Jukebox Skipping

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy Bar, Omaha -- REVIEW

601 N. 16th Street
Come on get happy

Omaha NE 68102
402 346 9677

Every now and then I get some sort of smarmy comment on the HitThatDive Facebook page that I don't review nearly enough "shit holes", and what I really need to do (being the huge fan of unsolicited advice that I am) is go to a place like Happy Bar.  Oddly enough, I've meant to meet HTD first readers (ever) Mark and Becky there for at least a year...and finally we were all in the same area at the same time and decided to stop by downtown's most well-known shit hole for a few drinks.  Anticipating an afternoon in a dark, sticky, smelly dump...I was ready to get there.

PROS: OCD Friendly.  Close to the downtown attractions. Flasks for sale.
CONS: Made me sleepy. Bathroom door does not lock. NOT a shit hole as promised.

Shit is orderly!
First Impressions:  Ummm.  Well, yeah...it does smell a bit off.  But not the worst aroma I've ever caught as I walked into the place.  Looking around at the completely empty bar two words immediately did NOT come to mind.  "Happy" or "Shit Hole".  OK...make that three words.  The bar gave off all the excitement of a old snail crawling on a Quaalude, but at first glance was very neat and overly orderly.  Odd.

The Bar:  As standard as it gets.  A decent-sized bar with roughly 10 seats, and an additional 10 tables scatted throughout the rather long but narrow room.  If you like draft beer they have both kinds on tap, Bud AND Bud Light.  A decent collection of cool sports stuff is hanging from pretty much every wall, and there is even an old beer can collection that had an Iron City Beer Steelers can from the 70's.  Cheers for that!  Of note, there is an entire section behind the bar of "To-Go" flasks that clearly are meticulously placed in exact order every 33.7 minutes.

Echo Echo Echo
The Crowd:   Rimshot please!  Well, there were two people at the bar when the three of us walked in. One, as it turned out, was our bartender for the afternoon.  The only other patron looked like the kind of guy you would anticipate that you would see in an empty bar on a Saturday.  Seemed like a nice guy but had absolutely nothing to say.  Throughout the afternoon, several people stopped in to buy a quick flask of vodka and then scurry right back out the door.  Unless you're like George Thorogood, and prefer to drink alone, you may want to bring your own company if bar chat is one of your requirements.  On the other hand, if you're looking to get hammered in privacy...look no further.

Service:  Apparently there is a old dude named Jack who has been tending far here for decades, but he wasn't on duty when we were there.  There was a guy occasionally behind the bar to bring another round...but only after you sat with your glasses empty for a bit and finally asked for another round.  Jack ultimately did make an appearance, but quietly sat at a table alone slugging Mountain Dew from a can.

Random phone
Prices:  I kind of spaced out on this one.  All I know is that our first round, consisting of a tall Jack and Coke, a Bud draw and a bottle of water set me back $8.75.  There are a few signs on the front of the building that advertise "$2 pints during all UFL games"  Question, is there a UFL anymore?  If not...Happy Bar has one of the greatest marketing scams in town!  Nicely done.

Food: Just below the orderly flasks you will find an equally orderly assortment of beef jerky, Slim Jims, Beer Nuts, peanuts and even some peanut butter crackers and a few bags of microwave popcorn.  Talk about a selection!

Entertainment: Pool table, dart board and music to my eyes...a 20 year old CD-only jukebox with a pretty good selection of stuff like The Doors, KISS, The Cars, Jethro Tull and The Black Crowes.  What struck me the most odd were the four very nice higher-end flat screen TV's throughout the bar. They looked as out of place as an elevator in an outhouse.  The assumption is that once the CWS moved downtown, Happy Bar figured they needed to make a few upgrades to attract even more people so they are guaranteed to make an even bigger fortune for those two weeks in June.

No lock.  Be warned
Bartender Chat:  I just actually laughed out loud while typing this.  Other than the usual "what can I get you" conversation, the only other thing I have in notes that I heard our man occasionally behind the bar utter was, and I quote,  "Yeah, thanks." EDIT According to Omaha's only shoe-leather reporter, Matthew Hansen at the World Herald, the regular bartender is a big fan of "Walker Texas Ranger."   Thanks for the usual great intel Matthew!

Restrooms: Nothing too awful, and not that I needed it to, BUT, there is no lock on the door whatsoever.  So guys be warned, if you have an emergency of epic proportions and have to take a seat, bring a door watcher. Oh sure, there was no one in the place, but just your luck some hot-looking chick could potentially walk in and mistakenly open the wrong door. 

How Far Did My $20 Go?: I'm not sure.  But I do know, that the next time the Omaha Nighthawks kickoff, I can easily slug down nine beers and leave a tip.  My guess is the prices here are average, had Mark not ordered water I might have a better guess on this one. 

Final Impressions: Nothing really to love.  Nothing really to hate.  I wouldn't avoid this place necessarily, yet it would not be on the top of my list of places I have to rush to get back to either.  It's actually a relatively nice bar in a pretty old building.  I can only assume how big of  a dump (in the best sense of the word) this place was at one time.  Walk in here not expecting a shit hole and also  much of any sort of "happy" vibe and you wont have any issues with this place.  *SIDE NOTE* If you're reading this because you're plotting out a trip for the CWS by all means stop here as opposed to some of the corporate crap bars we now have in abundance in downtown Omaha!


Insert customers here

Friday, March 8, 2013

Aussie's Pub, Omaha -- REVIEW

Begin bad Austrailian accent now.
2326 N 72nd St
Omaha, NE 68134
(402) 391-1076

G'Day Mate! The good news of late is that I never seem to have a lack of bars suggested by people to go check out when I have some free time.  The bad news is that I can never seem to narrow down which place to check out next.  As it turns out, it seems like the best way for me to get off my lazy ass and check out a bar is "remind" me via Facebook several times..much like Nicole Rupe did with her favorite watering hole...Aussie's Pub. Checking with wingman Speck to see if he was up for a little day drinking on a Saturday, I had him pick me up and off we went.

PROS:  Great place to shoot pool or play darts. Cute bartender. Plenty of room.
CONS: Deceptively smelly men's room. Asked if we were "the Fuzz".

First Impressions:  There are quite a few things to take note of when you walk through the front door; several Australia-themed items (Including some AC-DC stuff), a ton of NASCAR memorabilia, and an honest-to-goodness fish tank behind the bar.  It's much larger on the inside than it appears on the outside and sitting down at the bar I didn't really pick up on any sort of "vibe" (positive or negative) one way or the other.  Fine with me, just seems a bit ho-hum at first.  Not a bad thing, just an impression.

Mini Pitchers
The Bar:  It's a pretty long bar, but only has roughly 10 seats so it looks like you'll never get too cramped while watching the fish as they swim next to the beer cooler.  They have five beers on tap including Foster's (which might not be one of their better sellers because it seemed a bit stale), a ton of tables throughout the two-room NASCAR adorned bar, and even a Dale, Jr. Bud hood prominently hung from the wall. The bar-area itself looked like it could have used just a bit of sprucing-up, but a fine enough place to have a few beers.  The rest of the space was clean and orderly looking.  Of note, there are two goblins hanging in both corners behind the bar, why they are there I can only guess?

The Crowd:  Fine enough collection of good old boy regulars.  Not the most outgoing crowd, but not too afraid to start telling dick jokes to the cute bartender either.  For the first time in a while, it was easy to tell that Speck and I were not going to really fit in at all.  In particular, I noticed a dude five bar stools down from me that could not stop looking my way and thinking to himslef that I was up to something "shady".  Come on dude, don't two strangers walk into your regular bar and start snapping pictures with an IPhone everyday of the week?  It got so bad that this budding Dick Tracy pretended to play Keno for the sole purpose of walking up to me and asking, and I quote, "Are you the Fuzz?"  A thumbs up ole Elliott Ness for just knowing something didn't seem right and doing something about it.

Race Fans!
Service:  Fine enough, but you won't hear any complaints from me.  Our dive bar-appropriate cute bartender was a good sport about all the dick jokes being directed her way and even played some pretty decent stuff on the jukebox.  She was kind enough to ask if we wanted some plastic cups to go with our mini pitchers. As it turns out, answering yes to that trick question makes you look even more suspicious to the already leery regulars   Note to self...if and when there ever is a HitThatDive calendar...our bartender from Aussie's can be Miss March.

Prices:  A mini-pitcher (plastic cup included) was setting us back $4 a pop.  I guess that's an OK price, but the whole mini-pitcher thing is always a bit strange to me. If most people just drink out of the things, why not just switch to a big ass 32 ounce mug?  In any case, it looks like they do have specials here on occasion like Jack drinks for $3.50.  Check the walls for other specials including Red Bull drinks for $4.75, Blue Moon and the always popular PBR Tall Boys!

Great for pool and darts
Food:  To the left side of the fish tank is the usual wall of assorted nondescript chips and that sort of thing.  Who knows, play your cards right on a Friday during lent, and I bet you can get a good price on fresh sushi straight from the tank.

Entertainment:  Here's where I think Aussie's really is set up for.  Two pool tables, including real pool sharks showing up with their own cues, and an entire back wall of dart boards...with plenty of room to throw for once!  As far as I could count there are five TV's, a brand new Internet jukebox, and plenty of room to shake your moneymaker on the nights that have a band in the joint.  There were a few other games scattered around the place too including a lonely pinball machine tucked away in a corner all by itself.  Safe to say this is a perfect set up if you aren't the type that just likes to remain glued to your bar stool.

Bartender Chat:  Nothing of note here.  The typical pleasant small talk, not standoffish in any way, and like I mentioned, she was not shy mixing it up with the good old boy regulars when the dick jokes were getting slung around the bar a mile a minute.  Q: What do you call a woman who loves small dicks? A: Hopefully your girlfriend.

Hold your nose and aim
Restroom:  Speck did the initial fly-by and came back with an interesting report.  He said they look nice until you get in there and then you're overwhelmed by quite the stench and a lonely fruit fly buzzing the urinal.  As it turns out, he was completely right.  My advise...leave your drink on the bar so you have one hand to aim and the other to hold your nose.

How Far Did My $20 Go?:  Five mini-pitchers isn't a horrible option.  Again, nothing outstanding about the bang for your buck, but you can do way worse in other parts of town.

Final Impressions:  This is a tough one.  Aussie's has just about everything you would want in a bar to hang out in for an afternoon and evening but somehow I just wasn't feeling it...that's not a knock on the bar necessarily.  Other than the smell in the men's room, I'm not sure there was anything that I didn't like here. Speck gave the place a 6.5 out of 10.  For our afternoon there, I would say he's right...but I just have this feeling we caught them on an off day.  We both agreed that this place is Omaha Dive Bar Certified...but I'm going with a number just slightly higher than wingman Speck.  In talking with a few a my Omaha bar insiders, they really like the place so that tells me even more that maybe I was just there at the wrong time.   In any event, thanks for the tip Nicole!

Freshest sushi in town

Friday, March 1, 2013

Brass Knocker – THEN AND NOW

3012 North 102nd Street  
Omaha, NE 68134
(402) 572-9400
Only thing that hasn't changed
As you may, or may not recall, Binge-Drinking Ben and I stopped by the Brass Knocker last year and were immediately underwhelmed by the place.  Oh sure, after a few beers we didn’t seem to hate it, but, we never made our way back there either. 

At the beginning of the year, I received a note on the HitThatDive “Hotline” (I didn’t even know we had one?) that said the Brass Knocker was closed as of the 1st of the year.  Not completely surprised I quickly slapped up a “Now Closed” note on their review and went on with my day. 

Then, a few weeks ago I see an ad in the Sunday paper that the Brass Knocker was now hiring?  What the hell is going on?  Being men of action, and looking for a reason to have a few beers on a Sunday afternoon, Ben and I met up with Double-Shot Dave to do some investigating. 

This isn’t going to be a full review, but more of a reason why you should check out all the hard work that Butch, Derek and Justin have put into COMPLETELY renovating the place.  Not to mention they were all great to talk to while we sat there and marveled at how different everything looks! (Editor's Note: My "Now" pictures don't seem to do the place justice...just go and check it out for yourself.)

First Impressions:  Then – Is it open? 

Now – Is it open?  Everything about the outside of the bar looks exactly the same.  In fact, much like the first time, I didn’t think that it was open.  A quick text to Binge-Drinking Ben inquiring on his whereabouts let me know that he was already sitting inside at the bar.  I opened the door to be immediately blinded by a bright, shiny, clean, orderly and pleasant-smelling bar.  Is this even the same damn place?

The Bar:  Then -- A very dark and quiet bar, this is the epitome of West O dives. The patchwork memorabilia on the walls captures decades of music and sports memories and the mix ‘n’ match seating includes everything from bingo-hall chairs to lifted 70’s bar stools to modern office furniture. 

Now – Clean with a new car smell.  Everything, including the chairs, match.  The area that once was home to a huge disco ball now is the home to a stripper pole just begging for some attention.  Unlike before everything behind the bar is neat and orderly and gave the impression, also unlike before, that all the glasses and pitchers had actually been washed before they were used. 

Service:  Then -- A bit standoffish at first, it was dinner time as well, but not too awful considering we were throwing off the “vibe” in the empty room.

Now – Our man Justin was ready to serve-up some of the coldest beer in town in his Brass Knocker bowling shirt.  Even though the place was pretty empty on a Sunday, we were made to feel welcomed from the minute we sat down. 

Price:  Then –   Pretty standard.  $7 a pitcher. Couple bucks a shot.

Now – We were drinking happy hour pitchers for $5 each. 

Entertainment:  Then -- It turns out the Brass Knocker was a staple of the Near-West Omaha Karaoke Circuit…which they seem to have nearly every night of the week.

Now -- Karaoke Monday & Wednesday.  But there is a DJ with the option of karaoke Thursday & Saturday night as well.  Add into that a pool table, great-sounding jukebox and Buck Hunter HD and Golden Tee and you’re good to go any time that you're there.

Bartender Chat: Then -- Before her Jimmy John's and the purchasing of her to take a shot:  N/A

Now – For the first time ever, I blew my cover and introduced myself because I wanted to get the complete story on just how much work went into turned this bar around in such a short period of time.  Justin let me look at 100’s of pictures on his iPhone of just how much work was needed to make the Knocker look great.  Apparently 16-hour days, seven-days a week for two months DOES pay off.  Nice work guys!

Restroom: Then -- Small and a bit dingy. 

Now – Remember that TV show “The Swan” where they take a bunch of overweight homely women and make them hot?  Ditto!

Final Impressions:  Then -- Let’s be honest, if you’ve got nothing better to do then go ahead ‘n’HIT THIS DIVE!

Final Impressions:  Clearly we all were impressed at what the bar looks like now. But the real difference is that Justin, Butch and Derick really seem to care about running a great bar that they are proud to own.  This is place I will definitely be back too again...soon.  I can't give it a final number because I didn't actually write a full review...but this place is clearly Omaha Dive Bar Certified by HitThatDive standards!  Make it a point to give the new Brass Knocker a try and let me know if you agree with our second, and MUCH better assessment of the place!