Friday, December 28, 2012

Village Bar, Ralston -- REVIEW

Now THAT'S a bar
5700 South 77th Street  
Ralston, NE 68127
402 315-9211

I got a note on Facebook from Heather H. that said I had to make it a point to stop by the Village Bar in Ralston.  As Heather stated the bar has “Old school video games, skeeball, Buck Hunter HD, the occasional live music/DJ night and of course home of the delicious 14'r Bloody Mary! It's my second home!”  Sounds like a great place to me, plus, it gives me a reason to sneak out of the house after being cooped up for holidays. 

PROS:  Reminded me of old school Pittsburgh bars. Laid back atmosphere.   
CONS: Either the bar is an inch or so too tall or the stools are a touch too short.

Two-tiered bar
First Impressions:  The neighborhood between 84th Street and 77th on Park Street reminded me of my hometown of Irwin, Pennsylvania so I was already encouraged before I parked in front of the Village Bar. The character of the place is evident immediately when you park out front; it’s a big old building, but not intimidating-looking in the least.  A huge “OPEN” sign is on the front of a dingy-looking door so I walk in and immediately like the place, even though it feels like I’ve shrunk an inch or two when I take a seat at the end of the bar.

The Bar:  While the building itself looks like vintage 1950's, the bar itself seems to be pretty new.  And, I might add, the bar stools are some of them most comfortable in town…even if they are an inch too short.  They have four beers on tap, a fairly large collection of vodka and a larger-than-usual selection of bottled beers.  For as big as the building is, the bar itself is relatively small, but not too small.  In fact, I would argue that this is the perfect size bar for a neighborhood watering hole.  Make it a point to look all over the walls and especially above your head Old Style Beer chandeliers on the ceiling.  It’s kind of the Homy Inn, Jr. just without the pretentious customers ordering snooty drinks. 
Skee-Ball!

The Crowd:  Tough to gauge this one, becasue it was a bit of a slow night.  From what I’ve been able to read online, it has a devoted following of people who have been drinking here for 50 years mixed in with a younger fun crowd, some of which were sitting at a table by the restrooms.  I’m pretty sure Heather H. was one of the people at the table, but not wanting to appear creepy to a stranger if it wasn’t her, I decided to happily sit at the end of the bar and talk sports and music with the bartender. 

Service:  Great bars, for me anyway, are judged on their service.  And even though, as usual, I was the only non-regular in the place, bartender Mike made me feel like a regular in no time at all.  My glass was never empty, we talked sports and music for well over an hour, and he even let me pick some songs out on the jukebox from his tip money.  Mike was easily the reason I could have stayed until closing, but I saw the Ralston cops have extra money to bust people until the 1st, so I ended up leaving before I would have wanted to.  Mike sort of reminded me of someone, and it wasn’t until right now that I realized that, just for a second, I thought I might have been talking to Steve from Ghost Hunters.

Looks like shuffleboard
Prices:  I was having such a good time shooting-the-shit with Mike, that I sort of lost track of this one.  I know that I paid $12 total so I’m guessing that I paid $2 for a domestic pint.  And I could be wrong again, but I think the dude sitting next to me was paying in the $3.50 range for a vodka and soda.  In any case, let’s say prices here are on the lower end of the spectrum, which is always a plus in my book. 

Food:  Did I just spot some pickled eggs behind the bar?  YES!  Not in the mood for an egg…their 14’er BloodyMary looks like a meal all by itself…including beef jerky! 

Entertainment:  For not being all that large of a bar, there is a lot to do in here including six TVs, Skee-Ball, darts, Big Buck Hunter HD, an old school tabletop video game and the best of all…Karate Champ circa 1984.  The Internet jukebox also somehow takes pictures and the Village has some of the best sounding speakers in town.

Restrooms:  Small but pleasantly warm.  You can usually tell the age of a bar by the size of their restrooms and this is one that was clearly built in the 50’s.  Why did people like such small places to take a leak 50 years ago?
One at a time

Bartender Chat:  Sports, music and the question of the night from Mike…"If you could only have one last meal what would you eat?”  The guy next to be oddly chose beef stroganoff, I of course quickly answered wings.  And huge thumbs up to a bartender who plays DIO on the jukebox and then follows it up with the Ting Tings…variety is indeed the spice of life.   

How Far Did My $20 Go:  By my meager calculations, my twenty smacks would have been good for 10 pints.  I know for a fact that’s the price at happy hour because I read it on a sign behind the bar. 

Final Impressions:  Antiques are antiques for a reason, because no one makes that type of quality anymore.  The same can be said for The Village Bar.  If you like a bar with an actual history that also serves as a community center (the way bars once did when this place was built) this is a must stop on your list.  Add to that cheap prices, great bartending and enough things to do to keep you happy if you get bored (how that would happen I have no idea)...and you can’t go stopping by here any chance you get.  HIT THAT DIVE! 

DIVE-O-METER
8

Note...they open at 3pm.  Four on Sunday

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Two Fine Irishmen -- Omaha Wing Challenge


Can't beat the price
18101 R Plz  
Omaha, NE 68135
402 933-3990

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I needed something to do with my 11 year old daughter…I’ve got an idea…I should take her to a bar for a wing review!  So, the choice was up to her where we reviewed (my “Father of the Year” award should arrive any day now) and she picked Two Fine Irishmen because it’s her favorite popcorn in any bar in town.  Yes, yes, yes…I bring my kids to bars.  I’ve previously reviewed Two Fine, and before 9:00 pm (when it turns into a bit of a douche central club) it’s a pretty good place. 

Side note…out of all the bars I’ve reviewed, I get the most email saying I missed the mark on my bar review of this place.  Oh well, this isn’t an exact science you know. 

For those keeping score at home, the best HitThatDive wing score is a total of 50 points based on scores from five separate categories. But, enough of me babbling…let’s eat some wings.  So far, the highest score has been a 48 at Choo Choo’s in Millard. 

Great sauce
First Impressions:  I’m not sure you can find cheaper wings anywhere in Omaha than what you first see on the menu “13 wings for $6.97”.  At first glance, they look and smell well-coated in a spicy Buffalo sauce.  But, the wings themselves just seem to look a bit odd, almost like a few of them had some extra gristle attached to the wings with spackling tape to make them appear supersized.   

SCORE: 8

Sauce:  I even made mention in the bar review from here that “And I will say this; the ‘hot’ sauce was very good”.  Now, I know what you’re thinking…how hard is it to screw-up hot sauce?  And you’re right, it’s really not that hard to use regular old hot sauce (it’s as easy as that) but you’d be surprised how many places can’t even get that right.  The sauce here has a good taste and kick to it, without being so hot that you regret in the morning.

SCORE: 9

MUTANT WING!
Crispy:  I said in my bar review about the wings, “I think they must bake them first, and then throw them in a fryer at the very end”…and I still stand by that.  They are cooked all the way through, in fact too much so.  Instead of crispy, they are more on the chewy side.  And the most odd thing of all, only here do I see wings where the bones are of a blackish-brownish color on the inside.  For those that have ever cracked Maryland blue crabs, it sort of resembles the nasty stuff you scrape off of the good parts you eat.  That being said, I’d rather have them overcooked than undercooked, but they do something funky before frying them if they’re overcooked and still not crispy. 

SCORE: 6

Size:  Out of 13 wings, I would say just about half of them were the right size with a few mutant supersized gristly bad boys thrown in the mix as well.   Again, they were all overcooked and still uncrunchy (is that a word?), so there is more than just frying going on here.  Not horrible, but it seems like they are not the highest grade quality wings in town…maybe THAT explains why they are so cheap?

SCORE: 6

Better size
Extras:  My 11 year old quickly pointed out that not only did I not get any extra napkins, but there also wasn’t a separate plate for the bones.  She also quickly observed that the celery was pretty “old” looking but that the carrots seemed fine.  She can’t stand bleu cheese so let me just say it really doesn’t taste like anything…which is hard to do with bleu cheese.  Oh well, at least it wasn’t horrible. 

SCORE: 6

FINAL SCORE: 35

Not even close in score to the current Omaha “King of the Wing” Choo Choo’s…but if you’re in the area and are looking for cheap, serviceable wings…you can do a lot worse.  My advice, come here on a Tuesday when it’s all-day happy hour and suck down a few $1 pints and order the wings and walk out the door full and a bit buzzed for less than $15.  Plus, after a few beers, you won’t even notice the weird blackish bones in the first place.  

My kid loves the popcorn here


Monday, November 19, 2012

King's Tree, Fremont -- REVIEW

Vampire friendly
1725 E Military Ave
Fremont, NE 68025
(402) 721-4212

I drew the short straw at home and found myself driving to Fremont for hockey practice on a Thursday night.  But, little did Mrs. HitThatDive know that I intentionally chose to “lose’ that round because the last time I drove to the rink in Fremont, I noticed a bar across the street…he shoots and scores!  Note to any hockey parents, send me an email for a complete list of places to grab a beer while your kid is on the ice…it sure beats freezing your ass off on metal bleachers just to watch practice.  Enough with my babbling…

PROS:  Polite regulars.  Vampire friendly. 
CONS:  Cramped bar area.  I did not see any of the Lost Boys.

First Impressions:  SHIT. Is it even open?  The sign was on in front, but that was it.  There was not a single ounce of light coming from inside the bar.  I took my phone out of my pocket and shined it in the windows…but I could not see a thing.  I figured, what the hell, and tried to open the door…AND…it opened.  What was behind the front door?  Another door.  I slowly opened the second door to reveal a crowed, well-lit and loud bar…I didn’t see that one coming.  I grabbed the only open seat at the bar…and waited. 
I see warm nuts

The Bar:  Since the bartender seemed more intent on cleaning tables, waiting on other people that weren’t me, and running the Keno machine…I had plenty of time to scan the rather small place.  A grand total of two beers on tap (Busch Light and Bud Light), nine seats at the bar (although mine was shoved in a corner and in the way of the front door) and eight tables…some of which were the smallest tables I have ever seen.   What really stood out to me was how the bar blocks out every single window and does not allow any light to escape out onto the sidewalk…at all.  Does Fremont have a large vampire population?  I would highly recommend thinking twice before ordering a Bloody Mary while you’re here.

The Crowd:  A common theme with the people in this bar was that they all generally were over the age of 50, prefer mixed drinks and are rather loud.  Now, not loud in a completely obnoxious way…but the words “inside voice” did not come to mind as I was sitting at the bar.  That said, everyone I talked to was extremely nice and one guy who was winning big at Keno when out of his way to walk over and buy me a beer.  In turn, I offered to buy him one as well and he said “That’s not how it works with me…I didn’t buy you a drink to get one in return.”  Thumbs up to honest and friendly regulars!
Thanks for the beer, dude

Service:  Kind of a mixed bag on this one.  It started off as non-existent but then progressively got better from there.  I was there just before a shift change, so it went from an older hard-working Johnny Lunchbucket-type to a much younger, and one of the cuter bartenders I’ve seen in a while.  In fairness to Johnny Lunchbucket, once he finally got around to asking for my order, he seemed to be a fine enough bartender.  His replacement was an upgrade in both service and aesthetics. 

Johnny Lunchbucket: C+
Cute Chick: A-

Prices:  Domestic bottles were setting me back $2.50 and mixed drinks, from what I could tell from looking at everyone’s pile of drinking money, were $3.50.  Maybe that’s why this place attracts so many mixed-drink drinkers (say that one three times fast).  Anyone remember what Bela Lugosi's drink of choice was?

Food:  By odd coincidence, I could not find a clove of garlic to save my life…Hmmmmmm?  The highlight of the food menu clearly was the buttery popcorn smell that overwhelmed the entire bar.  Other than that, as usual, there were some stale-looking non-descript bags of chips hanging on the wall.  Oh, almost forgot, they have warm nuts behind the bar.  (Editor’s Note…I will never get tired of typing the words “warm nuts”).
Vampires...all of them

Entertainment:  Even though this is a pretty small bar, they somehow managed to cram a dartboard into one of the corners…not sure there is enough room to play it so maybe just bring a wooden stake and hope for the best.  There also are a grand total of 2 TV’s and a lonely Internet jukebox that I’m guessing only gets played once in a blue moon. 

Bartender Chat:  In keeping with his Johnny Lunchbucket persona, when asked if he had any Dewar’s he responded by saying “Dewar’s? I don’t deal with that high-end shit!” Now, I’m not a scotch drinker, but I’m pretty sure a bottle Dewar’s White Label Blended Scotch Whiskey is NOT high-end shit. But thumbs up to bartenders that think it is!

Restroom:  Dare I go in there without Corey Feldman to provide me with back up?  Oh well, a job is a job…they were OK enough.  A bit on the smallish side, but not horrible…a toilet brush could do wonders in here if just given the chance. 
Is toiletbrush one word or two?

How Far Did My $20 Go:  I can’t lie, never got a chance to blow though all my drinking money here…as you recall I was driving my kid around and had to drastically reduce my now customary overindulgence.  But, $20 will get you eight beers…not great…not horrible. 

Final Impressions:  For me, it was a fine enough place to kill 90 minutes and avoid freezing my ass off in a hockey rink.  Should you go out of your way to stop in here?  I know I wouldn’t.  But, if you’re in the immediate area, or like I was, across the street why not stop by for a drink or two...it's a fine enough place for what it is.  A word of caution, I would avoid any conversations about “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob”…for all you know either of them might be lurking right by the warm nuts.  DAMN…it never gets old!

DIVE-O-METER
6

Not a bad little place...except for the vampires

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Choo Choo's -- Omaha Wing Challenge

No Frills-Looking Menu
14240 U Street  
Omaha, NE 68137
(402) 895-6617


Oh…about a year ago I set out to find Omaha’s best wings, and then as usual…after several reviews…I immediately became distracted by a dog with a puffy tail.  But, fear not…the quest continues again.  I was doing some online “research” and came across the bar Choo Choo’s several times as a place that had some of the best wings in Omaha… it even says so on their website.  And as you know, if you read it on the Internet, it must be true!  But, living by the philosophy “Trust but Verify” I figured I should go and find out for myself. 

For those keeping score at home, the best HitThatDive wing score is a total of 50 points based on scores from five separate categories. But, enough of me babbling…let’s eat some wings.  So far, the highest score has been a 47 at Oscar’s.

Looking Good So Far
First Impressions:  The most barebones-looking black and white menu I have ever seen. Hidden toward the bottom of the first page of the menu gives you the option for “Large Hot Wings (15-16 wings) $9.95”. Or “Small Hot Wings (10-12 wings) $7.95”.  I went with the small order in case they weren’t all that good…big mistake on my part. 

After being asked my preference in sauces from mild all the way to nuclear…I decided on hot to keep things consistent with other reviews.  From my seat at the bar, I could HEAR my wings being fried (always a good sign) and then bartender Dana brought me out a steaming basket of wings that looked and smelled incredible!

Score: 10

Sauce:  Even though Choo Choo’s owner Joe says the sauce is just cayenne pepper sauce, I SWEAR it tasted just a bit buttery (like Buffalo wings do in the east) and eventually had a nice kick after a moment or two.  Joe would know better than I would what he puts in his sauce, but in any case, it’s a very authentic Buffalo-tasting sauce that’s not too overpowering but still has a good zing to it.

Score: 9

Perfect Size
Crispy:  So what if they wings look and even smell good…the real question is are they crispy enough?  And at Choo Choo’s the answer is hell yes!  I will never understand how a bar that serves wings can undercook these damn things…but it happens all the time.  However, big thumbs-up to the staff at Choo Choo’s for frying my wings up perfectly and then even asking me after the first one if they were indeed crispy enough.  Answer…they are PERFECT!

Score: 10

Size:  When it comes to making great wings, size does matter and bigger definitely is not better.  Owner Joe and I both agree that places that serve the giant turkey-sized wings are doomed to never have them cooked thoroughly.  Where do chicken wholesalers even find chickens that do bicep curls seven days a week?  The wings at Choo Choo’s are the size that wings should be from non-mutant chickens…which enables their kitchen to fry them to perfection. 

Score: 10

Perfection Again
Extras:  My small order of wings came with so much celery that I don’t need to eat another vegetable all week!  The bleu cheese had more of a parmesan taste to it than bleu cheese…not awful…just a different taste than I was expecting.   The only “complaints” I have (if you can even call it that) would be a few additional napkins, a separate basket for the bones and the always elusive wetnap.  Other than that, the only other complaint I have is that I didn’t get the large order instead!

Score: 9

Reading around on Facebook, it appears that Choo Choo’s went through a complete change in kitchen staff within the last week.  But fear not, it seems that their formula for making great wings has not changed no matter who is doing the cooking.  Are they the best wings in Omaha?  Who knows…that’s why there’s a damn wing challenge in the first place!  But, as for now, we have a new HitThatDive “King of the Wing” and that is indeed Choo Choo’s with a new high score of 48!  A personal thanks to Joe and his son for a great afternoon and a free beer too!

New King of the Wing!
Choo-Choo Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Library Pub, Omaha -- REVIEW


Divey looking
5142 North 90th Street
Omaha, NE 68134
(402) 571-6262


Facebook fans of HitThatDive voted two weeks ago for a place in town that had to have the word “pub” in the name of the bar for the next review.  The votes were tallied and the clear-cut winner was the Library Pub.  In briefly looking at their website, the Pub describes itself as “the cozy neighborhood bar with Northwest Omaha's best selection of craft and imported beer as well as fine Scotch, Bourbon and other whiskies.”  I immediately thought, this will easily go one of two ways…it’s either going to be an Omaha hidden gem…OR…a bar inhabited with nothing but a bunch of snooty little fucks.  Both will make for a great review…so either way I win!

PROS:  The best stocked bar in Omaha.  Knowledgeable owner. Relaxed atmosphere
CONS: Bring more than your normal amount of drinking money. 

Look at all the booze
First Impressions:  For a place that boasts the best selection of scotch and bourbon it sure does have a good old dive look from the outside. And, living up its name of “Library” at first glance it does remind me of a dive bar version of what I assumed “The Study” to look like in the game of Clue.  I never even made it to an open bar stool before I was WARMLY welcomed by bartender Mark (who also turned out to be owner and resident liquor professor) .  More on him in a bit…there a section specifically for that you know.  

The Bar:  Nothing particularly overwhelming at first glance, a long bar with 15 or so seats, booths on the back wall, and tables with comfortable-looking desk chairs.  And yes, there is even a wall with plenty of books on it.  Now, take a look behind the bar and you will be amazed at just how many various bottles of scotch and whiskey they have in stock.  There are more than 150 different types of beer (32 of which are on tap), more than 150 really high-end spirits, 10 of the top 50 single malt scotches in the World…and…Bud Light.  Of note, there was a creepy doll hanging from the ceiling behind the bar. 
Not uppity

The Crowd:  For the most part the people here were late 20’s-early 30’s, ranged from single dudes drinking craft beer to a table of scotch sales people drinking really expensive booze, and a female regular drinking Busch Light from a bottle…and yet…I wasn’t picking up any sort of pretensions vibe from this group.   A place where cheap beer drinkers and single malt scotch drinkers can coexist?  I can live with that.  

Service:  Owner/bartender Mark may not be for everyone, and he seems perfectly fine with that.  He is clearly the king of his castle and seems to be genuinely interested in educating anyone at his bar about the various types of whiskey and scotch they might like…even if you’re never had either of them before in your life.  My recommendation: if you stop by here is to bring a pen and paper to write down all the facts about high-end liquor that Mark can throw at you over the course of a few hours.   A former attorney, Mark is the perfect example of the phrase “Find something that you love to do, and you will never work a day in your life”.  His enthusiasm for his bar and educating his customers is very apparent, and to me, very entertaining too. 
Not my speed

Prices:  These can vary WILDLY depending on what you order.  Prices go anywhere from $1.50 Bud Lights all day on Monday to scotch from a bottle that costs $480 at retail which will set you back nearly $50 for a two ounce pour.  Tuesdays are “Good Beer” day which gets you a $1 off all craft and import beer after 7:00 PM and Wednesdays is “Fine Spirit” day which gets you $1 off open to close.   Bring more than your usual amount of drinking money when you’re here, or just stick to Bud Light…which almost seems like a crime in this bar. 

Food:  Some of the best damn popcorn I have had in a while.  Currently, the Library Pub doesn’t have a kitchen but it sounds like they are in the process of expanding the room and I thought I overheard Mark say that the expansion will also include a kitchen.  Stay tuned for that.

Entertainment:  Mark keeps the vibes in his bar under control by smartly having his own Pandora station playing though the sound system in his place.  There also are 4 TVs, a dartboard and the usual golf game that no one is playing.  When asked why he doesn’t have a pool table, Mark quickly shot back that he is not about to arm his customers with weapons.  Good point!
What you see is what you get

Bartender Chat:  When asked what kind of scotch I like, I quickly replied that it’s not my thing.  Mark’s response is that everyone likes scotch…they just haven’t found the right one yet.  His enthusiasm for his bar, and his extensive knowledge of his inventory (more than $60,000 worth) is the best way to sum up my conversations with him 

Restrooms:  Not horrible.  Nothing to write home about either.  I suggest if you plan on doing some reading at the Library Pub to do so in their comfortable chairs and make your stop to their restrooms brief and to the point. 

How Far Did My $20 Go:  I was drinking Ska Brewing’s Euphoria Pale Ale (6.1% ABR) which was setting me back $4 a pop on Good Beer Tuesday.  Five of those for $20 and few samples of whiskey bought me a far better buzz than I would have anticipated before I sat down.

Final Impressions:  This is the graduate school of dive bars.  It’s low key with just the right amount of a dive feel and one of the more impressive collections of hooch anywhere in the area.  In one Yelp review, Mark was referred to as the “host” of the Library Pub…which is true.  But he’s also the professor, bartender, character and soul of the entire bar too.  If you like Mark’s approach to running a bar you will LOVE this place.  If you prefer to drink in a bit more solitude, buy a 40 and a paper bag…you will be much happier.  HIT THIS DIVE!

DIVE-O-METER
8

Creepy doll!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Isn't It Finally About Time for New Halloween Music?

ENOUGH of the Monster Mash.  This song should be included on every dive bar jukebox...well...in dives that still have real jukeboxes, and not those Internet-connected iPads that hang on the wall.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ponderosa Bar, Elk City -- REVIEW

Even the picture smells good
12203 North 225th Street  
Valley, NE 68064
(402) 779-3192

Thanks to a suggestion from HTD reader Michelle Miller, I found myself on the way to Elk City (even though their mailing address says Valley) for a few beers at Ponderosa Bar.  It's close to Omaha.  It's the middle of nowhere.  A text from part-time drinking buddy Speck said that Ponderosa Bar "...is as close to the middle of nowhere you can get in Omaha." Who needs a GPS when you can give directions to a bar just like this?  Take Dodge Street west then go north on 204th Street. Hang a left at the John Deere dealership and take the road until it ends. Make a right...Ponderosa Bar will be the ONLY bar on your right.  Please, somebody (anybody) use just those directions to see if you get there.  If you get lost, I owe you a beer...but you're also a bit dim because it really is just that easy to get here.

PROS:  Great bartender. Great regulars.  I was called "sweet thing" more than once.
CONS:  Price of non-happy hour beers.  Short guys will need a step-stool for the urinal.

Now that's a long bar
First Impressions:  My car is the only vehicle in the parking lot that isn't a heavy duty pickup or a Harley.  Gee, wonder just how much I'm going to stick out when I walk in? I didn't even get through the front door and something smelled amazing...kind of like really good fries at a bowling alley...but even better than that.  I, for once, didn't get the "who the hell are you" stares from the regulars and instead was greeted by the bartender who asked "What are you drinking honey?"  Why can't all female bartenders greet a new customer that way?  Sometimes I feel completely out-of-place when I first sit down at a new bar, but not here, it took exactly one minute to start talking sports with a few of regulars.

The Bar:  The "Pondo", at least that's what the regulars call it, is a pretty narrow building but it's nearly three times as long as it is wide.  The extra-long bar has enough room for 13 stools and there are tables and seating for easily another 50 (if not more) around the rest of the room.  Like Busch Light on tap?  Well then, you're shit out of luck if you don't, because that's the only draft beer they serve.  There were plenty of domestic bottles of beer in an ice tub behind the bar as well as your usual suspects of liquor for those so inclined.  There was a sign for a $3.50 Jim Beam special...so something tells me the Pondo has served-up it's fair share of shots and beers over the years.  I want to come back here when it's cold outside too because they have a wood-burning stove on one of the walls...and a huge pile of wood outside.  Can't be the smell of a wood burning stove!  Also of note, they are closed on Mondays.

Plenty of room for Taco Tuesday
The Crowd:  They have both kinds of regulars...bikers AND farmers.  This seems to be a place to stop at if you're out for a long ride on your Harley, or if you're looking to take a break from ranching (did I use that term correctly?).  People of all ages were coming and going as I sat there including a biker grandma (who was pushing 70) all decked out in her black leather riding gear.  Those not in Harley gear all appeared to be walking billboards for John Deere...but...everyone in the bar was just about as nice as they could be.  I love regulars that talk to you like they've known you forever, even though I didn't even know the "town" of Elk City existed until three days ago.

Service: Get out of the city, and the suburbs for that matter, every once in a while for service like you can only seem to get in an out-of-the-way bar like this one.  Bartender Rikki (not a dude) served up drinks, waited tables and even did the cooking without ever making anyone wait...for anything. Ever.  By contrast, I quit going to my local Starbucks because even with 7 people behind the counter, it takes 10 minutes for them to pour over-priced coffee into a cup and hand it to me.  Not only that, bartender Rikki was friendly, funny and even brought in some homemade soup for one of the regulars (ham and bean if you're curious).  I'm sure that if Andy Griffith went to a bar in Mayberry, his favorite bartender would be a carbon copy of her.

Prices:  This one took me off guard just a bit.  I was not in the mood for Busch Light, so I ordered a domestic bottle which Rikki said will be $3. Not outrageous, considering I was paying $7 for warm Bud Light at the CenturyLink Center later that evening, but I was thinking it would be closer to $2.  Once the Husker game started, happy hour prices kicked in and brought the cost of my beer to $2.25...that's more like it.  The Pondo has happy hour Tuesday-Sunday at 4-6, which seems to get you .75 cents off of beer and close to a dollar off of mixed drinks. Mixed drinks at happy hour will set you back somewhere in the $3.50 range.  Note to self...Captain and Coke next time I'm here will be a bigger bang for the buck.

Beers ready to go
Food:  Enough of me whining about the beer prices...the food smells AMAZING.  Like a fool, I ate at Jimmy Johns right before I came here so I wasn’t hungry...BUT...the burgers and fries (cooked right behind the bar) looked and smelled incredible.  Saturday night is always prime rib night, and more than a few HTD readers swear by the Taco Tuesday here as well. If you like honest-to-goodness home cooked bar food...this place should be on your "must stop" list...that is if you have a list by that name in the first place.  Oh...they also have "warm nut" Wednesday (insert giggle here) and pickled eggs in a jar.  Someday I am going to run for the Unicameral and pass a law that requires ALL bars to serve pickled eggs. Once that law is enacted, I will immediately resign my position. Vote HitThatDive...PICKLED EGGS FOR EVERYONE!

Entertainment:  Three TV's, two of which were on.  One was a projector on a screen and the bulb needs replacing according to the warning at the bottom of the screen (just passing along a courtesy to the owners) and of course they have the omnipresent Golden Tee and Big Buck Hunter. There's also a pool table thrown in the mix as well. In a pleasant surprise they DON'T have an awful Internet jukebox and instead still have an older model that plays only the music the bar wants to hear...thank GOD!

Bring a step-stool
Bartender Chat:  I was too busy talking to the regulars and Rikki for that matter, to write down any real notes on this one.  Let's just say this, when you have a bartender who immediately refers to you as "sweet thing" you're going to talk about just about everything under the sun.

Restrooms:  Old, small and yet clean.  However, in an odd twist, the one and only urinal is only useful for men above the height of 5'7" OR a short man who is unusually well-endowed.  If you don't fit either of those categories, just use the regular old toilet on the other side of the partition.

How Far Did My $20 Go?:  Non-happy hour gets you an adequate six beers. Make it a point to be here between 4-6 and you can slam down nearly nine for the same price.

Final Impressions:  There's a sign behind the bar that read "Treat others as you would like to be treated" and that sums up the Pondo perfectly.  If you're looking to get out of town, without actually getting out of the area...this place makes a great destination.  Its rural setting is how I expected all of Nebraska to look when I came here for the first time eight years ago...which made me like this place even a little bit more than I had expected.  Hop on your Harley, jump in your truck...hell...throw the kids in the old minivan and take a drive in the country and bring them here...it's well worth the trip.

DIVE-O-METER
7.5

The ONLY bar in "town".

Ponderosa Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

T-Shirts -- LADIES FIRST

Who knew that people were looking for HitThatDive gear? Yeah...kind of shocked me too.  Well, now here's your chance to be the coolest-looking, over-served chick in every gin joint in town!  Ladies seem to be more picky than their drunken counterparts (Michelle Miller, I'm looking your way) SO...if you have a t-shirt size preference...speak up by Friday.  Or, get stuck with whatever the hell I end up ordering.

Price will be in the $17-20 range.  And guys, don't forget, HitThatDive ladies t-shirts make the perfect anniversary present if you haven't been all that thrilled with the old lady in the last few years in the first place!




Become Dive Bar "Certified"
I hope she indeed does have a head

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dave's Pub, Omaha -- REVIEW

Don't look for a sign, there isn't one.
8805 Maple Street  
Omaha, NE 68134
(402) 391-2589
  
There was a tie on this week’s Facebook poll about which Omaha “pub” I should check out for a review over the weekend.  So, I went with a write-in candidate nominated by Scott B. named "Dave’s Pud". Now, I don’t know about you, but where I grew up the words “pud” and “pub” were two very different things. Assuming that he did indeed mean PUB, I Googled Scott's’s nomination and immediately noticed they served “Big Ass Beers”. The term big ass beer made me think of two things…1) drinking on Beale Street in Memphis and 2) this scene from Tropic Thunder. OK Dave’s Pud…I mean PUB…let’s see what ya’ got.
 
PROS: Big ass beers. Friendly bartender.Comfortable like an old pair of jeans.
CONS: No sign on the outside. Really bad aim in the men’s room

Rustic mountain lodge?
First Impressions: I missed the only sign for Dave’s, which is on Maple, so I had to turn into the Sizzler parking lot. I’ll assume that the place at the end of shady strip mall is my destination and oh look…two good old boys are getting ready to fire-up a chain saw right in the front door. I walk past the dudes with the chain saw, check to ensure that I have all my limbs, and grab a seat at the rustic-looking (is that the right word?) bar. An odd start, but this is a straight-up dive. So far, so good.

The Bar: Want a Cosmo?  White wine perhaps? Then get the hell out, you’re in the wrong place. They do have 7 regular guy beers on tap, the usual suspects of bottled beer in a cooler and a sign that says they have Apple Pie and Blue Pixie Stick shots. Definitely not the biggest selection of liquor, but who cares, I’m here for a few big ass beers! The well-used looking bar has 15 seats and there’s an assortment of 12 or so tables scattered around the rest of the place. And even though I know I’m in Omaha, this bar reminds me of a dive I was at last year in the middle of nowhere Montana.  HA…so “rustic” WAS the right word!
Not the most choices ever.

The Crowd: This is a no frills blue-collar bar, so oddly enough, it was populated by a no frills blue-collar crowd. Mostly men, mostly older…except for the table of women that were polite enough to ask if they could interrupt the football game we were watching so they could play one song on the jukebox. The song was “Older Woman Know How to Please a Man”…hmmmm…seems a little early in the day for cougars on the prowl. Lots of talk about hunting, fishing, football and camping with the crowd here…which is fine…at least I’m well-versed in football. Of note, two pretty cute chicks walked in right as I was about to leave and started to drink Bud out of bottles. Does this happen oftenhere?  I can’t say. But it was worth making a note of nonetheless.

Service: Friendly, like really friendly. My bartender for the day was a tatted-up good old boy and even had a dip in as he efficiently worked the bar. How friendly was he?  After welcoming me and asking what I wanted to drink before I even sat down, he brought me my big ass beer and asked what football game I wanted to watch on the TV directly in front of me. I’ve been to my share of bars where I practically have to plead with them to put on certain games…hell…I even walked out of the Draft House last year trying to catch the first half of a Steelers game because they would not change the channel on one of their 20 TVs! 
Big ass beer!
Prices: A big ass 27-ounce beer is $4.00 a day…every day. The Apple Pie shots were $3.00 and there are assorted beer specials advertised all over the walls. But why would you not just stick with a big ass beer?? Oh I know, because some wimps in the crowd will say that draft beer gives them a headache! Worst excuse ever…
 
Food: I even made it a point to look for chips, and never saw any. They did have an empty crock-pot on a table and a gumball machine…that’s about all I saw. There is a door that connects Dave’s to the Homestyle CafĂ© that advertises “daily lunch specials” on their outdoor sign. But, from what I can tell, they are not open on a Saturday.
 
Entertainment: What are the odds that they have Big Buck Hunter in here? Answer 100%!  Along with shooting fake wild game you can play darts, Golden Tee, or rock-out to a few cougar-themed songs on the jukebox.

Target practice needed
Bartender Chat: Hell, we talked pretty much the entire time I was in there…mostly about football. Here was a very telling exchange about the type of bar that Dave’s is…at one point one of the regulars oddly enough named “Dave” walked out without his coat and a dude sitting next to me at the bar was going to run it out to him. Without missing a beat my bartender Tommy matter-of-factly says “That’s just Dave, Dave just sort of comes and goes all day. He’ll be back to get it later.”  Not sure they were looking for a tagline for the place, but “Dave’s Pub: feel free to come and go all day” would be a good one.

Restrooms: Don’t let the picture fool you, they appear to be clean enough but they were kind of stinky.  And for as much as they talk about hunting  in this bar, I’ll be damned if anyone has ever successfully shot and killed anything? Why…because the aim in the men’s room was horrendous.

How Far Did My $20 Go? How does the equivalent of  more than 11 bottles of beer (on the wall) work for you?  Yep…for 20 bucks you can get yourself 135 ounces of draft beer and one hell of a buzz.

Final Impressions: If you like a regular old dive that feels every bit as comfortable as that old pair of jeans that you should have thrown out years ago but you just can’t do it because no matter how warn they are…they still fit you perfectly. Then you will love this bar.  Should you Hit This Dive? Did you just read the review…of course you should!

DIVE-O-METER
 7

Look for this then trun at the Sizzler

Dave's Pub/Keno on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jerry's Bar, Omaha -- REVIEW


Hello, Jerry
6301 Military Avenue  
Omaha, NE 68104
(402) 553-3343

Thanks to everyone who voted on the HitThatDive Facebook page, the tallies were in, and Jerry's Bar won by a huge margin.  So, it was off the Benson to check out why so many readers thought Jerry's Bar, a place described on its own FB page as "neighborhood atmosphere w/ a modern twist-MOE'S (SIMPSON'S) meets the MARQUIS DE SADE/BLIND EYE (PRAGUE)!" would be a good place to review.Enough of the back story…let's get to it.

PROS:  Cool vintage clothing store vibe.  Owner Rob Rutar. Shot and beer special
CONS: Military Avenue confuses me.  Closes nighty at 12:00 a.m.

Great beer selections
First Impressions:  It's a strip mall sort of place, but I assume this was built before the term "strip mall" was even invented.  It appears to be just the right amount of "Krusty" on the outside and was a bit dingier at first glance than I thought it might be…not an issue…just an observation.  Walking though the door this place already reminds of a different bar…but which one?  Eclectic assortment of draft beers…good assortment of bottled beer…old-dive vibe…Rob Rutar behind the bar.  Oh shit…is this the Leavenworth Bar?  I quickly check the coaster on the bar in front of me to make sure that it does indeed say that it's Jerry's Bar.  I'm actually kind of digging the place so far, and as usual, I stand-out as the only non-regular in the joint.  Here's a tip, want to know if I'm in the bar you're in, I'm usually the only person you've never seen before.
 
The Bar:  It really is a cross between an old-school dive, and retro vintage hip…I assume that the Homy Inn thinks it succeeds at this delicate balance...it does not.  A good assortment of 17 beers on tap, a well-stocked cooler of many other beers, and a tip jar behind the bar that dares to throw money into it with the words "Bet You Can't" written on the front.  There are 10 or so old tables with a matching old black stackable chairs and there are just enough cool vintage beer signs and clocks around the place to give it "hip" (I hate that word) vibe without looking like it's trying too hard to be too cool.  Maybe I'm just easy to amuse, but the vintage spinning PBR signs above the bar could mesmerize me for hours.  Hmmmm…Moe's meets a bar in Prague?  Yeah…I kind of see that already.

Looking spooky for Halloween
The Crowd:  A mix of courteous old guy drinkers to my right, mixed in with a group of younger drinkers to my left that someday aspire to be the cool old guys in a bar.  Cheers to Rob for running a bar where old guys, blue collar workers and people that shop in vintage clothing stores (and can actually pull that look off) can sit and drink in a relaxed vibe.  I failed to mention earlier that even though there were football games on TV, there was blues music on the entire time, which is ALWAYS a good thing to have on in the background.  I had to make a note of the one conversation going on beside me, the premise of the entire debate was, and I quote "Would you rather wrestle a sheep or a pig?"  For the record, I'm going to wrestle the sheep, but it was a close call. 
 
Service:  Two years ago at the Leavenworth Bar, I was kind of put-off because it seemed that Rob treated the regulars better than he treated me.  Almost two years later, and I still think the same thing but with a huge caveat.  Rob clearly wants to run a bar frequented  by regulars.  Plus the fact that he knows everyone in there by name shows why he is one of the best bar owners in town.  Rob has a bit of a "cooler than you" demeanor…because he probably is cooler than you.  Lord knows he's cooler than me!  Do not confuse that with arrogance, he just seems to know what he likes in a bar, treats his regulars like he values their business and approaches running a bar like bars were operated 30 years ago.  Basically, a professionally run establishment where regulars go to get drunk and talk to friends.  I get it now.  I missed the mark about Rob's style two years ago. 

Love these!
Prices:   I was paying $3.50 a pint for Shiner Oktoberfest (not my usual order at all, but Rob recommended it) and suddenly a sign that advertised Bud and Jager for $6.50 caught my eye. I didn't catch the prices of the mini-pitchers, but that really seemed to be order of choice for most of the bar.  My guess is that the prices here are comparable of what you would pay anywhere in Benson.  Do not expect $1 shot nights…but do show up for a Husker game…it seems they  hand out free shots after touchdowns on occasion.
 
Food:  The usual assortment of potato chips behind the bar.  But, from what I can tell during Husker games, they do have some sort of food for free including sloppy joes the day I was there and the occasional pig roast out in the beer garden

Entertainment:  There is a nice little dartboard room right behind the bar, a pinball machine and an old-time sit-down video game of some sort.  There are four TVs so watching a game  or two here as a possibility, but don't confuse Jerry's with a sports bar either. 

Bartender Chat:  Not much, which was actually fine with me.  Rob is always polite, chats with the regulars and did mention that he once lived in Prague running bars there for a number of years as well.  I didn't try one, but Rob asked one of the regulars if he wanted a Bloody Mary because he was getting all the stuff out to make one.  If you're a Bloody Mary drinker at all, they looked like some of the best in town. 
 
Not awful
Restroom:  Clean, old and small.  I'm guessing from the looks of this bathroom that this bar has been around since the 1950's or early 60's.  Why do I guess that?  Because the tile work on the floor reminded me of my elementary school that was built in the late 50's…and I'm guessing they haven't made a bathroom like this in at least several decades.

How Far Did My $20 Go:  Three Shiner Oktoberfest beers and THEN a shot of Jager and a 16 ounce Bud with some money leftover.  Can you find a cheaper bar in town, of course, but every now and then I don't mind paying a bit more for a few drinks if I'm in a bar that's run the right way. 

Final Impressions:  To fully appreciate Jerry's Bar, I'm sure that you have to make it a point to be a regular here.  But don't let that scare you off from stopping by if you like the idea of a place that can walk the fine line between being a dive and being a retro-cool place to hang out.  Cheers to Rob for clearly not heading the "advice" from my review of the Leavenworth Bar and running his business any damn way he pleases…he knows what he's doing as a bar owner far more than I know what I'm doing as a bar reviewer.  Hit This Dive!
 
DIVE-O-METER
 
7.5 (if you're a new customer)
8.5 (if you're a regular)
Hit This Dive!

Jerry's Bar on Urbanspoon