While it might seem more daunting than adventurous to plan your next road trip during the winter months when roads are icy and travel conditions are unpredictable, there’s a cozy haven in central Iowa that's worth the trek. Roughly 12 miles off I-80 about an hour east of Des Moines, the Ladora Bank Bistro is a hidden gem of a restaurant tucked inside a beautifully restored Jewel Box style bank.
Designed by William Lightner and Charles B. Zalesky— in a style similar to architect Louis Sullivan’s series of Midwest banks with modern exteriors and lavishly detailed interiors like this one in Grinnell— the Ladora Bank opened in 1920. While the building only served as a bank for 11 years, its history as a community meeting space, retail location, and series of offices made it a fixture in the small Iowa community.
Then in 2004, Dimitri Makedonsky purchased the property and began renovating the building into what diners now see when they visit the Ladora Bank Bistro. Last May, the Ladora Bank Bistro’s chef Jim Vido and his wife, Holly, took over the restaurant and continue to dazzle diners with their eclectic dishes and unbeatable ambiance.
There’s admittedly not much else to see during your time in Ladora—save the wonderfully named Stop Ladora Stora across the street—and upon arrival the gold-hued brick facade of the bistro is pretty unassuming. But even before you push open the bank’s gilded front doors, there’s the feeling of discovering something special and steeped in history.
If you’re anything like me, the bank’s restored interior will probably make your breath catch briefly in your chest. The vaulted ceilings, the ornately painted detailing and beautifully preserved details, like a bar that wraps around the old teller counter and wine cellar inside one of the bank’s vaults, are astounding. The space itself is small —so be sure to call ahead for a reservation— and feels intimate, with soft seating and fully exposed kitchen.
Plot your route, call ahead for a reservation and spend the evening in the cozy atmosphere of the Ladora Bank Bistro. The shrimp scampi crostini and flatbread pizza were both divine, but to be honest, it seems hard to believe that any of the restaurant’s menu options are less than delicious. And for a bistro that boasts its offerings as “small plates,” the portions were more than generous (we even headed home with leftovers).
Valentine’s Day Wine Pairing
Looking for a little culinary adventure this Valentine’s Day? The Ladora Bank Bistro is hosting a wine pairing dinner on Saturday, February 14. For $80 per couple, each of the meal’s four courses will be paired with a different wine selection. Seating is available at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and reservations can be made online.
Where: 811 Pacific Street (Highway 6) in Ladora, Iowa
Winter hours: Thursday - Saturday: 4-9 p.m., Sunday: 12 - 6 p.m.