Photos by Arianna Gastelum

Come for the ice cream, stay for the nostalgia. Since 1916, Bauder’s Pharmacy has been a haven for locals with a sweet tooth in Des Moines, Iowa. 

The shelves at Bauder’s.

Walking into the shop, a bright neon sign reads ‘Things go better with a Coke.’ An old-fashioned soda fountain lines the left side of the shop. Tiles reminiscent of the Art Deco era decorate the floor. There are unlimited ways to time travel at Bauder’s–even just for a moment.

Since 1963, the popular ice cream joint has been under Graziano ownership. Kim Robertson, who owns Bauder’s with her brother, Mark Graziano, makes sure its patrons–new and old–always feel at home. “There’s not many people I don’t know [by] their first names,” she says. “And if I don’t know them, I ask ‘Who are you?’ because they’re a new face to me.”

Andy Hall, who has been a Des Moines resident since 1990, says Bauder’s genuinely cares about the local community. “If you’re going in there, you’re going to spend some time,” he says. “It’s hard to put into words, but it’s been a constant for us, and it’s going to be a constant for our kids.”

More Peppermint Bars Please

A chocolate soda and a fudge sundae prepared by Kim Robertson.

Although Bauder’s no longer fills up prescriptions, it was originally opened by the first female pharmacist of Iowa, Carolyn Bauder. When ice cream was incorporated into the business during the 40s, locals would pick up their prescriptions and have a sweet treat by the soda fountain. “If you were waiting for a prescription, you could have an ice cream delight, you could take a chill with the kids,” Robertson says. “And it was the perfect little accompaniment.”

While Bauder’s has popular ice cream flavors like peach, strawberry, and mocha, what it’s famous for is its Iowa State Fair concoction–the peppermint bar.

“It’s hard to put into words, but it’s been a constant for us, and it’s going to be a constant for our kids.” –Andy Hall

When the family started selling peppermint bars at the state fair about two decades ago, the dessert became an instant classic for fair-goers. The fair is the busiest time of the year for Robertson and her family. “We will be making peppermint bars until the cows come home,” she says.

Brian Taylor Carlson, a food and dining reporter for the Des Moines Register, says the Bauder’s booth is the one stop he has to make at the fair every year. Carlson says, “I’m crazy about it. There’s just something so completely summery about that cooling chocolate-peppermint combination when it’s hot and humid out and the ice cream is melting and dripping from the wrapper onto my arm.”

Bauder’s peppermint bar is a thick slab of peppermint ice cream sandwiched between two layers of Oreo cookie crumbs, and topped with a layer of fudge. The crunchy cookies combined with the silky-smooth ice cream and rich fudge make for the perfect summer treat.

“So many good memories start with opening up that red checkered wrapper, and you know people have been doing it for many years.” –Adil Khan

Carlson also believes interacting with the employees at the booth is an equally important part of the experience. “No matter what time of day, there’s always a line that moves quickly and there’s always a friendly smile that greets you,” he says. “I think that’s another reason why their ice cream treats are so delicious.”

There’s nothing else in the Midwest like the Bauder’s Peppermint Bar, according to Adil Khan, a local and regular patron. “So many good memories start with opening up that red checkered wrapper, and you know people have been doing it for many years,” he says.

Family First

From creating new ice cream flavors in the kitchen to making a chocolate soda behind the old-fashioned soda fountain–everything about Bauder’s is rooted in family. “It’s so important to have the youth of today know that if they’re done with their soccer game, or [if] they’re done with their baseball [game], they’ll have a treat that rewards them for effort rendered,” Robertson says.

Hall has been taking his kids, now 18 and 20, to Bauder’s since they were young. He says it’s become a special spot for them over the years. “When my kids came along, we didn’t know if they’d like it at first or not. But it means more to them than it means to us.”

Robertson holds a photo of the old Bauder’s delivery truck and a photo of the tiled floor.

Robertson’s photo book of memories and employees at Bauder’s over the years.

When he brought his parents to Bauder’s before they passed away, Hall explains they couldn’t help but reminisce. “I took my parents and my mom started reminiscing growing up in Aurora, Illinois. After class at West Aurora High, she would go to the soda fountain with her friends,” he says. “And it was special for my dad too because he used to work as a soda jerk.” From 70 years old to seven years old, everyone has something to look forward to at Bauder’s.

Since closing its pharmacy in 2016, Bauder’s has shifted its focus towards the future. Bauder’s has been selling donuts from a local favorite, The Donut King, owned by Lou King, as of April 2018. Since both are local, family-owned businesses, it only made sense to Robertson to do business together. “The backbone of our country is small, local businesses. There’s not enough of us around,” she says.

Walking out of Bauder’s, it’s hard to feel unsatisfied. Toys on the walls, ice cream in the freezer, Mom behind the counter–Bauder’s is just like the typical American household. Whether it’s the peppermint bar, the soda fountain, or Robertson herself, Bauder’s will always have a reason to keep patrons coming back.

Bauder’s Pharmacy is open Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.