A visit to the Ladora Bank Bistro has been on my bucket list ever since a friend first told me an amazing place like this existed. Housed in a beautifully restored Jewel Box style bank, the small plates restaurant and bar has delighted Iowans and travelers alike for the past few years. So when a sunny Sunday afternoon presented itself, I knew it was finally time to take a trip to the Bistro.
Roughly 12 miles off I-80 and about an hour east of Des Moines, the Ladora Bank Bistro is pretty unassuming from the outside. Frankly, there’s not much else in the tiny town of Ladora—except for the Shop Ladora Stora, which cracked me up. Once inside the restored bank is truly breathtaking (I mean it—I may have been hyperventilating a little bit). All vaulted ceilings and exquisitely painted molding, the Bistro is gorgeous enough that you’ll probably spend a good portion of your meal just staring upward. Nods to the building’s past have been left completely intact: A bar wraps around the old teller counter and a wine cellar peeks out from inside one of the bank’s vaults (another one of them is now a freezer).
The owner and chef Jim was kind enough to let us peek around a bit and explore the bank’s second story (closed for the winter since it isn’t well-insulated), which includes the building’s original bathrooms. Fun fact: At the time of its construction, the public restrooms were a major point of pride for the bank’s designers.
We opted for the shrimp scampi crostini and flatbread pizza—both of which were divine. But it feels hard to believe anything on their seasonally changing menu would be less than delicious. While it’s a bit of a trek, the Ladora Bank Bistro is definitely worth the trip. In fact, I can’t wait to go back.
A bit of history about the Ladora Bank Bistro
The Ladora Savings Bank was designed by William Lightner and Charles B. Zalesk, and opened in May of 1920. While the classical revival architecture made the bank a gem upon its opening, the post-World War I economy and impending Great Depression meant the bank struggled for much of its 11-year history.
According to the Bistro’s website, over the years the bank “served as a meeting place for local civic organizations, a ‘flop house’ for truckers, a polling station, civil defense shelter, a Red Cross office during World War II, an antique store, attorney’s office and drapery business.” In 1990, the Ladora Savings Bank was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It wasn’t until 2004 that Dimitri Makedonsky, while on a motorcycle ride across the countryside, became enamored with the bank and purchased the property. He opened the restaurant four years later. Then last January chef Jim Vido joined the Ladora Bank Bistro, and he and his wife, Holly, took over the business.
Want to read more about the Ladora Bank Bistro? Check out a post I wrote for the Travel Iowa blog.
Ladora Bank Bistro, 811 Pacific Street (Highway 6) in Ladora, Iowa
Winter hours: Thursday – Saturday: 4-9 p.m., Sunday: 12-6 p.m