SKO brings tacos and drinks to downtown Cedar Rapids

Chicken nachos with SKO Mango habanero sauce at SKO Tavern and Tacos, 203 First Avenue SE, in the Southeast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022 (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Taco with SKO Sissy sauce, cilantro-lime crema, at SKO Tavern and Tacos, 203 First Avenue SE, Southeast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Taco with SKO Sissy sauce, cilantro-lime crema, at SKO Tavern and Tacos, 203 First Avenue SE, Southeast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Flags, including rainbow pride flags, state sports teams, and beer brands, hang from the wall at SKO Tavern and Tacos, 203 First Avenue SE, in the Southeast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. Slosiarek / The Gazette )

A church bench is suspended by chains to become seating for one of the tables at SKO Tavern and Tacos, 203 First Avenue SE, Southeast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Helping hand-drawn note cards for different types of drinks, now framed on the wall of SKO Tavern and Tacos on 203 First Ave. SE at Cedar Rapids, Principal Demian Papagni was on learning to water when he first started. (Elijah Dechus / The Gazette)

Cedar Rapids – As the taco scene in Cedar Rapids continues to thrive, SKO Tavern & Tacos introduces a new venue with a small downtown menu.

The new show, which opened May 5 by Epic Catering (formerly known as Nanke Restaurant Group), brings an eclectic bar atmosphere, late-night food shows and games to the space formerly occupied by Della Viti wine bar.

With one simple instruction – “make it great” – an old waiter at Belle’s Basix takes his first food through a small but specialized menu.

After Belle announced its plans to close earlier this year, Demian Babani, 45, a bartender for eight years and manager for the past five, has asked for some shifts at other bars. Instead, he’s been given the task of a new Taco Tavern, which will adopt some new features.

In a move that helps SKO stand out from the dozens of Mexican restaurants and bar bars in Cedar Rapids, the kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m. — even after Taco Bell.

if you go

what or what: SKO Tavern & Tacos

where: 203 First Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids

hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. from Wednesday to Saturday; The kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m.

phone: (319) 200-5446

website: epiccateringia.com/marketing/SKO/Menu.pdf

details: Full menu served until midnight. Tacos only from midnight to 1:30 am Load not available.

food menu

With one page of burritos, nachos, tacos, and chips, you won’t get lost on this Mexican menu.

Papagni said the minimalist design was made to be alluring and fun. The giant nachos are designed to feed three or four people, and the tacos come in sets of three “the size of your head.”

The manager said the radish and pineapple garnish options in tacos sparked as vigorous debate as pineapple on pizza.

He said: “There are people who consider (radish) infidelity.”

With six choices of made-from-scratch hot sauce, there’s a offering from plain cilantro-lime cream to adobo chile or “homemade” Carolina Reaper sauce for those who like to play with the fire. In the middle, Papani said SKO’s mango habanero sauce is one of his most popular choices.

In addition to the small menu that allows the restaurant and bar to strive for perfection, the portion sizes make SKO stand out from the crowd. But if you prefer the options on the menu, keep in mind one new rule at SKO: Don’t eat out.

In an effort to enhance the environment that SKO set out to build, diners have to dine in to get the full experience.

“It’s ‘Cheers’-y, in a certain way,” Papani said.

Drinks

With a full range of cocktails, margarita rides, and specialty shots crafted by an experienced bar manager, the descriptions are as fun as the drinks themselves.

El Capitan, for example, is described as your average Long Island iced tea that “had something to do with a sexy pirate.”

A full list of shots takes you to wine faster, and the manager prepares all the specialty cocktails and shots.

“You get the same high-quality product every time,” he said.

And unlike some other bars, this one promises that they will never close before 2am

The environment

Nowhere else in Cedar Rapids will you find a bar with church benches and chairs suspended from the ceiling by chains – all available for table seating alongside a mural of what the space looked like in the 1920s.

Papagni took extra care in testing to make sure the chairs were designed well enough to stand up to the force of cocktails and shots.

But around the bar, an eclectic atmosphere with bar games reigns, and along both walls are hand-picked decor items that all make sense to the manager. If you want to know where something comes from or what it means, Papagni can tell you.

In addition to bar games, SKO – an acronym for “Let’s go!” There will be themed Thursdays, sonic bingo nights and occasional raffle shows.

How did the manager participate?

Papagni, a native of New York City, came to manage SKO through a series of events governed by his life motto.

He said, “My mom said if someone asks if you can do something, say yes – you’ll find out.”

After settling in Iowa to work on an aerial construction crew, he found work as a bouncer. Before long, his bar needed a bar in the back, then a bartender. He got into the care and management of lawyers mostly by accident.

Index cards he made for learning how to make dozens of drinks, each complete with his hand-drawn drawings, framed on a brick wall inside SKO.

“I am not an artist by any means,” he said. “I’m sorry about that now, because people ask for this thing all the time.”

A jiu-jitsu instructor at a gym behind Midtown Station, he got to know the people in the restaurant group through regular visits to the bar after work.

Like the waiter, he also became an actor by chance and is currently working on feature films focusing on him. After an actor who was choreographing a fight scene never appeared, he was cast in the movie.

This year, a short film he directed won Best Short from the Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards.

His job in movies – great acting – has applied well to his latest projects in real life.

Comments: (319) 398-8340; [email protected]

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