When Scott Kading saw the cavernous but empty space that for six years had housed Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon, just off Interstate 80 on the outskirts of Iowa City, he saw potential.
“It sat empty for a year, and I think I was the only one to look at it,” he said. “Reopening it was either really dumb, or genius. But it seemed like something that we need around here.”
Kading, who also owns the Yacht Club and Gabe’s music venues and bars in downtown Iowa City, took over the space and the business name from the former owners and reopened with a concert Sept. 3. Food service began later that month.
True to Wildwood’s history and aesthetic, the bar and restaurant’s focus is on barbecue and country music. Kading did some renovations before reopening, including replacing carpet on the second floor with hardwood, redoing both bars and installing a new PA system. The second floor, which overlooks the dance floor and boasts a second bar and extensive seating, can be rented out for private parties. A new chandelier now sparkles over the dance floor.
“It gives a little flair to it,” general manager Aaron Small said.
He brought his experience from previous jobs as kitchen manager at Red’s Alehouse in North Liberty and as sous chef at 30hop to developing the menu.
He said they started small, with just a few core dishes, and are now slowly expanding the offerings after experimenting with different flavors and learning what worked.
He describes the menu as “typical barbecue,” fare, with dishes like smoked chicken, pulled pork and beef brisket, plus a few unique items like Iowa cream corn nuggets and sauces made in-house. He is working to develop vegetarian options and more appetizers in the new year.
For now, the music lineup is primarily country bands, but Small said they would like to expand to include bluegrass, tribute bands and other acts in coming months. Bands are typically booked on Friday and Saturday nights, and on Thursdays, the bar hosts line dancing, complete with lessons for newcomers.
“It’s one of our busiest nights,” Small said.
With around 8,400 square feet and a capacity of 680 to 700 people, Wildwood offers Kading a chance to book bigger shows than he could accommodate at Gabe’s and the Yacht Club.
“I had a lot of shows that sold out downtown last year, and now they could move (to Wildwood),” he said. “We’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll and hit the ground running in 2017.”
WHERE: 4919 Walleye Dr. SE, Iowa City
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday to Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
DETAILS: (319) 333-1750, wildwoodsaloon.com