NORTH LIBERTY- Though the menu is being kept secret until opening day, future customers can probably venture a good guess as to what will be served at a restaurant called Beer Burger.
"If you think about it, it's super simple," said co-owner Bobby Thompson. "Ninety percent of people that walk into a restaurant get a beer and a burger."
Set to open its doors- including a garage-style entry- at 575 Cameron Way later this month, Beer Burger will sell milkshakes and cocktails in addition to its signature items. The restaurant is the most recent brainchild of parent company MAiNGREDIENT, which is also behind North Liberty's upcoming family entertainment center, to be located right up the street.
"A couple of friends have said, 'Well, Beer Burger, aren't you kind of stymieing yourself to one thing?' Really it's not," said Thompson. "We're taking a spin on beer and a spin on burger where it's a positive connotation for family and all."
That extends to the restaurant's key feature: self-serve tap walls.
In addition to up to four types of craft beer per handle, some of the spouts- located on four different walls- will pour soda for the underage drinkers. They can even do the pouring themselves at a kid-friendly, low-mounted tap wall.
The focus, of course, is on the beer and especially Iowa breweries, said co-owner Hayden Burchard.
"Anytime you brand yourself as a beer place, nothing really matters if your beer sucks," he said.
A private room with four taps will be customizable for parties, he said, and can either feature a certain type of brew or brewery, or even be paired with a special menu.
A 20-tap wall will be devoted to Iowa beers, he said, with the drafts being switched out a lot. Older brews will be transferred into 32-ounce growlers either to give away to staff or sell to customers.
"It'll allow us to move through beer, keep seasonal beers relevant and also keep our beers fresh, which is a huge priority," he added.
At a Sept. 27 North Liberty City Council meeting, Burchard explained how the self-serve system, powered through Illinois company Pour My Beer, works.
"We can just refer to it as a virtual pitcher," he said, referencing similar technology in operation at the Iowa Chop House in Iowa City.
Customers initially get a 28-ounce card, to be swiped at any of the tap walls and which can be reloaded as long as a server doesn't deem the user to be over-intoxicated.
"How do you deem if someone is allowed to keep pouring root beer?" asked Mayor Amy Nielsen, jokingly.
"That'll be up to the parents," Burchard replied.
As for the adults, he assured the council servers will be trained to evaluate customers carefully.
"We don't want anybody over-served in our establishment just like you guys don't want anybody over-served in our establishment," he added.
The council approved Beer Burger's liquor license, as well as a one-year waiver for the wall remote vending system. The Iowa Alcohol Beverage Division and North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venenga recommended approval of the waiver.
"What's cool is that it allows you to become the bartender," said Thompson. "When you go up you can actually see the beer you pour and get the information on it, where it's from."
The cooler will hold 76, rotatable lines and feature what Thompson called "keg art."
"One thing we really wanted to capitalize on was having something that's not just this big giant thing that takes up space and holds kegs," he said. "We wanted it to kind of be a piece of art and almost like a museum exhibit, if you would."
Breweries are able to design their own kegs, which will be stacked and on display for customers. At some point, the restaurant will auction off the kegs and give money to the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Burchard said.
The rest of the art in the space was done by local airbrush artist Keaton Rogers and gives way to a modern-industrial feel, complete with a beer-drinking Abraham Lincoln looking toward the open-concept kitchen.
"When people close things off, it almost feels like they're hiding what's going on," said Thompson. "The kitchen is the heart and soul of the restaurant; we want those people to be involved. We want people to see their food being made."
Originally slated for an opening to coincide with Hawkeye football season, co-owner John Burchert said it's been a process getting building code up to date and even coming up with new code for the unique facility.
He also said the management team has tried to keep a lot of the details "behind the scenes" to make the unveiling more special. Already the restaurant has over 1,000 likes on Facebook and hundreds of followers on Twitter and Instagram, where snippets of the menu and venue have been teased.
Thompson said executive chef Craig Vorbau, previously at Exile Brewery Company in Des Moines, has some stuff up his sleeve as far as the menu goes, but did stress more than just beer and burgers would be served, including steak, fish, chicken and vegetarian options.
The restaurant will also offer Saturday- and Sunday-morning brunch but may not launch that until the rest of the menu has been up and running for a few months.
"We want to be the neighborhood spot people can come to," said Thompson. "We're the hub of this community around us."
Although Hayden Burchard hesitated to call Beer Burger a public house, it's sort of the feel the team is going for. That extends to the outdoor patio, complete with propane "fire fountains" and overhead heaters to allow usage 10 months out of the year.
"The reason we put beer all over is because we really want people to get up out of their seats," he said. "To eat, drink, interact."
The team also plans to offer live music on Friday and Saturday nights, when they're allowed to be open until 2 a.m.
Located off Penn Street behind the Liberty Centre development, Beer Burger is a bit removed from the rest of North Liberty, but Thompson said it will help draw people to other eateries in town.
"We're making something the people of North Liberty will be proud of," Burchard added.