All things Viking descend on Iowa’s capital
Skøl—your home for mead, Viking tacos, Vikings football, and heavy-metal music
Des Moines, Iowa
“There wasn’t a Scandinavian (music) metal bar with Viking tacos in Des Moines, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.”
This quip from Jeff Bruning (Bruno to his friends and associates) says a bit about what you might find when you go to Skøl for a drink or a bite to eat. It also hints at how his company, Full Court Press, approaches the decision to open a new establishment. It reveals their real belief that there is a market for a Viking-themed bar in Iowa’s capital city.
“We’ve done a lot of different things,” Bruning explains. “We’ve done an English pub-themed restaurant. We’ve done a German beer hall. We’ve done a craft beer bar.”
In fact, Full Court Press operates a dozen different restaurants and bars. Fong’s Pizza, whose deconstructed Crab Rangoon pizza has been lauded by presidential candidates and media covering the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, and such food luminaries as Alton Brown, has four locations in three Iowa cities. “We like to roll with a theme,” Bruning adds.
“We’ve done a lot of different things, and I always joked that we’d do a Swedish bar or a Norwegian place someday,” Bruning says. “I’m not Norwegian, and I’m not Swedish, but I have a love for the culture. I have a love for the look, the feel,” he adds.
“Then we started seeing some of those beers coming through. There are lots of good beers coming out of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. It just started to make a lot more sense.”
When they began seriously thinking about a Scandinavian theme, they started sourcing other drinks to add to the fun of the theme. “We have aquavit,” he says, “and Brennivin from Iceland. We have Swedish punsch and Finnish Long Drink, a drink invented for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, which has since become the national drink of Finland.”
Then there’s mead. “We took four barrels from Toppling Goliath (an internationally award-winning brewery from Decorah, Iowa) and sent them to Prescott, Ariz., to Jeff at Superstition Meadery, one of the most awarded meaderies in the world. He made a mead for us that was aged in those barrels with raspberries and cacao nibs. It’s fantastic. It’s called Petite Morte,” says Bruning.
“We also have Bumbleberry mead from East Grove Farms, the oldest family-run farm in Iowa. We have a barrel-aged mead from Cedar Ridge Winery. We do a blend of mead and hard cider from B. Nectar out of Michigan. We have Viking Blod [an artisan metheglin-style Danish mead]. We have 14 or 15 meads at this point. We serve it by a six-ounce pour. We’re just continually adding them in, and we’ll continue to do that, along with ciders and beers and wines on draft,” he adds.
Don’t forget the beers that caught Bruning’s attention when they began to seriously consider the concept of Skøl. “We really have a good line on beer. We have unique beers, so we can tell the story of each one when customers want to know about them. We only have 26 beers, while El Bait [Shop], our craft beer bar, has 262,” says Bruning.
The food menu is not extensive but features a good selection of bar-type fare, anchored by their “Viking Tacos”—several types of street tacos—served on lefse.
“I don’t know whether many Norwegian grandmothers made carne asada lefse tacos,” Bruning says, “But they’re really fun. We’re hand-making them, rolling them one-by-one.”
Bruning says they thought of the popularity of the History Channel show, The Vikings, as they worked on the concept, and Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Last Kingdom, and Lord of the Rings, which, while not exactly Scandinavian, have similar appeal. “It’s just fun,” he says. “It’s just kind of fantasy, that kind of feel.”
Bruning says that as they were getting ready to open, he became more aware of several things that pointed toward the success of the concept they were developing.
“I began to notice all the Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian flags around town. Then I was at a baseball game [the Iowa Cubs Triple A baseball team], and I looked across the way, and it said, ‘Grandview Vikings.’ [Grandview is a local university with Danish Lutheran origins.] So, we had them here for the kickoff of their [football] season. I was also aware there were Minnesota Vikings fans here, but I wasn’t aware of how passionate they are. So, we’re showing their games on TV,” says Bruning.
“There are tens of thousands of people here of Scandinavian descent,” Bruning says. “As I started to describe our plans, they’d say, ‘Oh, I know what that is.’ They’d get really crazy about it.”
Business has been brisk since its July 31 opening.
“We’ve often stayed open later than we planned,” Bruning says. “We only planned to stay open til midnight during the week, but there have been quite a few nights where we’ve stayed open to 1:30 or 2 because the people were here.”
Bruning and his partners realize plans for the City’s new “Market District” are likely to bode well for the continued success of Skøl.
“Our location is in a part of town that Des Moines is growing toward,” Bruning says. “The scrap yard across the street is going to be an office complex in a few years. There are apartments that weren’t there a year and a half ago that are a full city block long. We’re ahead of the wave that is coming. MLK, the road just south of us, is going to be a major thoroughfare.”
In the end, Bruning just hopes people will feel comfortable and welcome in Skøl.
“You know, you present an open idea to people and hope that they attach to it and make it their own thing,” he says. “You can make it your own thing if you’re a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. You can make it your own thing if you’re a fan of the historical Vikings. You can make it your deal if you’re a real whiskey fan, because I’ve sourced lots of hard-to-find bourbons, or if you’re a fan of mead or really good beer. We’re also kind of heavy metal themed. There’s a lot of metal music in Scandinavia. We’re sort of the hygge [or koselig] of heavy metal. We’re warm and cozy, but we may have metal playing in the background.”
This article originally appeared in the December 13, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.