The movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is a modern holiday classic depicting Clark Griswald’s ambition to host a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.” The film has developed almost a cult following because who can’t relate to family dysfunction? We may not have a Cousin Eddie emptying his RV septic tank in our front yard, an Uncle Lewis setting himself on fire with his cigar or even an Aunt Bethany reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as the meal’s blessing. (OK, so maybe some of us DO have an Aunt Bethany.) “A Christmas Vacation” reaffirms that regardless of its quirkiness, a family accepts and loves its members unconditionally. And that is exactly how the Iowa Roadie felt at its latest stop…The River Bar in Dows.

My husband and I visited the River Bar on a Friday night, and proceeded to fill the last two bar stools at the end of the counter. In fact, I found myself seated at the very last spot next to the cooler. This was a very anti-social location, eliminating my opportunity to visit with other bar patrons. Under no circumstances would this work as it would mean conversing solely with my husband.

(Interjection #1: Please do not misinterpret this and think that I do not want to talk to my husband. But sometimes he has a tendency to talk about his work with computers. When this happens, I go into a sort of self-induced catatonic state where my eyes glaze over and I attempt to nod and say “uh huh” at appropriate times. Sadly I do not always succeed in convincing my husband that discussing technology is witty and interesting.)

Therefore rather than be banished in the corner (Interjection #2: Upon reading that last statement, who DOESN’T automatically think of Patrick Swayze pulling Jennifer Grey up on stage at the Kellerman’s Resort talent show, and telling her father, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner?!”) Before I go off on a litany of great lines from the movie Dirty Dancing (“I carried a watermelon…”), I will return to MY predicament which was sitting at the far end of The River Bar with no one but my computer-loving husband to converse with. As this would never do, I got up and moved to a single seat in the middle of the counter. I now found myself seated next to a very pleasant gentleman named Sean, who is a lifelong resident of Dows and a sort of jack of all trades.

On my other side was Jody, the bar’s manager. Jody was a spunky woman and had decorated the bar with her own collection of vintage beer trays and Dows memorabilia. Besides managing the bar, Jody manages a large garden and offered me some of her homemade zucchini salsa. That’s right..ZUCCHINI salsa! (Interjection #3: There really are no limits on the diversity of this vegetable.)

Now before you think the Iowa Roadie totally ditched her husband (which I kind of did), I left him in the good company of Jody’s friend, Wayne. Wayne’s nickname is Mr. Hamms, because he is an avid Hamm’s beer collector and a member of the Hamm’s beer collecting club. Naturally he and my husband were content to visit and drink their own cans of Hamm’s while discussing Wayne’s beer memorabilia.

Wayne also has a pet alligator who is named Theodore Hamms, after the founder of Wayne’s favorite beer. Wayne and Jody did not agree on the length of Theodore…It seemed he could be anywhere from 36” to 52”. Jody said Theodore has only escaped from his cage once, but that he was contained to the home. They also have another pet reptile, a tortoise named Sascha (pronounced Sasha), whose namesake is the Hamm’s beer bear.

(Interjection #4: The name of the Hamm’s beer bear is very elusive. I attempted several google searches before finally locating the bear’s proper name for spelling purposes. Perhaps the bear’s name is a secret code word in the Hamm’s Collectors Club that Wayne belongs to? If so, the collectors club has security like Fort Knox!) Regardless, I found an alligator and tortoise interesting pet choices…and secretly wondered if Theodore had perhaps eaten the couple’s normal pets. Jody assured me this was not the case, and that Theodore consumed normal alligator food which did NOT include cats, and that he was totally harmess…Minus the time Wayne was showing Jody’s niece that he could kiss the alligator…and Theodore proceeded to bite him on the nose.

Besides Jody, Wayne and Sean, there were three other River regulars seated at the counter. Roger was a single farmer who also had a home close to Disney World. Chuck and Cindy were a retired couple who had a home in Marathon, which is located in the Florida Keys and home to the Sea Turtle Hospital. (Perhaps this is where Sascha came from?) I was quite jealous of their second residences in the Sunshine State, as I only have one residence, which is an older acreage and currently in the midst of remodeling (which means I have had no walls for two years).

Also a shout out to Bartender Crystal. As usual, I attempted to order the now infamous Dirty Girl Scout drink. Sadly Crystal did not have all the ingredients. So instead, I started googling drink combinations containing the alcohol on hand. Crystal was an extremely good sport as she concocted all sorts of beverage oddities. In fact, Crystal created a brand new drink consisting of Bailey’s Irish Cream and peach schnapps. Before you turn up your nose, I must tell you that the taste resembled a peach cobbler. Truth! Jody also told me that the owner makes a peach pie drink, similar to the apple pie drink made in the fall with cider and Everclear. The owner had not yet made a batch, but Jody encouraged me to check Facebook for its production.

The River also boasted lots of fun extras including a shuffleboard table and free popcorn. In fact, the popcorn maker had just been replaced the night before, so we had the inaugural batch of popcorn. And although The River does not serve food besides Pasquale’s frozen pizza on weekends, there are designated food specials during the week…tacos & margaritas on Tuesdays, pizza on Wednesdays, and their famous wings and salad bar on Thursdays. They also offer a weekend bloody mary bar, and will host the karaoke finals during the upcoming Dows Corn Days.

By the time we left, the Iowa Roadie felt a part of The River family as I gave everyone a parting hug. Thank you Jody, Crystal and crew for embracing my dysfuction. If the Griswald “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas” were a feeling, THIS is how it would look and feel…minus Cousin Eddie and the septic tank.

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