Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Omaha-Area Bars

Seems like every lazy writer on the Internet these days is posting a list of some sort.  And, since I am a lazy writer, I figured why not jump all over that trend...eventually.  But what?  Well, I do write about bars (duh) but I don't want to walk down the slippery slope of ranking the Omaha-area's "best" bars....because God knows anytime I try and do something like that everyone gets mad at me.

So I figured, what if I come up with a list of quirky little things that the regulars in that bar already know, but the average person would have no idea about.  To me, other than the people in the bar, it's the quirky little things about the place that really give it character. So here, in no specific order, are some things about Omaha-area bars that I'm sure you probably never knew...

Knock Three Times

Never been to The Elbow Room before?  This classic American dive bar has great drink specials everyday of the week, great regulars, and is a place I love to frequent...there's just one catch. The front door doesn't open from the outside. So, the only way into the bar is through the door in the back that looks like it should say "Employees Only" on it.  Park your car in the tricky parking lot and hightail it in through the door in the back of the building.  Don't be afraid, just pull the door open (if it's daylight let your eyes adjust to the darkness) and walk right on in. Bar's to the right...belly up and ask for today's specials.

Not knowing this little "insider's tip", I almost never walked in here the first time four years ago. Thankfully I didn't, because "The Bow" might actually be the exact image of a dive bar, if I had to explain what a dive bar looks like in my mind to a police sketch artist.

Don't Use That Door
Ready For My Close Up

Less than an hour from Omaha is the town of Hooper, home to some of the most active HitThatDive followers on Twitter, and also home to the Sodbuster Saloon.  Now, I'm actually not a huge fan of the Sodbuster, but Academy Award-winner (and Nebraska native) Alexander Payne sure was for the movie "Nebraska".  All of the interior bar shots in the movie were filmed right inside of the good old Sodbuster.

But why that place?  Dennis Washington, production designer for “Nebraska,” said the Sodbuster was appealing for a variety of reasons. “It’s one of the best-looking bars I’ve seen,” Washington said. “It’s the tone of the walls with the dressing, as we call it, on them, and just the configuration of it.”  Not sure I agree, but he makes movies, and I sit in Starbucks and write a maybe he's right.

Academy Award Nominee? 
Have a Seat...Just Not There!

One of the best neighborhood bars is Omaha is Andy's Place.  It's one of the first places I mention when people ask me "What's your favorite bars in Omaha?" But, as I found out earlier this year, Andy's has its own "secret society". Know as "The Table of Knowledge", it has a very Freemason-mystique history. In fact, I tried to get one of its members to talk about it on camera and got a stern lecture from one of its more senior members for even asking about its origins in the first place. I've never sat there again.

But don't let that scare you off.  There is no better place in town to just sit, have a few beers with some of the best people I know, and watch the world go by. Just avoid the only long table toward the north side of the bar that is situated east to west. Capiche?

Did You Choose Your Seat Wisely?

Hit a Dive During the CWS

There's something about the whole tent scene at the College World Series that I just don't like.  Well, I'm not a fan of the price of beer in the vagabond-looking tent areas for sure, but it all just lacks a certain atmosphere that a real dive bar gives you.  But don't fret, in the shadow of TD Ameritrade Park is the not-so-well-known Happy Bar.  Well, Omaha's only gumshoe reporter Matthew Hansen knows about this one, but it seems to fly under the radar for the two weeks of beer drinking mayhem that is the CWS.

Next June, stop by Happy Bar and throw back a few with some real bar people as a way to avoid the over-priced frat party chug-fest that is the refuge-like tent city.  Not that there's anything wrong with it.

Better Than a CWS Tent Party

It's Never Too Early for Happy Hour

It's 6:00 AM on a Tuesday morning and you're dying for a drink...where do you go?  Well, around here, stop by The Poop Deck or the Neighber's Bar (that's how they spell it) and catch yourself an early morning buzz.  Now, before someone gets too judgmental about a person wanting to have a few drinks that early in the morning, keep in mind that a lot of the customers just got off work from the late shift at one of Omaha's fine medical facilities, and that 6:00 AM for them is most people's version of 5:00 PM...aka same as YOUR after work happy hour.

Of note, The Poop Deck opens at 6 Monday-Saturday and opens at 9 on Sundays.  But the Neighber's on the other hand is open at 6 everyday of the week!

Editor's Note: Thanks to the keen eye of local bar legend, Eric Franz, I left off another 6:00 AM bar... and that's the dive-o-rific Bud Olsen's Bar. Bud's opens at 6:00AM Monday-Friday. 8:00AM on Saturday and 12:00 PM on Sunday. Thanks for that catch Eric!

Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start at 6:00 AM

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost 

Omaha's Old Market is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city (hence the word "Old" in the title), so it stands to reason, it's also home to some of the most haunted bars around.  But, the bar most highly regarded as "Omaha's Most Haunted Bar" is O'Connors Irish Pub.  Again the starting point for this year's Haunted Hangover bar tour, O'Connors has just about anything you want if you're a fan of the paranormal like me. Spirits that hide your keys? Got it. A couple of spirits that sit a table on the back wall and smoke? Yep.  A creepy presence in and around the ladies room? Of course.

Personally, I've never had an experience in there...not for lack of sitting at the bar looking for one either. But, make it a point to stop by here and ask owner Katie O'Connor her story about the "ghostly pens" encounter.  That story gave me goosebumps one afternoon.  And be prepared for this year's Haunted Hangover on October's going to be GOOD.

Can I Bum a Light From You Two?

Last Call...Forever

Today, The Village Bar in Ralston is a place to drown your cares away as you have a few drinks at HitThatDive's Bar of the Year.  But 100 years ago, this was the place they brought you after you actually drown.  As in like, right after you died.  Yep...this cozy little Ralston bar was once...home to the only undertaker in Ralston.  Just a floor below the bar, dead people were examined and embalmed for burial.  On that cheery note, the next logical question would The Village Bar haunted? Hmmmmmm...well, unlike O'Connors...I DID have an odd experience in here.

One day while "taking care of business" in the men's room, I watched the faucet on the sink turn on a full blast.  So who knows? During last year's Haunted Hangover, we also learned (via a spiritbox) that at least one of the entities that hangs out in the bar is named David.

Want to check this out for yourself?  Mark your calendars NOW for our HitThatDive/Village Bar End of the Summer Street Party on August 31st! More details on that one coming up.

Says So Right On The Front Door

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Betty

In the town of Loma, Nebraska (population 54), which is a less than 90 minute drive from Omaha, sits the Bar-M Corral. Owner Betty passed away last year, so now the bar is closed, but in it's heyday...the stories that have emanated from this place were simply astounding.

But Loma also has its own place in Hollywood history.  In 1995, Loma became the fictitious town of "Snydersville" in the movie "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar". Former Loma resident Ross Benes wrote about what is was like to live in Loma when Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes were running about the "Bohemian Alps" of Nebraska in this great article he wrote for Esquire...complete with a HitThatDive shout out!

The Bar-M Corral may be closed for good, but for those that walked through its dirty screen door (even once) it will never be forgotten.

A Nebraska Original 

Step On a Crack, Break Your Father's Back

This might be one of those pointless little tidbits of information that only I find kind of cool, but as you walk into HitThatDive's 2012 Bar of the Year, Jerry's Bar, take a look at the original 1950's flooring.  It, well, it looks like flooring. But, did you know that the flooring was originally installed by Jerry's Bar owner Rob Rutar's Dad?  In fact, Rob didn't even know that when he bought the place a few years ago.

It wasn't until several months after Rob Bought the place that his Dad offhandedly mentioned that he installed the floor in his son's bar decades ago. A bit shocked that he didn't know that before, Rob asked his Dad why he hadn't told him that when he bought the place.  Rob's Dad hit him back with one of the most logical answers ever.  Something to the effect "I installed A LOT of floors over the years, hard to remember all of them."

Rob's Dad Does Good Work

The Legend of Table 19 

A short 35 minute ride from Omaha sits the town of Memphis, Nebraska.  The town of 114 people is home to one of the best out-of-the-way dives in the area...Don's Bar.  Now, before I go any further, the first time I was in there...word got around that I was "That dive bar feller'" and that if I ever write about the bar, I better not attract any "hipsters" to the place. And that warning did not appear to be a joke. So, jaunty beret-wearing, scarf-tying, beard-growing, PBR-slurping, Homy've been warned.

Other than the fact that Don's still looks like a place where two cowboys would have Wild West pistol duel (to this day), it's also home to the "well known", and now infamous, "Table 19".  About a year ago I tried to track down the origins of what makes Table 19 so famous.  This is what I heard from HTD reader Debbie Frank:

"The tables have always been numbered, and the story is if you sat at Table 19, you were going to be there the entire night until close and you would be a mess by the time you left. Table 19 is a big table and is the closest table to the bar. No wait for drinks and people gather around it buying round after round for the table. So, if you sit at Table 19 plan on staying awhile...and you'll probably need a ride home afterwords."
Hop in the car. Jump on your motorcycle. And make the short ride to Don's for a seat at Table 19. Bring your appetite, because the food is great. Just don't bring your hipster friend...for obvious reasons.

Pull Up a Chair to Table 19

Now you too can walk into a few bars in the area, for the first time, and talk like one of the regulars! Know a interesting /historical/bizarre story about the bar you hang out in?  Send them my way!

Scuba Steve

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Buffalo Company NEW OWNERS -- Wing Review

Buffalo Company
MUCH Improved
4725 South 96th Street
Omaha NE 68127

Last year I wondered into Omaha's Buffalo Company because the Omaha World-Herald named it the place for "Omaha's Best Wings". Please don't make me relive the rest of that review...just go ahead and read it here.  Let's just say I had the complete OPPOSITE take on their gut-wrenchingly bad wings. 

Flash forward to this year.  I received an email from the new GM of the NEW Buffalo Company that read: 
"Hi Scuba Steve,
 I read your last review back in April of 2013 on Buffalo Company and was hoping to talk you into a revisit.  Hopefully if I give you the full history on how and why the restaurant was the way that it was when you visited, maybe you will give us a second chance?  What happened to a really great place of almost twenty years was that it had deteriorated rapidly over the last two years when the original owner sold the business. 
That's why a long time customer and HUGE fan of Tim (the original owner) bought the business when it folded in December 2013. He brought back Tim to train the staff, remodeled the place top to bottom and just reopened it on April 23 2014. All your old favorites are on the menu along with some new exciting additions as well. I think you'll find it to still be the best place in town (again) for Wings, Pizza & Subs. Come back. I know you'll be surprised and thrilled. Hope to see you soon."
Seems legit enough.  So I stopped by a month or so ago and sat down with GM Clayton, the kitchen manager Mike, and one of the new owners.  All great guys.  All want to make that place successful again. And, they paid for all my food.  So, it didn't really seem right to me to do a review on wings that I didn't fork-over the cash for.

I vowed to be back there in a week or so, and yadda...yadda...yadda...I made it back there last week with two of my kids.

First Impressions:  Keep in mind that I've been in here once before so I can already tell you that place is 100% cleaner than before.  The first thing that will pop out at you when you order is the price. 10 wings will set you back $10.25.  Just for comparison sake, that same order at Oscar's will cost you $6.99.  Like in the old place, you place you order at the front counter and grab a seat.  In 15 minutes or so, they brought out our wings and they looked (and smelled) very Buffalo wing authentic.  Always a bonus when they come to your table still steaming hot and the spice from the sauce burns your nose just a bit.  Celery? Check Bleu Cheese? Check.

Score: 8

Great Sauce
Sauce: As usual, I went with the medium Buffalo sauce to keep things consistent, and it was great. Nice orangish color, great smell, and very authentic Buffalo flavor.  Some of the best sauce in town. All 10 wings were coated pretty uniformly but there may have been just a bit too much sauce for the ones on the bottom.  Not like they were totally drowning or anything, but, you run the risk if your wings aren't always crispy enough that this could potentially make the ones on the bottom a bit soggy.

Score: 9

Perfect Size
Crispy: For those that follow HitThatDive on Facebook, you'll see the comments from others that have been here on the "crispy factor".  And as you read, the number one complaint that other's have had was the lack of real crispiness.  I have to agree here.  All 10 wings were thoroughly cooked, yet they all lacked that desired crunch.  I know Clayton and Matt will read this, so just leave the wings in 1-2 minutes longer than and I think that takes care of this once and for all.  When it comes to chicken, I always err on the side of a bit overcooked as opposed to a bit undercooked.  Just my opinion.

Score: 6

Could be More Crispy
Size: As their menu states: "At Buffalo Company we only use the plumpest, juiciest and largest chicken wings available.  Out wings are always fresh, never frozen." I can't argue with any of that.  Good-sized wings...big but not HUGE. All pretty uniform in size so they're easier to cook...just leave them in a bit longer.

Score: 9

No Complaints Here
Extras:  Always a thumbs-up for a wing joint that has the common sense to put a roll of paper towels on every table! As far as the bleu cheese goes, I didn't mind it at all.  Not great, but not awful.  Local wing expert Matt Morinelli did not like the bleu cheese at all...and I generally trust his judgment on everything wing related.  So, let's call that one a toss up.  My only other observation, and this may be my ADD talking (and the fact that I walked in just after what would be a lunch crowd) is that it gets a tad bit boring as you sit there.

In a place like Chipotle, you already have your food when you sit down.  And in a traditional bar/restaurant, you have servers checking on you and swooping in to bring you another beer while you wait, which some how is just enough human interaction to make a wait seem not quite as long.  Keep in mind that I generally need a Mariachi band following me around to keep me from getting bored in less than two this one might just be me.

Other than actually HAVING a Mariachi band, I don't know how this one could be fixed.  Maybe the best thing to do for impatient bar people like me is to go next door to the 21st Saloon and order Buffalo Company food from there...which you can do by the way.

Score: 8

Final Score: 40 out of 50

Keep in mind, that my first trip to the old Buffalo Company ended up with a final score of these guys are in the right direction for sure.  Are there still a few small things to work on...I think so. But nothing glaring...and nothing that can't easily be remedied the longer they're in business.

And while this was strictly a wing review...don't sleep on the rest of the menu.  They sell good pizza (even by the slice) and have some of the best bread in town that's flown in directly from one of the oldest Italian bakeries in Buffalo, New York.  I would HIGHLY suggest the Buffalo Chicken Sub.

Ultimately, give Clayton and Mike a shot one day for lunch and dinner.  Give them your honest feedback...they're looking to make this place one of the best in town again and I can't say enough about how great they are to talk with.  Just keep those wings in the fryer a tad bit longer.

Bufalo Chicken Sub on a KILLER Roll

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happy Birthday HTD

Four years ago today I decided to walk to a bar by my house and write about my experiences while I was in there to amuse a few friends.  There was no goal in mind, it was just something I'd always talked about doing. Which made waking up to the following note on Twitter this morning pretty cool.

Well, to say there was no goal in mind isn't exactly true.  I told Mrs. HitThatDive that if I could get just one story written about the newly created "HitThatDive" I would consider the entire thing a rousing success.  Mission accomplished...and then some.

What's happened in the four years since my first post is something I never saw coming, not in a million years.  For the grand total of $0 I've ever made from the blog, I've lost count of all the friends I've made through the occasional sporadic ramblings of HTD.

For those that don't know, when my family and I moved to Nebraska nearly 10 years ago, we knew nobody.  And I mean NOBODY. No family, no former classmates, no one. I moved a wife and three young children halfway across the country for a job that, well let's just say didn't really work out, and we found ourselves stranded in Omaha with our closest friends roughly 1,100 miles away.

Mrs. HTD had no real problems meeting and making friends with the Stepford wives of West Omaha. But our choice of location in which to buy a home, because we knew nothing about the area, proved to make it far more difficult for me to find a few dudes that shared my love of old bars and generally just liked acting silly.  Men of West a little...will you!

Wait, where am I heading with this?  Oh yeah...HitThatDive.  A funny thing happened a few months after starting HTD...I got an email from someone I didn't know that said he and his wife love reading the blog.  First thoughts I had were "People actually read this shit??" Knowing that people other than my friends in Pittsburgh and Washington, DC were reading on a regular basis gave me enough encouragement to keep going. So thank you Mark and Becky Wells.

HTD meandered on for nearly a year, I was written about in December of 2010 by Omaha World-Herald reporter Josefina Loza, so I had already met my "lofty" goal.  By May of 2011, interest seemed to wane in what I was putting out there (well it was in my mind anyway) so in a shocking move to those that know me (not) I said "F*** THIS!" and deleted the HTD Facebook page and Twitter account and stopped writing about bars all together.

For whatever reason, on what would have been the first anniversary of HTD, I decided to log into Blogger to see if anyone had clicked on any of the reviews that were still on-line. And what do you know, my second review ever written (The Elbow Room) was being read like crazy.  So I posted this question on HTD to see what the hell was going on. This was the response I got back:

"I found out because someone I know, that goes there frequently, posted it on Facebook as a kudos to Ben. And since we're all very proud of the Elbow Room and our bartenders, we all had to spread the word! Thanks for the great review! Hope you can stop in again!"
Apparently that was the only encouragement I needed to create a new Facebook page (from scratch) and a new Twitter account (a note about deleting a Twitter account, you can't use the same name twice which is why it's now @HitThatDive1) and started writing about bars again.  What's happened since then...well...that might take me too long to ever put into the proper words.

It would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to thank everyone that I need to thank properly.  I just did a quick count and nearly half of the 314 people that I'm "Friends" with on Facebook I met directly from HitThatDive nonsense. And that number doesn't even scratch the surface of the friends I've made from doing this...old men on flip phones aren't really down with social media ya' know.

Although, I suppose I can thank the one person that's made HitThatDive possible...and that's my wife. There might not be another woman on the planet that condones and encourages her husband's "hobby" of dive bar hopping quite the way that Shelley G does. So thanks wife!

By the end of today, HitThatDive will have been read more than 500,000 times.  I'm not sure if that's good or not, seems like a lot to me, but I'm sure Google gets that every .08 seconds.  Ultimately, numbers don't really mean a lot to me when it comes to the fun I have from doing's the friendships that I've made that make the whole thing worthwhile.

In a recent interview I did with Tom Becka I said "If HitThatDive means something to even just one person, it means something to me."  For those that continue to read and play along with all of this after four years, I can never thank you enough.  Here's to some of the best friends a person could ever will one of you deadbeats buy me a shot tonight so we can celebrate? Cheers!

Monday, July 21, 2014

JC's Lounge, Omaha -- REVIEW

4971 Q Street
Omaha NE 68117

Hmmmm...where to start on this one? For years I've driven past JC's on my way to hockey practice, or just when I'm on my way to goof off in that general part of Omaha.  As you make your way east on Q just crossing over 60th Street, it's hard not to notice this place. Is it open?  Is it abandoned? Is it safe to walk into?  And more importantly, why I have I never met anyone that's ever been in here?  I mean, I know A LOT of bar people (and bar stories) and yet not a single person that I know has a clue about anything that goes on inside JC's Lounge.

Let's see what's behind the front door.
(Editor's Note: The sign out front clearly states "JC's Lounge", yet the few meager Internet mentions of this place call it "JC's Bar" for the sake of this post it will be called JC's Lounge ...because that's what the damn sign says. Moving on.)

As a general rule, I don't have a fear of walking into any new bar alone...ever. But man, this one just had me slightly freaked, out so I enlisted the help of long-time HTD posse members Tito and Maria and we decided to meet there on Saturday afternoon at 4:00. After running into them both in the parking lot, and being the gentlemen that we are, Tito and I of course allowed Maria to walk in first...

PROS: A trip back in time. Funny old guy regulars. Mint condition circa 1951 bar.
CONS: It took me this long to finally stop by and have a few beers. 

Not what I expected
First Impressions:  The anticipation of walking through the front door was much like riding up the first hill on a big roller coaster for the first time. It seemed to take forever, and you have no frame of reference of what to expect once you get to the top.

We walked in the front door, and wow, this is not what I expected.  It's a seemingly clean and friendly looking bar...we didn't even get the "Who the hell are you?" looks from the regulars.  Clearly I'm not picking up on the right vibe yet, because surely this simply can't be just your friendly old neighborhood bar...can it? I just always assumed really bad things happened in here.

The Bar: It's not until you sit down that you really get a sense of just how authentically vintage everything in here is including the living room area complete with couches, fireplace and a wide assortment of trophies.  What really stands out is that, even though there is nothing new in this bar, everything they do have has been well-cared for over the years. The bar itself seats about 12 people and there are enough table and chairs to easily seat another 50 people comfortably.  In all the years of driving past here, I never really guessed this place would be as big as it is on the inside.

An orderly bar area
They have three beers on tap of the usual suspects, but what really was an added bonus was the decent bottled beer selections in the neatly organized cooler to the right of the bar.  Is it enough of a selection to keep the beer snobs happy...thank goodness no! But for the regular bar goers, that want a bit more a choice than just a mass-produced domestic beer, check out the cooler, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Of note...for you "wine connoisseurs" they have a box of Franzia White Zin ready to roll!

The Crowd:  Other than the three of us, the youngest person in bar (all dudes by the way) had to be late 40ish and the oldest had to be pushing late 70s.  One of the older guys came complete with a trucker hat that simply said "Old Fart" on the front. A quite bunch when we sat down, they were happy to just be sitting there and watching some old movie on the 1980's-looking TV behind the bar. But then, a funny thing happened, we asked about the history of the place.

It was like they had been waiting for someone to ask that question for years. We learned everything from how many bars used to be in the general area when the packing plants were going strong (39), to the fact that no one really knew how old JC's was...but they were guessing just post Prohibition.  You can tell a lot about a bar by the pride that the regulars have by hanging out in there...and the smiles on their faces and the way that they laughed as they told stories about the area...made me like the bar even more.

Never expected this
To sum up how friendly they all turned out to be, I agreed to tote one of the regulars with me to our next stop, Little Polonia, because he was on his 11th DUI and finally didn't want to risk another one.  I have never been thanked more for taking someone out of a bar as I was by every single person in there. More on this dude in the review of Little Polonia.

Service:  I never did get they guy's name, but our bartender for the afternoon has been working here for more than 30 years I think I heard him say.  Usually I take better notes, but out of respect for the people in the bar, I didn't want to look disrespectful by sitting on my phone the whole time while I was in here.  Back to the service, perfect. Fast, polite and never made us feel unwelcomed.  It was a real testament to this guy's bartending skills, that in a place that I'm assuming doesn't see too many new faces in the course of a day, we never felt out of place from the moment we sat down.

Prices: All I know is what we were paying for domestic bottles of beer and that was setting us back $2.50 each. Not bad at all.  I didn't really see the prices of anything else, but I think it's safe to assume that you're not going to gouged here no matter what you order.  If anyone wants to check this place out, let me know and your first glass of box wine is on me just so I know the price of that too.

I dig it
Food:  Basically the general assortment of neatly arraigned chips and Slim Jims and pork rinds.

Entertainment:  JC's has a great area to shoot pool and throw darts in, a vintage shuffleboard table, jukebox and few other video games that I'm guessing really don't get played all that often.

Bartender Chat: I have never, in all my years, have seen a bartender so thoroughly happy and appreciative as this guy was when I agreed to give Captain DUI a ride down Q Street to another bar. He seemed to be equal parts elated that I agreed to give the guy a ride, mixed with a bit of guilt that he wasn't stopping me from toting the bar loudmouth to the next place.  In the end, it seemed he was more willing to live with a hint of guilt and happily waved the dude goodbye when we walked out the door. Of note...every single regular in there thanked me for giving the guy a ride and asked me to stop back (if I were still alive) to tell them about it.

Restrooms:  Smallish.  Not awful.  The men's room is far enough removed from the bar area that you could get down to some serious business if you ate too many of the pork rinds from behind the bar to still not offend anyone.  The ladies room is conveniently situated in the living room area.

Works for me
How Far Did My $20 Go: Well, keep in mind that there were three of us AND that JC's does not take credit cards. Of course, I always come armed with a rumpled-up $20 in my pocket so I was able to easily pick up two rounds and throw down a hefty tip with money left over.

Final Thoughts: In today's world, bars like this are a rapidly dying breed. But it's not hard to stand inside this place and get a sense of just how great it must have been in its heyday.  Simply by the way the inside of JC's is maintained to this day, you can still feel the sense of pride that the owner and the bar's regulars have for this place.  Is it fancy? No. Is it modern? Not in the least. Does it give you the impression that the people that call this bar home still give a shit about it? Absolutely.

From our brief time there, it was clear that the stories that must have emanated from this place over the decades, coupled with the deep knowledge of South Omaha history the still resides with the regulars to this day, makes this a must stop for all Omaha bar history buffs.

Just how old school retro is this place...the fact that some sort of 1950's forcefield rendered all of our cell phones nearly obsolete just added to its overall charm.  It was almost a sign from generations ago that this bar was for telling stories of the past face-to-face, and not thumb-to-thumb via texts, as you just sit and enjoy the company of those around you.

I will definitely stop back to JC's Lounge again if for no other reason than to learn more about how the area used to be and to see if anyone with 10 or more DUI's needs a ride to the next bar down the street! This should come as no shock but I would definitely HIT THIS DIVE.


Worth a stop for sure

Sunday, July 20, 2014

JC's Lounge, Omaha -- PREVIEW

Ever wonder what this place on Q Street was like on the inside?  I always wondered if this is a "don't judge a book by it's cover" kind of place.  Or, is it one of those shady bars where you are "never heard from again" after walking in the front door.  So I met up with HTD posse members Tito and and MC...and we gave it a shot.  And were totally amazed. 

Were we amazed in a good way, or a bad way? Well, what fun would that be to tell you now.  Full report tomorrow. On a side note...I think I got my writing "mojo" look for an onslaught of HTD updates all week!

Would you walk in here alone for the first time? 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Nifty Bar, Omaha -- REVIEW

4721 NW Radial Highway
Hard to find the front door
Omaha NE 68104

Yeah, I know, I haven't written an actual "bar review" in a very long time. And yet, my compensation from writing HitThatDive has remained amazingly the same...NOTHING. See, the cool part about doing this is that I've found some really great bars around town to hang out in.  But the downside of that is, when I have some free time, do I go say hello to some friends at their bars or check out a new place that I may (or may not) enjoy? Well, for the last few months I think we all know my answer to that dilemma.

But alas! I was checking my HTD emails over the weekend and saw a message from a guy that just happened to own a dive bar in town.  So Chaz, your "shameless plug" paid off and inspired me to once again pick my ass off up the couch, grab twenty bucks, and head off on a new dive bar adventure to The Nifty Bar which has been operating in the same spot since 1950.  But, apparently there's been a bar in town with that same name since before Prohibition. Enough with the history lesson...let's get to it.

PROS: Great bartender. Diverse group of regulars. Tall Boy Sunday beers for $2.
CONS: How the hell do you get into the parking lot? Is it almost too nice inside? 

First Impressions:  Usually this occurs, you know, like when I first walk into the place.  However, in checking out their website, Mrs. HitThatDive chimed in before I left the house that their online presence might be too sophisticated to make them an actual dive bar.  Of course I told her to leave the dive bar pontificating to me...but I completely saw her point. Be that as it may...

This part of Omaha always confuses the HELL out of me for some reason.  As it turns out, it's actually pretty easy to find...until you try and get into the parking lot.  How I ended up getting there was through an alley that led me through a used car lot...this might not be the right way to get in here...but it worked for me.  I'm not sure that there's a more oddly situated bar in Omaha, and it's not all that apparent where the front door is even located.  I decide to walk in through the patio which is in the front-ish, side-ish, back-ish of the building.

I walk through the gate and I'm immediately "greeted" by a drunk version of a biker Santa Claus who looks right at me, in-between puffs of his smokes and says "Be warned, there's a bunch of drunks in there." I quickly shoot back "There's about to be one more." To which Santa laughs and just says "Good attitude!"

Rack 'em up
The Bar: Apparently it wasn't always this way, but this is a very neat and clean-looking place.  Not in a bad way, but I have to assume this place went under some major renovations in the last few years. The bar itself is long like a an old lunch counter in the 1950s.  It easily accommodates 15 bar stools and is a pretty comfortable place to sit.  They have 15 beers on tap that range from everything including Busch Light to the latest offerings from Infusion Brewing and the Old Market's Borgata Brewery and Distillery.

For as small as the building appears, there is a ton of room on the inside, and even more on the covered patio outside. Not a "sit at the bar" person...there are a few neatly arraigned tables by the shuffleboard table and one of the best dedicated areas to shoot pool anywhere in town. Of note...want to know the daily specials...look no further than the sign on the pillar smack dab in the middle of the bar.

The Crowd: The bartender remarked that it was pretty slow for a Sunday, but even with only a few people there when I walked in, and subsequently more by the time I left, it's not hard to get a feel for the crowd here.  It seems from their website, that The Nifty is going out of its way to distinguish themselves as a "non-Benson" place to hang out.  And from what I could tell, they generally attract less of the hipster crowd, and more of a regular old bar people crowd, than a few of their counterparts just up the road.

Entire bar on a smoke break
Not really being a fan of much of the pretentiousness I pick up on in a few bars in Benson (Jerry's Bar not being one of them) their marketing approach seems to be reaching their target market. (Hey, look at me with all the marketing "buzz words" all the sudden!)  But again...does a dive bar really NEED a marketing approach?   (See what I did there...of course my thoughts on that will come at the end...keep reading).

Service:  Bah. I hate when it's this easy.  The bartender was fantastic!  Friendly, helpful and made me aware of the Sunday special before I ordered.  He even looked like he gets his hair cut by the dudes at the best place to get your hair cut in town...the Surly Chap (yes...that's a plug for them).  Good service makes for a great bar experience, but for a lousy review.  Hey Adam, do something wrong next time I'm in there so I have something more to write about, will ya'?

Prices: As noted earlier, it was $2 tall boys for domestic beers.  And, also noted earlier, check the pillar in the middle of the bar for some of the Nifty's kick ass drink specials including (depending on the day) $5 pitchers, $1 PBR draws, $2 Fireball, $3 craft beer pints and $2.50 well drinks.  For this part of town...these have to be some of the best prices in the area.

The kitchen? 
Food: There may be a kitchen in the back (not sure of that one) but they definitely more cooking devices to the far right of the bar than most college dorm rooms. They do for sure have food specials "all day, everyday" that include hot dogs, pizza and burritos...all of which seem pretty reasonably priced.  For example a pint of PBR with a hot dog and chips will set you back $6.

Entertainment:  I thought that drunk Santa was pretty damn entertaining, but that's not the idea of this section.  Let's see your pretty standard fare including a jukebox that did not appear to be working, pool table, shuffleboard, Keno, and one of those shady-looking games of chance that I'm not exactly sure how to play.  Six TV's around the bar made it easy to sit and watch college baseball to see who will be making the trip to Omaha for the CWS.  Nothing out of the ordinary here...pretty much the stuff you would expect with the exception of the location of the pool table which is outstanding.

Bartender Chat:  I was being bombarded with one-liners from drunk Santa so fast it was occasionally hard to strike up too much of a conversation.  Example: Drunk Santa -- "What does a fish say when he swims into a a wall?" Me -- "No clue." Drunk Santa -- "DAM!" I will say that not only was a Adam a great bartender, he's a diligent one too.  Some hungover dude came into the bar and asked if he left his credit card there from the night before, Adam asked him for his name and checked.  Yep, as it turns out, he sure did leave it there...BUT...before Adam would hand it back to him he asked for the dude's ID just to double check.  Now, is that a HUGE deal? Not so much. But, it did say a lot about how the place is run...well to me anyway. That's how I would want a stranger to handle my credit card for sure.

Oh well
Restrooms:  For the most part pretty good, and then I got a good look at the floor.  For as clean and neat as the rest of the place is, I was pretty shocked to see the floor looked like the cover of the Black Sabbath album "Mob Rules".  Again, not a huge deal, but not what I was expecting from the looks of the rest of the place.  It's a place to take a whiz with indoor plumbing...I suppose that's really all you need.

How Far Did My $20 Go:  Easy math on this one...well it COULD have gone for 10 Busch Light Tall Boys.  Of course, that's a bit excessive for a Sunday afternoon, so I didn't spend it all.  This place does have some smokin' good drink specials, so make it a point to come here with a driver if you've got some time to kill.

Final Impressions:  It's an older bar, with it's own history, that's trying to turn a profit in a part of town that's overrun with long beards, silly scarf-wearing men, "ironic" shirts, retro everything and people that generally thumb their noses at you if you're not listening to the latest vinyl release from "The First Discovered Garbage Men" or "The Triplet Flan".

I dig the ceiling
I suppose to compete in that atmosphere, you have to be a bit more sophisticated with your marketing than simply hoping that people migrate far enough away from the bars with ironic "lumberjacks" and down the street to a more traditional place. I guess that's my way of saying that the overly professional website and general cleanliness of the bar shouldn't scare off the usual HTD readers.

I liked it.  Quickly in my top two bars in the Benson-area. It's extremely well-run with great prices and just enough character to give it a bit of an edge.  If nothing else, I might be a bit more enthusiastic to make a trip to Benson for a few beers more often than I do now.   Not to be anti-Benson, I think all cities need areas like it.  But, if you're like me and quickly get tired with that "scene", but want to be just on the periphery of it...The Nifty Bar is well worth a stop...if you can figure out how to get to the parking lot!



Monday, June 2, 2014

Scuba Steve on The Tom Becka Podcast

A few weeks ago I had the chance to stop by Tom Becka's house and record an episode of his podcast for  I've been on Tom's show a few times and he's always great to talk to live on the air.

But, in this format, it's an even better conversation about a lot of different topics...mostly dive bars of course...but with time to tell stories in their entirety.  It's worth a listen for sure when you have some time to kill this week.  Thanks round is on me.

Scuba Steve

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Donate to Scuba Steve's Mustache

I need your help.  And no, not help as in I need bail money to get out of a Guatemalan prison camp (again), I need to raise some money by Friday for charity.

The short story.  I've been growing the first mustache of my life since May 1st to help raise money for a great local cause, and in doing so, it's affected me in several ways. In what ways you ask?  Let me tell you...

M4K Omaha
  • Old ladies at the bingo parlor now clamor for my affections;
  • I've been confused for Robert Goulet more than once this month;
  • Mike McKnight has sued me for copyright infringement;
  • And lastly...until this 'stache is gone...the chances of me getting "lucky" at home are ZERO
My Children Now Fear Me
The Group: Mustaches 4 Kids Omaha. Long story short...for the last few years a group of local dudes get together and drink beer and vow to grow a mustache.  That's pretty much it.  Oh, did I mention that last year they raised more than $200,000 for Make-A-Wish Nebraska?

This year the charity is HETRA. The Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy was started in 1989 and offers services in Therapeutic Riding, Hippotherapy, Horses for Heroes and Therapeutic Carriage Driving. HETRA is a non-profit 501c3 organization, and is currently the only PATH Premier Accredited Therapeutic Riding center in Nebraska.

All donations are 100% tax deductible and clearly go to a great local get off those wallets already!

What's In It For You: I know for some, giving is its own reward. But if you're like me, I like the chance to win stuff too. With that in mind, for every $10 you donate you're automatically entered once to win the "Ultimate HitThatDive Swag Bag" worth more than $300 in gift cards, HTD shirts and other assorted hooch-related merchandise.

So, for example, donate $100 like "Party" Marty Simpson and you're now entered 10 times to win. Just for shits and giggles, donate say like $750 and you now are entered 75 times and I'll also give you my dog for keeps.

How Do You Donate: It's so easy even I can do it.  Just click here to go to the M4K donations page. Donate any amount and where it asks "Who's Mustache are you Supporting" just type in the name "Scuba Steve" (That step is very important).

The Ultimate HitThatDive Swag Bag Can Be Yours!
HTD Ultimate Swag Bag:  Contains all of the following:

$200 for Shamrock Limousines (The great people that drove the buses on this year's Spring Stumble)
$25 Bar Tab to the Candlelight Lounge
3 HitThatDive Shirts
3 Jim Beam shirts
2 Hats
Wild Turkey Flip Flops
HTD Koozie
Village Bar license place holder
And last but not least. A flask.

Thank you to the great people who've already donated to an awful-looking mustache but a great cause.

Scuba Steve

HitThatDive's Wall of AWESOME Members

Ben Stone               
Marty Simpson        
Peter Istvan          
Eileen Flinn         
Pam Curry 
MelderJerry Jam    
Brian Monticue         
Leslie Regan         
Deb Christinsen

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

HTD Happenings -- Week of May 25-31

Say Whiskey
Wow.  Things are staring to get busy around these parts.  So, for the foreseeable future, we will do our best to keep you updated on all the "HitThatDive Approved" stuff going on around town. Enough with the small talk...let's get to what's going on this week.

Thursday May 29th.

Well, for starters, we continue the HTD Guide to Old School Whiskey tastings at Barrett's and The Neighber's Thursday and Friday both starting at 5:30.  This week we will be tasting whiskey from Two Gingers and the "Olds".  Meaning Old Granddad 114, Old Crow and Old Overholt.  If you didn't make it any last week, what are you waiting for?  We're giving away whiskey and swag...all you need to do is show up!

Don't Miss the Last Two

Friday May 30th. 

Also on Friday is great time at Monty G's Pub to help raise money for Mustaches for Kids Omaha and HETRA.  This will be a fun event for a great cause.  How do I know it's a great cause? Well, I've been growing a mustache since May 1st in support of their efforts. OH...did I mention that you can still donate money until the end of the week?  Just click here and donate any amount.  It's all 100% tax deductible and goes to a great cause.  Simply enter "Scuba Steve" under growers name.  How easy is that.

Dive Bar. Singing. Beer. Charity. Good Times

Saturday May 31st

If that's not enough...get ready to ride and then PARTY for the 12th Annual Holy Ghost Poker Run. Don't have a bike?  Have other things going on this weekend?  Not big still have time to buy a raffle ticket for your chance to win and brand new Harley or a $15,000 cash option .  Only 3,500 tickets are being your chances of winning are big are WAY better than an afternoon of Keno. 

12th Annual

And then, things really get fun. We wrap up Saturday with a good old fashioned street party in front of the Village Bar in Ralston with food, raffles and a live karaoke band.  This is your chance to be the rock star you alway knew that you were! 

Party at The Village

Coming This Week:  

Finally the full recap of the 4th Annual Spring Stumble that had a rather unceremonious ending in the Harrah's buffet line. But what a great day it was. (Wednesday)

Also this week...I spent a few hours with the new owners of the recently reopened Buffalo Company on 96th and L Street.  They're doing some really great stuff in there again, for those that remember how that place was once'll be very happy with how things are in there again.  (Thursday)

Well, that's it for now.  Questions? Comments? Ideas? Suggestions?  Keep them all to yourself!  (Just kidding).  Always feel free to send them along...I might not get to all of them...but I sure as hell try.

Scuba Steve

HTD. Always a Good Time!