Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cruisers -- Omaha Wing Challenge

8634 F Street
Omaha NE 68127
402- 614-7445

This one will be a bit different from other HitThatDive wing reviews.  Why's that you ask...that's simple. My wing order (as most people can tell you) never changes.  It's always wings with Buffalo sauce, and if I have my choice between mild, medium or hot...I always go with medium.  I am the ultimate creature of habit.

 And as for reviewing wings, I think it's important to keep things as consistent as possible to accurately "judge" one wing place against another.  Plus, last month I was part of the Omaha World-Herald's "Food Prowl" team trying to find Omaha's best barbecue (good luck with that!) and I learned a few more pointers on how to approach reviewing food...from people who actually know that they're doing!
Time to try something a little different
Don't worry, I haven't gone all food snob or anything, I just learned a few tips on how professional "honest-to-goodness" food critics and chefs go about their business determining what makes one place better than another.  So thanks again Sarah Baker Hansen...that was a fun exercise in eating some pretty bad Omaha barbecue.

For those wondering how this works, wings are rated in 5 categories for a total potential perfect score of 50.  The current reigning champion (by virtue of a committee vote) is The Pheasant with a total score of 48.  And, for shits and giggles (mostly to get the shits) the worst score has been the gag-worthy wings at LaVista Keno which flatlined at a 2. TWO? Yeah...they were that bad.

For the sake of this review, Cruisers Bar and Grill can only be judged in four categories because this is the first time ever I'm writing about non-Buffalo wings. And honestly, that won't hurt them too much, because from previous trips there...Buffalo sauce is not their strong suit.

So, with the longest wing review intro in the history of HitThatDive...I give you...Cruisers Garlic Parmesan wings.

That's actually cheese
First Impressions: They actually look, and smell, pretty good...but the white specks of stuff look ever-so lice-like. Relax, this is called "first impressions" for a reason. It gets way better from here...trust me.

These babies came out smoking hot in about 20 minutes, which is A-OK with me...I ordered them extra crispy just to be safe. They don't really smell all that garlicky...but after realizing that the white specks were in fact parmesan cheese...I was ready to go.

Score: 8


Perfect size
Sauce:  Since this isn't Buffalo sauce, I can't really give it a score to compare to others. At first bite I didn't taste garlic at all, in fact, to me it was more of a Thai peanut sauce....didn't see that one coming. But guess what...it was surprisingly great. Slightly sweet, but with a "I could eat about 100 of these" flavor to them, I was shocked just how good they were.

For what Cruisers lacks in a great Buffalo sauce, they sure make up for it with whatever this stuff might be. Keep in mind, this sauce isn't even on the menu, so make sure to ask for it when you're here.

Score: N/A (But I'm telling you, this was a great sauce)

I should have asked for a plate
Crispy: These bad boys were cooked nearly to perfection. One or two were just a tab bit chewy...but for the most part...they were nice and crispy on the outside and piping hot on the inside. And unlike some wing places where the poor wings that draw "the short straw" and are doomed to end up soggy on the bottom of a basket, the crispiness of the wings here held up for the entire order of 12.  Good stuff!

Score: 9

Size: Uniform size in wings ensures that they're all cooked properly.  If you throw in some giant pieces, along with a few runts, one of two things will happen. A: The giant pieces will be undercooked (See LaVista Keno about that) or B: The runts will be turned into chewy chicken jerky. Neither of which makes for good wings.

Cruisers serves up some pretty meaty-sized wings. But they are all generally the same size which allows the "skateboards" and the "runners" to come out evenly.

Side Note: Can we all agree on what the two sections of the wing are called? Apparently even people in Buffalo, New York can't agree on this topic. This article made for an interesting read and probably confused the situation even more in my mind.

Score: 10 
Great stuff!
Extras: Wasn't sure if these would go with the blue cheese they brought out, but oddly, they did...and the blue cheese was excellent. A few big and fresh celery sticks were along for the ride too, even if these weren't traditional Buffalo wings.  A few more napkins within arm's reach would have been nice...but certainly not much of a deal breaker.

Score: 9

Final Score: 36* out of 50

* Keep in mind that Cruisers didn't even get points in the sauce category, and even with that hindrance, they scored better than a lot of wing places in the area who are far more well-known.  For the record, the sauce easily was an "8" which would have made these clock in at an impressive showing of 44 points. 

The garlic parmesan wings took me by surprise, in a good way, mostly because I  only eat one flavor of wing sauce (note to self...do I need to expand my bar and grill culinary horizons?) and yet I thoroughly enjoyed these. If you're looking for a change of pace from traditional Buffalo wings, you definitely need to give these a shot. Perhaps you'll be just a pleasantly surprised as I was. Who knew?

Now, back to my regular beat...which Buffalo wings should be next on the list to review...let me know!

Scuba Steve





Friday, January 23, 2015

Cruisers Bar and Grill, Omaha -- REVIEW

8634 F Street
Omaha NE 68127
402-614-7445


Let's Cruise
It's actually harder to write about a bar that I've been to a few times than it is to just walk in for the first time and start writing down my immediate knee-jerk reactions.

But, two weeks ago on Facebook, I asked people to nominate (and vote for) their favorite bar for HTD to review next. In that voting, Crossbones Bar was the clear winner, but I'll be damned if the regulars at Cruisers didn't put up one hell of a fight too.

So, two reviews from one vote it is...of course...I came down with some ebola-like flu and didn't get around to writing this one in a timely manner, until today. Well, that and I wasn't really sure what to say about Cruisers because I've never really walked out with much of an impression one way or the other, and then sitting at their bar the other day it hit me...which is now why you need to keep reading.

A trip down Route 66
PROS: Clean. Affordable drinks and food. Great place to sit and hang out. Unremarkable.

CONS: Hard to find at first. Could not grab a seat at the bar on a Friday night. 

First Impressions: Did you check the "Pros" of the bar? How in the world can using the word "unremarkable" to describe a bar be a good thing? I mean, come on, the definition of the word according to Collins Dictionary is "not worthy of note or attention."

Like I said, I've been here a few times before so I know basically what to expect. But if you're heading here for your first time, you'll immediately notice that this bar is a bit tucked away off of 84th Street in an unremarkable strip mall.

Not impossible to find at all, but not the kind of place you just stumble into if you're not looking for it.  I first learned about Cruisers more than a year ago from Brock at The Village Bar who said this was the place he would "escape" to when he wanted to get away from his bar and just hang out.

The only other thing I really knew about this place was from a picture sent to HTD from a bunch of IBEW Local 22 members that hang out here. And I figure, if a bunch of union guys make this their place to throw back a few beers, that's usually a good sign too.

Clean clean clean 
The Bar: Living up to its name, the first thing you'll notice when you grab a seat at the bar, or one of the many tables and booths in the room, are the car murals on almost every wall.  Show up after dark, and they light those babies up with old school black lights...like being in Spenser Gifts in the mall when I was a kid.

Five beers on tap including Stella Artois, and a decent collection of bottled beer that will keep most of the beer snobs somewhat happy. Is it the most extensive collection of beer in town? Not even close, but a few different IPA's, Bass and even New Castle Brown Ale should be good enough to keep most people that frequent a "bar and grill" pleasantly buzzed.

Cleaning stuff
The Crowd: Sitting there on a Friday night there were a pretty wide array of people from union guys to business people.  There didn't really seem to be a specific age to the crowd either...it ranged from couples in their early 20's to empty nesters in their 60's (pounding drinks like they were in their 20's) but all-in-all a pretty laid back, unremarkable, crowd.

I couldn't score a seat at the bar, but in the hour I was there, the only thing occupying the bar stools were the drinks of the people outside grabbing a smoke. And, from the length of time they were away from the bar...they must smoke 'em about 10 at a time in this place!

Service: Sat at a table on a Friday night, and at the bar on a Thursday afternoon, and had great service in both spots.  Much like the bar itself, everything in Cruisers (including the service) always seems to be clean, efficient and unremarkable...and I still don't mean that in a negative way.  More on that in a bit.

Water?
Prices: They have daily drink special that include (depending on the day) $7 domestic pitchers, $1.75 Busch Light, PBR or Hamm's cans and $4.00 Captain Morgan drinks all day on Saturday and Sunday.  Make it a point to check their daily food and drink specials right here before you go, they really do have something going on every day of the week.

Food:  This is a bar and GRILL and Cruisers has just about all the bar food you can imaging including nachos, burgers, salads, a bunch of things that they fry...and wings.  How are the wings you ask? Well, once that is written later today, the review of their garlic-parmesan will go here when its finished later today. Were they too "unremarkable"? We will see...

Good wings!
Entertainment: Your usual collection of stuff like darts, Keno, and a few TVs (One of which always seems to be on a car-themed channel). Other things of note include a gumball machine by the front door and a good old Ms. PacMan table top game.

From what I can tell, the real entertainment here is in the parking lot out front once the weather gets nice enough for their weekly car show on Saturdays from 12:00-6:00pm...and comes complete with an outdoor beergarden.  I've never been here for one of those...but will be stopping by for sure once we get rid of winter.

Bartender Chat: Oh, you know, not a whole lot other than just your basic stuff. But, the last two times here I've had the chance to talk to the bar's owner "Homer" who seems to be a genuinely nice dude who is proud of the bar he's created.  From what I can tell, Homer is the kind of guy that likes to hang out at a bar, have a few drinks and talk to friends...nothing more...nothing less. And guess what? That's exactly the kind of bar this is.  What a coincidence.

Even smells good
Restrooms:  Much like the rest of the bar, the men's room was pretty much spotless.  The only real thing to note was the intense fresh smell of the air freshener hanging on the back wall from my friends at AmeriPride. It's so effective in fact, you can smell it will before you even get to the restroom area. Powerful stuff!

How Far Did My $20 Go?: Actually, it wasn't my money on Thursday afternoon, it was Brock's from The Village Bar as he joined me for lunch.  So, just how far did $18.63 go?  Two tacos, 12 wings, and three beers...that's a pretty good deal...with change leftover.

Final Thoughts: Not everything you encounter should be IN YOUR FACE or larger than life. In fact, a lot of people want quite the opposite when they spend some time in a bar. They want a place to hideaway and just hangout. A place where they can be guaranteed not to encounter the regular bullshit of a five (or six) day work week.  A place where you can still get good food and a few beers at a price that won't break the bank.  Ultimately, the regulars here want to spend some time in a spot that does everything well, but aspires to do it unremarkably for their benefit.

If a bar that aspires to be the equivalent of a Las Vegas sideshow is what you're looking for, don't look here. If you're part of the Ritalin generation, this isn't going to stimulate you nearly enough either.  Like I said at the beginning, I had always walked out of Cruisers with no real impression of the bar one way or the other...but never with a bad impression.

It wasn't until last week that I began to see the simplistic appeal of this place, and why there were so many devoted regulars who voted repeatedly to get HTD in here to write about it. Cruisers is remarkably, unremarkable...and in this instance...it makes for an enjoyable experience. HIT THIS DIVE!
Homer!

DIVE-O-METER
7.5

Monday, January 12, 2015

Crossbones Bar, Omaha -- REVIEW

5611 South 36th Street
Omaha NE 68107
402-905-3651

The bar on the corner of 36th and V in South Omaha holds a special distinction in the HitThatDive folklore.  Formerly the Brass Monkey Sports Bar (and then just the Brass Monkey) this place, more than any other bar in Omaha, was instrumental in helping HTD start to have just a hint of street "cred" several years ago.

In fairness to Michael Ivers, the proud new owner of what is now Crossbones Bar, this is not the time, nor the place to sit and reminisce about days gone by at a bar that no longer exists.

This is about my first trip to South O's newest bar...which was made possible by the 100s of Crossbones fans that were relentless in their support during last weekend's Facebook vote about what bar should be reviewed next. A job well done!

PROS: Amazing selection of domestic and craft beer. $5 Sunday Bloody Mary can't be beat! CLEAN. Affordable mixed drinks.
CONS: Where's my Coors Original on tap? (That's being nit-picky)


Spotless
First Impressions: This was a bit awkward, if only for a second, as I walked up to a bar I've been in 100's of times but this time with a new name over the door. It was almost like going back to your childhood home for the first time after your parents had sold it.  Who hangs out in here now? "Anyone?" I wondered. What if it sucks?

After, oh I don't know, about half a foot inside the pretty crowded (for a Sunday at 1:00 PM) bar, two things struck me...and neither was a fist. One: well shit, I still DO know a lot of people in here, and, even though there hasn't been a total makeover or anything, this place just seems to have a new positive vibe back in it.   Of note...everything seems to be more orderly than just about any bar in town. The attention to detail is evident immediately. More on that in a bit.

Not bad for early on a Sunday
The Bar: Craft beer drinker or not, the first thing that you'll notice is wide (and varied) selection of beer from the nearly 35 working tap handles.  Because a lot of that wouldn't necessarily jump out at me, I enlisted the help of Omaha hockey coach James H. to help me out with his impressions too...and this was immediately the first thing he mentioned.

But, take a minute or two to check out the coolers, look at the well behind the bar, get a look at the perfectly lined up glasses behind the on the back bar...the attention to detail is evident in every direction that you look.   For crying out loud, even the little cheese sandwiches on my Bloody Mary had mustard on them! Even though I just met Ivers for just the second time ever when I sat down at his bar, it's clear that his vision is to give you the ultimate bar experience no matter when you take a seat in his place.

That's how you keep a bar neat
The Crowd:  I actually followed up with Ivers today to get his impressions of being a "Benson" guy running a South Omaha bar...and was amazed that his response was  basically the same as mine was about the crowd here the first time I walked in here...and that's just how diverse it is on any given day. This location has always been a great melting pot in the community, and it was nice to hear firsthand that's still the case.

Side note: More than anything I really hate labels when it comes to a bar, for the sake of putting my question into context as I asked it, I wrote the original words "Benson guy" and "South Omaha" bar. Regardless of where a bar exists, or who's running the place, a good bar is a good bar. It's that simple. Also notable...The Mayor of 36th Street "John John" was in sitting in his usual spot at the bar.  All seemed right with the world.

Funky
Service: Show up on a Sunday, and have Alex make you one of Mike Kratky's diabolically good Bloody Marys.  But, don't just come here on a Sunday for a Bloody Mary.   The combination of Ivers And Kratky are two of Omaha's best when it comes to creating classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned or or a Mai Tai...or something newer like South O Tea (vodka, rum, gin triple sec, and blackberry brandy). Or, go the more traditional route and get an old school Crossbones boilermaker with Busch Light and a shot of Kessler for $4.

Yeah, I know that was more about drinks than service. But Alex even knew which beer I would ask for after my Bloody Mary, so I don't have to yack too much about his service...it's always great!

Five Buck Lunch
Prices: Drinks and classic cocktails will run you between $4-6.  A South "O" Special (a tallboy of Polish beer and a shot of blackberry brandy) will set you back $5. They have "buy a shot, get a second for a dollar" specials. And happy hour which is 3-7 everyday gets you $1.50 Busch Light draws, $3 craft beer, $3 well...and a discount on just about everything else.  For those that worried that prices may have changed from before...no need to worry about that anymore.

Food:  Did you see that Bloody Mary??  This isn't a bar with a kitchen, so don't come here hungry too often.  Of course you call always run up the street to Ray's Wings in the Lemon Drop for something when the kitchen's open.  But do make it a point to check out the bar's Facebook page for free food specials that they do occasionally on weekends and during some sporting events.

AC/DC pinball!
Entertainment: With TV's basically surrounding the entire room, this is still one of the best bars to watch sports at in the area. Add to that two pinballs machines, dart board, one of Omaha's largest outdoor weather-protected smoking areas and there's plenty to do here.  Not only that, after only a few months in business, Crossbones already has made a name for itself by brining in some of the best lineups of local musicians anywhere in the area...and never a cover charge.

Or, stop by on a Friday night with HitThatDive's master of entertainment THE G-MAN for his own brand of DJ and Karaoke mayhem.

Bartender Chat: Before I was even able to finish my Bloody Mary, bartender Alex let me know that they currently didn't have Coors Original on tap. Being the ever resilient barkeep, he immediately went to the cooler and grabbed me a Coors bottle.  Hey Crossbones...let's work on that OK! (Kidding)

Restrooms: Clean, not too cramped and a bit chilly in the dead of winter.  Only a two seater of a room, if you prefer privacy...make sure to lock the door.

Chilly in the winter
How Far Did My $20 Go?: A brunch of Bloody Mary, four domestic bottles and a Stella on tap...and I still came in under budget.  Of course that was between two of us since I was picking up the tab for Coach H for taking the ride down here with me.

Final Impressions: Crossbones is an immaculate bar, run by real bar people, trying to make everyday bar customers feel at ease with just a slightly upscale feel....for a "dive".  And keep in mind, they're pulling it all off while still keeping prices affordable for anyone in the area...whether they live in South O or elsewhere.

Over the years, I've become fond of pointing out how a lot of bars "aren't for everyone" because, for one reason or another...that's usually true. Which is why saying "this bar IS for everyone" is odd for me...but very true.

Want cheap Busch Light? Check. HUGE selection of rotating craft beer on tap? Check. Hand crafted cocktails? Just ask for the menu. Shot and a beer? Of course. Add to that a live music ranging from local cover bands, to the Prairie Gators, or some kick ass rockabilly...and you literally have a bar that will appeal to just about anyone you know regardless of ZIP Code.

DIVE-O-METER
8.5

Hit This Dive!



Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bud Olson's Bar, Omaha -- REVIEW

3207 Leavenworth Street

Omaha NE 68105
402-342-9116

Oh, where to start with this one. Let's start with the ending first...Hit This Dive! Now, let's backtrack shall we?  Not too long after I first started writing this rinky-dink blog, the grand total of five HTD readers decided to meet up one Saturday afternoon at Bud's for a bar crawl down Leavenworth Street. 

Those who have been around HitThatDive for a while will remember that was the first Spring Stumble.  So already that means this place holds a spot near and dear to the history of HTD.  Which is why the following string of events on Facebook caught me a little off guard.  

After mentioning that there would be a review of Bud Olson's, I received nothing but positive feedback from everyone except for these two messages from the same person.  Comment one: "Oh and on ST. PATTY's day if you talk ish on the bar dont let me see ya there". Which was then punctuated by a follow up post that simply stated "Stay the hell out west". 

April 2011. The first "Spring Stumble"
Well, now...that's kind of a buzz-kill for a place that I actually like, but had yet to review. Undaunted, I decided to move on writing about Bud's and hope for the best, or at the very least, I guess I'll stay clear of here on St. Patrick's Day just to stay safe. 

Of note...when confronted with a dangerous situation in a bar, just like Grady from Sanford and Son, I practice the oldest form of self defense...runnin'!


PROS: Cheap prices. Like, super cheap. It's a dive bar...and happy to be one. Opens at 6:00 am

CONS: Regulars are a bit put off by strangers. 

First Impressions:  If you ever wondered what Bud's looks like on the inside, it pretty much matches the outside that you've see driving past it on Leavenworth.  Simply put, it's nothing fancy. And, if you're not really into dive bars, just keep driving. If you decide to walk in the front door, you'll immediately be greeted by an old barber chair, and an almost library-like reading area. The promise of cheap beer, and a little light reading...so far so good.   

The other thing you'll  notice is that Bud's seems to go on for a quarter of a mile to reach the back of the building.  For what it lacks in width, it more than makes up for it in depth. That's what she said.


Looks like a dive
The Bar: I took a seat toward the end of the bar on a barstool so lopsided that I might have had an easier time riding a bull when I was drunk. Yet, it didn't bother me in the least. In fact, when I'm in a bar like Bud's, I think that I'd be disappointed if the stool wasn't a bit wobbly.

The bar itself might be on the of the longest in Omaha, as best as I could tell, it was roughly the length of two full sized shuffleboard tables.  

Do yourself a favor, and take the time to walk to the pool area in Bud's and checkout a few notable things including two seats from the original Busch Stadium, a handwritten sign about what makes this place a legitimate dive bar, and the general collection of vintage things (including telephones) all over the walls.  

Do I usually talk about beer selection in this part?  I haven't written one of these in so long I forget my own format.  Beer. Yes, they have some including Busch, Busch Light, Sam Adams and PBR on tap.  Of note, this might be the oldest bar I've ever been in that has a giant skylight right above the bar stools. Now, it doesn't really seem to emit any real sunlight...but it's there nonetheless.

Who needs a trim?
The Crowd: I got there around 10:00 am on a Friday and there were already at least 10 (or so) people in the bar, all dudes.  I tried striking up a conversation with a few people to my left and was, literally, given the cold shoulder.  One guy that sat down to my right helped play along guessing the prices on The Price is Right with me.  Ultimately, we ended up placing bets on "The Rat Race Game", not one that I've ever seen in the Price is Right before. Oh, and Drew Carey sucks as the host. 

In a way, Bud's is like a diner without food at the point of the day. There were as many people coming in and ordering coffee, while reading the paper, as there were denigrates like me drinking beer at 10 in the morning.  Of note, I did write down at 10:59, this was a bar of people pretty much doing their own thing with no drama. And, that everyone seemed pretty jovial...even if they didn't chat much with the stranger sucking down Busch Light draws.

The cold shoulder!
Service: I never did get his name, but I'm pretty sure it was Tom Olson working behind the bar the morning I was there. If there's a reason to hang out here for a bit, other than dirt cheap prices, it's Tom's welcoming personality.  Now, we didn't really talk about all that much, he was busy talking with a few people that I assume are in there on a daily basis.

And even though the regulars don't really make you feel all that welcome, Tom gave off a vibe that it was more than cool with him if I just hung out there all day. Not once did my glass get close to empty, so thanks Tom, that was first class service you were handing out, even to the new guy.

Prices:  I was paying $1.25 for 10 ounce draw.  Some of the other prices that I saw for domestic beer was $1.60 pints, $3.25 mini-pitchers and $5.50 for "large" pitchers.  I didn't get the prices of anything else. Normally, by this point I would have struck up a conversation with someone to pry a little bit about the overall prices of drinks.  Clearly that wasn't going to happen on this day, so from best I can tell, be ready for your drinking money to last you a lot longer than usual when you're here.

Vintage 
Food:  Some of the best fra gras I have ever had! That's a lie for two reasons...one I don't know what "fra gras" is, I just saw it on the news.  And two...they don't have food here. But someone must have quite the sweet tooth because I counted more than 12 different kinds of chocolate bars right next to the collection of hot cashews and "fancy" nuts (giggle).

Entertainment: Well, if betting on Price is Right with a stranger isn't stimulating enough for you...there's a jukebox, pool table, gumball machine and a pay phone that has a three minute limit on it.  Plan your booty calls accordingly, gents.

There's a door back here too
Restrooms:  I can only comment on what I saw...and they weren't all that bad. Seriously.  Now, decades of bad aim around the floor of the urinal has begun to show a bit, but for the record, I have been in WAY worse men's rooms that this one at bars that are much newer.  Met can't aim, wood gets stained. Not much else to say on this one.

Bartender Chat:  Talk about hearing one of the most unexpected conversations I ever expected to eavesdrop on while I was in Bud Olson's, Tom was giving a pretty detailed description of the, and I quote, "Vegan mushroom gravy" he had just made, or was making for someone. Show of hands...who would have guessed they talk about vegan food in Bud Olson's...I'll wait.

Honestly, I've seen WAY worse
How Far Did My $20 Go?: Well, I only had time for four beers, so I was out a whopping $5.25. I may have stayed longer to see if I could strike up a conversation with someone, but had to move on down the road to eat some pretty bad BBQ in Council Bluffs.  Next time I'm here, I just might tie a pork chop around my neck to see if I at least can strike up a conversation with a stray dog that might happen by.

Even that dude abandoned me
Final Impressions:  The techie nerds will get this reference "WYSIWYG". Basically, what you see, is what you get. Bud Olson's has been around a long time serving regulars that want to come in, hang out, and talk among  themselves. Nothing to fault there. That's the beauty of the difference between bars...no two are ever the same.  In fairness to anyone affiliated with Bud's, anytime anyone directly associated with the bar has written anything to me it has always been genuine and sincere...which is why I'll continue to stop in here once in a while. Well, when I'm not staying "the hell out West".

If you enjoy real, old-school dive bars, by all means stop by here and hang out for an afternoon. If you just want to go somewhere to say you've been in a dive bar before you hightail it back to a place like The Parliament Pub, good luck with that.

I'm going to refrain from giving Bud's an actual score number, I'll leave that up to you...the readers of HitThatDive...to do that for me in the comments section below.  As I said at the beginning of this, and now at the end, Hit This Dive.  But do it just every so cautiously around the regulars. 

Dive-O-Meter
(You Make The Call)


Bud Olson's Bar


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

HitThatDive's 2014 Bar Of The Year

This was a strange year, even by HitThatDive standards.  I cranked out the lowest number of new actual bar posts since the first HTD "review" went live four years ago.  And yet, interest in all of this has never been at a higher point, in fact, as we roll into 2015...HitThatDive seems to have more momentum than at any time in its "illustrious" history (rimshot goes here).

What a year
First, a few notes about next year's HTD Bar of the Year award.
  • HitThatDive will recruit a "blue ribbon" panel of somewhat buzzed judges to name the 2015 winner.
  • Starting in 2015, no bar can win the award twice in row
  • HTD will average four bar posts a month this year. so this time around there will far more competition for the "coveted" award. 
Now, with the rules of how this all works in 2015 written down...let's get to this year's winner. Wait, first, let's take a look at some of the blog posts that really stood out on HitThatDive this year:
Here's to 2015
They all are very worthy winners. But since, as the "rules" are stated now, the voting is based on a committee of one. And that's me. And, for the record, there are no rules...and no sponsors I need to keep happy (feel free to help me change that last one)...so I can basically pick any bar I want.

Since this is the last vote based solely on my opinion (and emotions) the choice was a simple one.

Please put your hands together for HitThatDive's FIRST (and last) back-to-back winner for "Bar of the Year" The Village Bar in Ralston.

It rained. But at least we tried.
The ironic part of my relationship with The Village Bar is pretty funny for several reasons.  First, in my entire life, I've never been a "regular" in any bar. Well, except for a few years when I was sort of a regular at Pizzeria Uno in a mall in Northern Virginia...but that's a long story.

I'm still not what you'd call an everyday regular here either, but I do feel as if I'm part of The Village Bar "family".  And in fairness to countless bars in Omaha, I'm lucky enough to feel like a regular in many great places all over town.  So, thank you all.
All in the name of helping the community
But, I mean...come on. In what other bar in town, that holds only holds about 50 people, can you throw street parties, provide a venue for my brother's Rod Stewart tribute act, raise thousands of dollars just before Christmas to buy groceries for families all over Omaha AND hear the immortal words, "Hey Steve, what happens if someone starts bleeding in the bobbing for shots?"  I didn't say everything we did here this year worked.  But it sure was fun trying!

Being a great neighborhood bar goes far past slinging cheap drinks, but that's always a plus. It's about creating a sense of community, while on occasion, trying to positively impact the community around you. And it's about having a few (or more than a few) beers with friends.  It's always about that.

The Village Bar, owner Brock Hatterman, The Village Bar staff, and every single person that calls this place their "home" bar have now set the standard that all other HitThatDive "Bar of the Year" winners will be judged against.


St. Patrick's Day 2014
This time last year the Omaha World-Herald wrote:
Along with the good times, The Village has also held itself out as a community staple in other ways. In December, Gates and Hatterman teamed up to raise more than $3,000 in gift cards, presents and urgently needed household items for struggling local families. The pair then delivered the gifts to the families. 
“We're probably the two most unlikely fundraisers you'd ever see,” Gates said. “But what you've got at the bar are a group of people who want to see their community get better and they're willing to help out.” Complete strangers a year ago, the two struck up a rapport when Gates needed a place to launch HitThatDive’s annual Spring Stumble bar tour. 
With locally owned neighborhood bars dying off faster than most of us can keep track of lately, cultivating and ultimately celebrating the distinct role that the local dive plays in the lives of so many people may be the best ways to keep them in business.  Well, at least it better be...I do NOT want to go back to the days of being a "regular" in a mall bar!

The great Village Bar staff
In 2015, I'm back on the prowl like never before, looking for the area's best example of what I perceive a dive bar should be. Every bar in town is eligible to win this year, whether you've been reviewed by HitThatDive before or not. Well, except for The Village, but I think I already made that clear.

So send in your bar stories. Stay active on HitThatDive's Facebook page and Twitter account. Send pictures, emails. cards, letters, postcards...oh hell...just keep me updated about what your favorite bar is up to.  The more I know about the great things that are going on at your local dive, the more I can tell others about it.  And the more stories we can share as a bar community, the more likely we are to have our favorite places stay in business.

And to the back-to-back HitThatDive Bar of the Year winner...The Village Bar...congratulations for a job well done yet again.  So, now the question is...who's going to win this baby next year?  We have 12 months to figure that out...so let's get going!

Happy 2105 from HitThatDive!

Scuba Steve

Hit That Dive!








Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nick's, Pottersville, New York -- REVIEW

Let's get hammered!
Main Street
Pottersville, New York

Much like a moldy old fruitcake, or that sweater vest from your long lost relative, it's time for the annual retelling of my long strange trip to Pottersville, New York a few years ago on Christmas Eve.  

My travels take me to some pretty out-of-the-way places, so it's not unusual that I find myself spending a night in a small town like Pottersville. I couldn't find the place on Google maps, so I had no idea what to expect when I got there. But, what to my wandering eyes did appear (once I got there), nothing short of one kick-ass party town! Pottersville is nothing but night clubs, bars, liquor stores and pool halls…did I just die and go to heaven? It was a snowy night, so I ducked into the first crowded bar I saw, a place called Nick's.

PROS: Cheap. Hot Dames.  Hard-Drinking Regulars.

CONS: Goon Bouncers.  A Few Odd Balls Showed Up.

First Impressions: Holy crap…considering it's Christmas Eve…this place is ROCKING and loud. It was hard to find a place to belly up at the bar, but I found a seat at the end and was amazed at how many people were throwing back shots of bourbon, drinking gin and generally getting hammered. My kind of place for sure! And, oddly enough, most of the people are wearing hats (not baseball caps) but honest-to-goodness hats. As usual, I am under dressed.

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em
The Bar: Small and bare bones. The bar, I'm guessing, seats about 12 people…but not all that comfortably. There are a handful of tables, and they too are all filled. The walls have pictures of boxers and race horses, and a look behind the bar didn't seem to reveal a ton of choices. No beer on tap, but they did have enough bourbon and gin to drown W.C. Fields, as well as several bottles of Italian wine (aka Dago Red) which seemed a bit out of place. Maybe a holdover from the previous owner?

A few hot dames
The Crowd: A hard-drinking mix of men and women all dressed up in suits and skirts…it is Christmas Eve I guess…definitely NOT a Harley T-shirt place. Most people seemed nice enough and all seemed like they knew one another…the typical regulars kind of crowd. A few odd balls showed up at one point and quickly had their asses thrown out the door…And STAY out! HA!! Who goes to a dive bar and orders a flaming rum punch? What the hell is that anyway? Some old panhandler also showed up and got his ass kicked out too. I overheard someone say that he spent time in jail for killing a kid. Why the hell isn't he still in jail!

Service: Nick is my kind of bartender, not the most friendly guy in the world, but is ready to pour you another shot the second you thrown one back. I had no problems with the guy the entire time I was in there, but I would not want to get on his bad side, at all. As "don't f### with me" as he seemed, I could not help but to think that if his life had taken a different path, that he might actually be a nice and upstanding citizen. On the other hand, who cares, I'm here to drink. Nick, another bourbon!

He takes no shit
Prices: There were no signs for specials on the walls, and I did not want to piss off Nick by asking for about happy hour prices. Nick's will let you drink on a tab, but they do not take credit cards. I'm guessing they charge you roughly .60 cents for a pint and .80 cents for a shot. Again, I was not about to ask, and much like everyone else in the place I was there to get drunk…so I didn't care.

Food: No menus anywhere that I could see. I am under the impression that this is NOT the place to go if you are hungry. But, having been in a place like this once or twice, I am sure you can find some pickled eggs behind the bar if you look hard enough. Not that I would actually eat one, but it's nice to know there is some type of protein in case the rotgut booze starts to have a really bad effect on me and make me think I was talking to an angel.

Way better than an Internet jukebox
Entertainment: Not a place to come to watch a football game. Why? They don't have any TVs…not even a radio. But, they did have a dude at the piano playing some down-and dirty jazz. That's a new one to me in a dive (other than New Orleans or Memphis) but who cares…this dude can play! I didn't see a jukebox either, so I'm not sure what you do for fun at Nick's when the "piano man" takes a break. My guess is you just order another shot and hope his goon bouncers throw-out some other poor slob for the amusement of others. I have to say, when it's not me being the one thrown out, it's pretty entertaining to watch. 

Restrooms: I can only assume the worst, but I was not about to abandon my barstool just to have someone steal it. My best advice in a place like this is to drink until you're hammered (and can't hold it anymore), pay your tab, walk quickly out the door, and pee in the alley behind the building. If nothing else, I'm sure it is a way more sanitary approach.

Cash Only
Bartender Chat: This is NOT a place to make small talk with the staff. Let me put it this way, I overheard Nick telling one of the two "pixies" not too long before he had them thrown out the door, "Hey, look mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast. And we don't need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere. Is that clear? Or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?" Hell yes! My motto too…drink up or hit the road! Nick rules!!

How Far Did My $20 Go: At roughly .80 cents a shot, 20 bucks can get you HAMMERED. I'm sure I didn't drink nearly my twenty bucks worth, but threw it on the bar anyway on my way out the door. God knows I didn't want one of the goons at Nick's bar to "show me the door" for being a cheap tipper.

Final Impressions: I dig this place. They don't take shit from the customers, are intent on getting their customers wasted, and apparently "hand out wings" by ringing the cash register over and over again when they feel like it. I'd come back here in a heartbeat. There is a feeling in the place that it could be much more friendly under different circumstances, but as cheap as the drinks are, how can you not love coming here on Christmas Eve to tie one on with a bunch of people dressed up for church. This is a one of a kind dive!

Dive-O-Meter
8


HIT THIS DIVE!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Worst Wings in Omaha -- LaVista Keno

7101 South 84th Street
LaVista, Nebraska 
402-339-1606

OK...before I get started, let me answer a few questions and comments I know I'm going to get later today via Facebook and Twitter.

Q: "What kind of wings to you expect you'd get at LaVista Keno in the first place??" 

A: Well, in their defense the dude eating a Patty Melt to my left, and a few French Dips with fries that came from the kitchen, actually did look and smell pretty good. So it's not like all of their food looked like a horror show.
Who's hungry? Not me...now.

Q: "How did you end up there?

A: Longtime "Twitter friend" and huge Kansas City Chiefs fan Ryan Larsen was here watching the Steelers/Chiefs game...so I decided to stop by.  Actually, this is a great place to watch football and has some of the cheapest drink prices in town.  $5 for pitcher?  Hell yes!

Let me add a few additional points.  I've been told by a bunch of people that the wings at Big Red Keno on Cass are supposed to be excellent....including from a chef that I know.  So I figure that wings at this Keno joint might be passable.

Second, clearly stated on the menu (as denoted by a Martini glass) the wings are one of their "Signature Items"...which is now more like the "Chef Recommends" scene from Seinfeld when George orders clams casino from a diner.

Anyone missing a toe? 
Third, I think I remembered that someone once told me the wings here were good as well. Finally, I was hungry and it was lunch time.

For those wondering how this works, wings are rated in 5 categories for a total potential perfect score of 50.  The current reigning champion (by virtue of a committee vote) is The Pheasant with a total score of 48.  And, for shits and giggles (mostly to get the shits) the worst score has been the gallbladder-seizing wings at the old Buffalo Company which clocked in at a pathetic 16.

Enough of that...grab a bucket and let's get down to the grim results.

First Impression: For the first split second I actually thought they didn't look awful.  In fact, they almost reminded me of the delivery wings I would order in college on Sunday nights.  At a second, and longer glance, they didn't appear to have any steam coming from them...had no spicy smell (actually they oddly emitted on real odor at all) and were covered in what appeared to be rotted ketchup.

A wise person would have immediately sent them straight to the garbage and demanded a refund.  I on the other hand, am not all that wise, and dove my hand into what appeared to be the aftermath of a mob hit and grabbed the first wing...

Total: 1


As seen on CSI

Sauce:  I'm using the word "sauce" here very loosely.   A deep red gelatinous goo seemed to coat most of the wings but seemed to have been mostly attracted to the few unfortunate pieces on the right of my basket.  The real hero of the afternoon was the waxpaper lining in said basket...it somehow managed to not allow any of the primeval ooze to leak onto the bar. Amazing!

Oddly enough, for their "medium" sauce, it had absolutely no taste whatsoever.  It's like the only intent of the sauce was to frighten away any normal being from eating the wings it was trying to protect. From here on out, any references to the "sauce" will only be know as "The Blob".

Give me your wings LaVista Keno!
Total: 0

Crispy: What's the complete opposite of the word crispy? Spongy comes to mind. But that's not right either. How do I put this, these wings were so slimly and mushy that they would have been perfect for an elderly gentleman who recently misplaced his false teeth to safely "gum on" while new dentures were being made.  Add to the fact that several of the wings were undercooked, to the point I had to spit a cold piece of chicken into my napkin with the bartender looking right at me, and I'm not sure these things ever sniffed anything resembling a fryer.

Total: 0


The Blob was angry my friends

Size: Not bad size, BUT, undercooked slimy wings...combined with The Blob...made them nearly impossible to pick up with out squirting from my fingers like picking up a bar of soap with a wet hand.  If you do indeed dare to eat wings here, bring a ShamWow to attempt to get a better grip on these slimy little bastards. Several were unfortunately shaped, which once again when combined with The Blob, appeared to be severed big toes.  Smaller wings might at least have a chance to be cooked thoroughly...but then again...maybe not.

Total: 1

Extras:  To add insult to injury, they charge you an additional $.65 for blue cheese and of course didn't include celery.  Just out curiosity, how much additional do I need to pay for these things to fried? I'd be willing to throw in a extra buck at this point.  Mine actually came out with Ranch and blue cheese...the blue cheese had chunks of something in it...but very little in the way of taste.  The Ranch was, by far, the highlight of the day.  And I never eat Ranch on wings.

Total: 0


Wings or a medical procedure? 


Final Score: 2 out of 50 (GRAB THE PEPTO-BISMOL!)

Well, there you have it.  The previous low score was a 16 from a place that is now under new ownership.  The worst part is, I've had wings WORSE than this once in Omaha...but that place is long been out of business.

Quite frankly, you'd have to intentionally try to make something this bad. Worse yet, it took them nearly 20 minutes to get them to me after I ordered.  I assume 18 of those minutes were fishing around the dumpster out back to find ones left over from the night before.   The only positive things to come from eating these wings is that they didn't have much of a taste...so I didn't belch up too much for the rest of the afternoon...AND...(fingers crossed) I didnt develop a raging case of food poisoning.  So, I have that going for me...which is nice.