When Derek Brooks moved from Cedar Rapids to Des Moines in 2003, he asked people one question: What's your favorite hangout?
Then he took the question one step further, compiling answers on a Web site, DesMoinesAlive.com, where locals can rate bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues of central Iowa.
"We had some favorite bars and restaurants, but we wanted more," said Brooks, 24, who started the Web site along with his pub-loving co-worker, Nick Leeper, 27, of West Des Moines. "We wanted to find every possible restaurant we could find."
When he moved to town, Brooks thought there weren't many resources to find cool places to go at night.
Um, what about this illustrious publication?
"With Datebook, you only have one viewpoint - yours," Brooks told me as he drank a Boulevard Wheat at Wellman's.
"I like your stuff," he swore.
Good. Or else I'd write something really mean about you.
In any case, Brooks and Leeper write computer software, so they put together the Web site, where bar-goers can post comments about certain bars. The hot-or-not style Web site, which turns 1 year old on April Fools' Day, now gets more than 2,000 hits a day.
Some comments are funny. Some give great bar tips.
One person wrote this about The Cab in Johnston: "If you don't enjoy smelling like an ashtray and enjoy great people, go there." (Sounds great; I'll put it on my list.)
A dude named "Junk" wrote this about High Life Lounge: "If I ever grow a porn 'stache and start bowling professionally, this is where my entourage will hang." (In a good way, right?)
The Web site is funny, helpful and easy to use. Plus it gives you a chance to strike back about awful service.
Brooks and Leeper have used the Web site to form refined opinions about Des Moines night spots.
Brooks enjoys Aura, the Royal Mile, the Red Monk and Crush. Leeper calls the Lift, the Royal Mile and the Cab his favorite bars. They've learned about several great bistro-style restaurants from user comments: Sage, Bistro Montage, 43.
Asked what bars they hate, both demur.
"Our job isn't to throw mud," Brooks said. "We're mediators."