The Great Debate: Why We Gather. Why We Drink.
During a caucus year, it can often feel like one can’t escape the political atmosphere that lingers over Iowa. It hangs around us like a thick fog: we see it in our Twitter feeds, we hear it on the news, it consumes our podcast indulgences, billboards and banners adorn major streets. For some, candidates vying for the nomination are literally moving in down the street.
What do we do when we can’t escape the seemingly inescapable? Easy.
We gather our friends, coworkers, and family members and we congregate at a bar. We order platters of sliders, mozzarella sticks, and fries. Savory aromas of parmesan and fermented wheat blend into the air. The fog is no longer political – it’s just fog. A blurry, tipsy fog that shrouds us from the looming political chatter just outside. Or so we think.
Last week, the third round of Democratic Presidential Debates took place. One by one, Facebook invitations emerged from the dust, inviting you to join in on the fun. While many of the watch parties that took place around Des Moines were sober events, I had the pleasure of attending a watch party at a popular, new restaurant and bar on Ingersoll Avenue –Teddy Maroon’s. You may have heard of them.
I had the opportunity to speak to Teddy Maroon’s General Manager on the night of the third Democratic Debate. Since the establishment is a bit younger than some of the more seasoned taverns in Des Moines, these watch parties are a bit experimental for their business model. Since their conception, Teddy Maroon’s has held watch parties for all three of the debates thus far. Based on my observations, business appears to be booming. He commented that the owner, a bit of a political enthusiast himself, was very keen on showing the debates during happy hour.
Perhaps surprising to some, it was an incredibly civil and engaging experience. Local and national news outfits have frequented the bar to cover their watch parties. Needless to say, he was unsurprised when approached by myself and another Iowa Caucus Project Staffer. He noted that the two previous debates had the bar in a bit of a frenzy – lines bled out the door and drinking games ensued at the bar.
While Teddy Maroon’s has the vibe of an uppity sports bar, the landscape transformed into a haven for political wonks, legislators, journalists, and interested caucus-goers with the switch of a television channel. Rough estimates would conclude that there were roughly 50 or so people huddled around the bar who were barking at the screens as if trying to alter the outcome of the Super Bowl.
That’s the thing about Presidential Debates in Iowa. For many, these televised political spectacles are more than a formality. They are enthralling. Aided by booze and hors d’oeuvres, the spectators of this watch party were engaged and willing to provide commentary on what they were seeing play out in front of them.
When I attend events like this, I am hesitant to argue that Iowans really want to escape the political fog that lingers over us during a caucus year. We want to be a part of the sport of it all – and I’ll raise a glass to that