Coffee shop Coworking is a series that highlights cafes and coffee shops in and around the Des Moines metro perfect for entrepreneurs, freelancers, creatives, and remote workers to get things done. Each installment will highlight what a particular location is best for, what you can expect from its work environment, and what sets it apart from other local alternatives.
Located in the heart of the Drake neighborhood, Mars Cafe has long been a mainstay of students and the city’s creative community alike. A gathering place for student groups, host of art show openings, and even venue for musical performances, Mars Cafe is a hub for all sorts of community activities, which means you’ll be hard pressed to visit during a time when the coffee shop isn’t a bustling flurry of activity, or when you don’t run into someone who you know.
While the coffee shop’s outer space theme is a little less overt than it once was—there’s no longer a painting of two smiling astronauts holding hands while skipping through a field of flowers—you can still order a Sputnik (a honey-almond cinnamon latte) or a Space Egg (an egg and cheese sandwich). The occasionally changing menu not only offers a variety of coffee beverages crafted using beans exclusively from Viroqua, Wisc.-based Kickapoo Coffee Roasters but also includes a variety of sandwiches, salads, and breakfast options so you won’t have to disrupt your workflow when your blood sugar takes a dive. If you’re working late and need to transition away from caffeine, grab a glass of wine or a bottle of beer and continue working through Mars Cafe’s happy hour (daily from 4 – 6 pm).
The Work Environment
If you’re a person who enjoys a quieter environment while you work, Mars Cafe is probably not the coffee shop coworking locale for you. While it’s slightly less busy during Drake’s off seasons, the coffee shop is typically busy, a bit echoey, and pipes in some pretty upbeat music, depending on who’s behind the counter. But if a little bustle and background noise is your jam, you’ll have no problem focusing in and losing a few hours to an important project here.
With a variety of seating options, you’ll have your pick between a table toward the center of the room (better for meetings because of it’s proximity from power outlets), a high chair at the window bar (great for answering emails), a double booth toward the back (the holy grail of Mars Cafe seating but hard to snag), or (my personal favorite) a single booth along the back wall with a view of all the action.
A coffee shop coworking necessity, Mars Cafe also offers free, password protected wifi that is not only reliable but typically fast enough to keep up with any music streaming, Slack chatting, or code writing you may need to do.
Best For: Best Place to Work All Day
If you’re looking for someplace you can hunker down for a while without being disrupted, Mars Cafe is the best spot in Des Moines. The staff is incredibly friendly and used to students camping out all day so provided you’re patronizing the cafe, consider this your office away from the office for the day.
With lots of comfy seating, plentiful food options, and a great turnover of customers for people watching during work breaks, Mars Cafe is the perfect place to put on your headphones, tune out, and get things done. Plus, for an all-day trip to a cafe, the price is right. Depending on how quickly you drink your coffee (and how many snacks you indulge in throughout the day), you could walk away with a bill that doesn’t negate all of the things you got done.
But what happens if you need a quieter space to hop on a Google Hangout or take an important call with a client? Then Mars Cafe probably isn’t your best option. Instead, take a break from the grind and swing by Gravitate, which conveniently also serves Kickapoo Coffee if your morning buzz is wearing off. While a day pass is a tiny bit more than you’d spend on black coffee and a meal at Mars Cafe, the silence and privacy of one of the coworking space’s meeting rooms is worth it. Better yet? Opt for the day pass punch card and save $5 per day over your next 10 visits.
- Latte: $3.15 (small) / $3.65 (large)
- Black Coffee: $1.50 (with 50 cent refills)
- Chemex: $5.25
- Coffee Quality: 4.5/5
- Work atmosphere: 4/5
- Meeting: 3.5/5
If you’re in the East Village and having a craving for caffeine, you can also swing by Mars Coffee Bar (505 E. Fifth Street), located in the new RAYGUN building. You’ll find the same high caliber coffee here but when it comes to workspace, space in this area is incredibly limited. The small space is shared with Thelma’s—pick up a warm cookie to go with your coffee!—and offers only a few stools along a window bar, which might be fine for answering a few quick emails while you wait for your afternoon jolt but long-term isn’t super practical. Treat this location as a grab-and-go alternative to the original Mars Cafe—perfect for walking meetings with clients or coworkers.
Get to Work
2318 University Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50311
Monday – Friday: 6:30 am – 8:00 pm
Saturday & Sunday: 7:3 0am – 8:00pm
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PHOTO CREDIT: Mars Cafe on Facebook