Home » The Bohemian in NewBo opens to celebrate music, food and culture

The Bohemian in NewBo opens to celebrate music, food and culture

By Dorothy de Souza Guedes, correspondent

You most likely have never been anywhere quite like The Bohemian.

Every room on each of its three levels is so different from the next that whenever you visit, you’ll have a different experience. Art and artifacts from around the world cover nearly every inch of available wall space. There’s a fully restored 1890s piano near a small stage just waiting for jazz and acoustic blues musicians to play — but not too loud for conversation.

The Bohemian is more than an arts venue: it’s also a cafe. The tantalizing smell of smoked meats emanating from the open kitchen will have you drooling for a taste of regional comfort foods from the Mississippi River Valley — New Orleans to Minneapolis. Thirsty? Grab a cold one from regional breweries, a glass of wine selected from small, family-owned wineries or a $1 cup of coffee.

The new cafe/gallery/music venue opened Wednesday in the New Bohemia District, but it has existed in Mike Richards’ imagination since he and his wife, Lynette Richards, bought the building in 1999.

“When I walked into this building 21 years ago, I saw what you see now,” Mike said.

He saw his dream realized on March 17 when The Bohemian opened for tours and a menu tasting. Guests described The Bohemian as welcoming, warm and friendly. “We see The Bohemian as a lively gathering place for kindred creative spirits. The word Bohemian refers to both ethnic Czech-Slovak Bohemian people and also the cultural term ‘bohemian’ as it relates to an artistic/counter-culture lifestyle,” he said.

Pick your zone, from wine cellar to atrium

The Matyk building was built in 1893 by Czechoslovakian immigrants. The Mtyk family originally used it as a dry good store. Later, it was the first place locals could buy a television. The family is remembered in the ample, main floor space named Matyk Cafe Room in their honor.

That’s where you can listen to musicians like Kevin Burt or Bobb Dorr, or attend a lecture by an author or speaker.

The Richards filled the many rooms with art, artifacts and antiques from across the country, often taking road trips to pick up their treasures. The gas lights out front are from New Orleans. There’s a winding metal staircase to the cellar and sliding wooden door that once belonged on a coach house procured from Chicago. A curved banquet in the wine cellar is from a Midwestern courthouse. The searchlight in the Atrium, repurposed as a cocktail table, came from the Suez Canal.

The Atrium has a combined ceiling and wall panels slide back to open the space to nature. Installation of numerous steel I-beams was calculated for the weight of 100 people — perfect for weddings and private events already being scheduled.

Mississippi River Valley authentic regional cuisine

When it comes to the food, Mike and Lynette took road trips along the Mississippi River to sample the culture and cuisine for ideas.

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They’re using the fast-casual model: order at the window, and your food will be delivered to your table.

Chef Josh Lafferty listened to Mike’s menu ideas, then got a little creative.

Lynette describes the food as “simple with a twist.”

Lafferty uses a smoker to cook Bourbon Street beef brisket, St. Louis pork ribs, pulled pork and chicken, State Fair turkey legs and sticky finger wings. There’s smoked walleye fish, mac ’n’ cheese, and a vegetable side for pescatarians and vegetarians. Everything is “made with love from scratch” — sauces, rubs, dressings, mayonnaise — except the bread and cheese. Lafferty and Ian Trask created numerous sauces, including classic BBQ, hot chili oil and smokey vinegar sauce.

For sides, there’s hand-cut fries, coleslaw, three-bean salad and mustardy potato salad you’d expect. There also is cheesy grits and bacon, dilled Amish cottage cheese and red beans, rice and sausage.

Not everything is smoked. There’s a daily deli sandwich or Bohemian Rhapsody burger for adults and child-sized Young Bohemian burger or chicken tenders.

The menu will continue to evolve and change as the chefs develop more of their Mississippi Valley cuisine style. With Lynette’s longtime work with Feed Iowa First and Sundog Farm & Local Harvest Community Supported Agriculture, a farm-to-table focus was a given. They’ll grow their herbs and source produce from Abbe Hills Farm, Echocollective Farm and Jupiter Ridge Farm, among others.

You may know Lafferty from his 25 years in the Cedar Rapids’ food scene, from his Road Rooster food truck to Riley’s Cafe, the Butcher Block, Gray Goose and, most recently, White Star. He and Trask know each other well from 10 years together in area kitchens. Trask was head chef at Daniel Arthur’s.

Bartenders will create signature cocktails at the small, ornate bar. The Richards tapped First Avenue Winehouse to curate a collection of wines from small vineyards. Beers will be limited to the 12 most popular domestics and regional beers, plus a keg of something brewed nearby.

Family legacy business

Iowa natives Mike and Lynette met and married at Machu Picchu in Peru 44 years ago. They have traveled the world with their sons, then returned to Iowa. Lynette became a Metro High School teacher, and Mike invented soy wax, selling the patent to Cargill.

In 1999, the Richards, then living in Iowa City, were searching for a site to provide Lynette’s students with a workspace for making soy wax candles. Mike spotted the “for sale” sign in front of 1029 Third St. SE. The neighborhood didn’t look anything like it does now, and the building was in even worse shape. But Mike saw its potential.

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They bought the building, turned the second floor into their home and the main level into a workspace and youth art center. The Richards moved out after the flood of 2008, but the first floor became home to several ventures.

About three and a half years ago, work began to convert all three levels into one business. The final inspections were completed a month ago.

A goal is a place where the family can work together and make a living. Mike and Lynette, both 71 and retired, will act as advisers and long-term visionary creators. Day-to-day operations will be left to the kitchen crew and their adult sons Michael and Mel Richards, daughter-in-law Liza and granddaughters.

Even if only family and friends show up to The Bohemian, they will still have a wonderful time, according to Mike and Lynette.

“Our family feels like this is our base. We’re citizens of the world. We can go anywhere in the world from here,” Mike said.

The Bohemian

• Where: 1029 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids

• Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday

• Phone: (319) 249-1286

• Website: newbohemian.com

• Art details: Learn about the artifacts, art and artists featured at The Bohemia in “The Bohemian Aesthetic: Gallery and Guide and Artists’ Biographies” by Michael Richards