As unique as many of these activities and sites are, no place in the surrounding area offers as original an experience as the Amana Colonies.
|Photo courtesy of the Amana Colonies Convention Bureau.
Like the Amish, they are a community with German roots that sought isolation from the rest of the world as part of their deeply held religious beliefs. Today they’re also a fairly popular tourist attraction, sporting German cuisine and baked goods, fine wineries and breweries, and some excellent restaurants that have been noted in publications like Midwest Living and AAA Home and Away.
The Colonies also boasts some unique shopping opportunities. Wine, antiques, and hand-crafted gifts are the name of the game in this old-fashioned community. With 60 different specialty stores among the various towns, the Amana Colonies is the perfect place to shop for clocks, baskets, wool, needlework, art, and furniture.
Though multiplexes now rule the movie world, Mount Vernon has managed to hold on to a bit of tradition through the Bijou movie theater, a place many alumni consider a rite of passage.
With only a single screen and room for about 100 seats, the Bijou rarely opens new movies. They do have special events sometimes, like when they screened the most recent “Star Wars” movie at midnight the day it opened and held showings every three hours through the next day.
The best part? Tickets are only $4.
The Bijou is quintessential Mount Vernon. It’s family-owned (proudly by Cheryl Sheehy with assistance from her husband, Jerry), family-oriented (it never shows any R-rated movies), and its prices are stuck firmly in the ’80s (only $2.50 for a large popcorn?!). And before every show, an actual employee will introduce the movie and talk about coming attractions before raffling off a prize. If that sort of must-see, small-town experience doesn’t tickle your fancy, you’re at the wrong school.
If the Pal is the personal playground for Cornellians, then Lake Macbride is like the playground that’s farther away and more commercial, but with much cooler rides.
Lake Macbride is located about four miles west of Solon, and signs pointing you in the right direction can be found all up and down Highway 1. It’s certainly a park you don’t want to miss.
Macbride offers fishing, swimming, boating, picnicking, and even campsites of the modern and “roughing it” variety. There’s also sand volleyball, rental paddleboats, and rental canoes for those who forgot to bring their own boats.
A little farther down Highway 1 lays the road to the other side of Lake Macbride, which borders Coralville Reservoir. On that side you can find a disc-golf course, beaches, and well-kept mountain biking trails.
Of course, all of this is closed in the winter (and not too pleasant that time of year anyway), so make sure to check it out early in the year and as soon as spring hits. And on the way back, think about stopping in Joensy’s …
Joensy’s in Solon
Most Cornellians who’ve been to Joensy’s probably have no idea they’ve been there. Located on Main Street in Solon, Joensy’s is best known among Cornellians for the backroom used to hold parties for social groups on occasion.
|Joensy's fried pork tenderloin fills up an entire dinner plate.
To the rest of Iowa, though, Joensy’s is best known for having the “Biggest and Best Pork Tenderloin in Iowa,” as the sign above the front entrance proudly declares.
They have the accolades to prove it as well. Besides being recognized by Midwest Living in the fall of 1997 and by Food and Wine Magazine in 2003, Joensy’s has been voted the best tenderloin in the Cedar Rapids area three years, voted the Johnson County Pork Producers merchant of the year, given 4 of 5 stars by the KCRG Mystery Diner, and can even boast the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s vote for Eastern Iowa’s favorite pork tenderloin restaurant.
But Joensy’s can also claim the highest recognition of all: a signed picture from Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable that says, “Love that food @ Joensy’s!”
And the tenderloin lives up to its billing. Though served on a standard-size hamburger bun, the fried pork tenderloin fills up an entire dinner plate, roughly four times the size of a normal hamburger. That and a beer is more than a meal in itself.
Support your local breweries
No college experience is complete without finding time to support the local breweries. Once you’re 21, of course.
In Mount Vernon, one of the bars you’ll almost certainly have to find time for is the Hilltop. A favorite of younger students, the bar is the largest on Main Street and boasts a dance floor worthy of Iowa City. Most Friday and Saturday nights you’ll find the floor packed after 12:30 a.m. with mostly students. [At presstime, the Cornellian reported the closure of the Hilltop. A pizzeria and Italian restaurant were expected to replace it.]
The Northside bar caters to an older crowd and doesn’t typically charge cover. The bar has many places to sit, a pool table, and a casual atmosphere meant more for socializing than getting your groove on.
The Northside bar occupies a corner of First Street and Highway 1.
Make sure you check out the bars during off peak times, like weeknights and evenings. No stay at Cornell is complete without at least one night of karaoke with the locals. Nothing beats belting out “Tiny Dancer” with a Sodexho employee.
A little farther off campus, down in Iowa City, is a bar that stands out among the dozens of others as much for its wood façade as for its unique atmosphere. Taken right out of 1989, the Deadwood boasts live music, possibly the only couches in any Iowa City bar, an un-ironic fish on the wall, and a cigarette vending machine that still works. It’s the perfect place to take a break from the bump and grind of most university bars, and just sit, have a drink, and take in a game of video bowling.