture in Iowa City.
“There’s more people living and working downtown,” he said. “We’re helping the downtown grow up.”
Pullman opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday and at 8 a.m. on the weekends.
This article has been updated to provide additional context based on reader feedback.