Jukebox Skipping

Friday, April 12, 2013

JD's Circle-In, Omaha -- REVIEW

3602 S. 31st St.
Old.  Like, old, old, old

Omaha NE 68105 
402 342 9692

I don't really like to read novels (that's potentially the worst start to a bar review ever).  What does that have to do with sitting in a bar and having a few beers?  Let me explain.  Well, let me rephrase the first sentence...I don't really like to read novels if they aren't written by an author named Richard Russo.  For those unfamiliar with his work, he won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2002 book Empire Falls which is a story set in a fictional, small blue-collar town in Maine.

Much like some of his other books including Nobody's Fool (also my favorite movie of all time) and the Risk Pool, he can make the act of sitting in a old bar and having mundane conversations with a few colorful regulars more interesting than any reality show ever invented.  In my mind, I have an exact mental picture of what one of those bars he so brilliantly writes about looks like. Which as I write this makes wonder if he has ever spent time in JD's Circle-In because it is right out of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Pros: Great old bar.  Great 70ish bartender/owner. Great regulars.
Cons: Fireball from the cooler seemed warmer than room temperature.

Beer and candy
First Impressions:  Not sure I can explain how to get here.  Luckily, HTD's Director of Research Mark knew where the hell this bar is located.  It just kind of sits off the road a bit and first appears to be some sort of secretive Masonic lodge.   There's no doubt this is an OLD building and doesn't  look like what you would assume a bar to look like from the outside.  Not sure what to expect behind the front door (because there in nothing online about this place) I walked into exactly what I think the perfect old bar should look like.  Awesome!

The Bar:  A nice big wooden bar of the "they don't make them like this anymore" variety, and the back bar would give the one at Old Settler's (well when it was open) a run for its money as a classic example of what an old bar should look like.  Gazing around the room there are four beers on tap, neatly lined bottles of liquor with the prices marked right on them and a cool old weathered clock right next to a JD's Circle In sign.  There are some tables scattered around the old wooden floor and plenty of room to move around for a bar as old as it appears. Apparently, this was a one time a local grocery store OR a drug store...no one was 100 percent sure on that one.  Of note, and as someone pointed-out on a picture I posted on Facebook...the regulars must have a sweet-tooth because there is more than your usual amount of candy for sale.

NOT a strip mall bar
The Crowd:  Mostly older, and nearly all dudes, this is not the kind of bar to frequent if carrying on a conversation isn't your thing.  Within 10 minutes it seemed like I had three conversations going on with just two of the regulars sitting at the bar next to me.  Straight out of a Russo novel, these were real people with real problems that love to come to a friendly bar and not worry about life if only for a little while.  Every person in there never let me walk past them with out smiling, looking me in the eye and asking how I was doing.  I would say everyone here treated the each other like family, but I have seen some pretty dysfunctional families...so let's say they treated each other better than family when I was here.

Service:  This can be summed up in one word.  Donna.  If nobody has done so already, I am naming Donna the "Grand Old Dame" of local Omaha bars.  In her early 70's (I would assume), she reminded me a lot of my late Grandmother, the only difference being that my grandmother would have never been caught dead drinking...let alone in a bar.  Donna is the type of bartender that ALWAYS pours your first beer for you from the pitcher.  Such a simple act, but one that rarely, if ever, is done in bars these days anymore.  Grandmotherly? Yes.  But from what I can tell she can still throw down a few drinks, has no problem telling off color jokes, and a little birdie even told me she been know to dance on the bar on rare occasion.  Even if the bar sucked, it would be worth coming here to have owner/bartender wait on you for an afternoon.

Don't ask abut this special
Prices:   I was paying $4 for a mini-pitcher of domestic beer.  Mark ordered a Gentlemen Jack and Coke for sidekick Becky which also was $4 bucks, but from the look on Becky's face after the first sip...it was one of strongest Jack and Cokes she has had in quite some time! A sign on the cooler said "Ask about our $2.00 wine or shot specials" which Mark then inquired about.  Apparently forgetting that she still had that special advertised, Donna quickly ripped the sign off the cooler and threw it away.  So, feel free to ask about that special, just don't expect to get it.  I also did notice that on "Thirsty Thursday" you can get full-sized pitchers for $6.

Food:   Not it the mood for the wide assortment of candy offered behind the bar?  Donna has some full-sized bags of chips hanging back there too and I also noticed a sign on my way to the men's room that advertised 9" or 12" Tombstone pizzas for $3.75 or $5.75. 

Entertainment:  If chatting with colorful regulars isn't you thing, there are three TV's, internet jukebox a pool table and a dartboard right by the front door...better have good aim in this place and or be careful as you open the door to walk in. 

Bartender Chat:  When asked why she wasn't drinking, Donna responded by saying that she didn't need to get into more trouble just yet.  Which then made my new buddy Walter respond by saying "you're always getting into to trouble."  But the more he thought about it, Walter told Donna "Yeah, you better not, we don't need Donna going down again."  Was that just a double entendre at the expense of a 70 year-old bartender? Why, yes it was.  And that she clearly got the joke and didn't mind at all just made her even more awesome!

Restrooms:  Small, yet inviting.  Hell, this is such a friendly bunch that the way that the men's room is set-up, there's no need to close the door.  That's almost as good as taking a leak outside!

How Far Did My $20 Go?:   Do a little mix-and-match on a Saturday afternoon and you can have two mini-pitchers and two of the strongest Gentlemen Jack and Cokes in town with more than enough money left over in your pocket.

Warm Fireball
Final Impressions:  More and more these days, people need to be entertained by a constant barrage of "reality" TV, over-the-top video games, and the false idea that as long as you're in constant motion you're a better person than people that are perfectly content on being nothing more than who they are.  If an onslaught of new media is what you consider fun, please never come into JD's.

But, if sitting around a real bar, with real people having real conversations...oh did I mention here that the customers bus their own tables out of courtesy too...then this is exactly the place you and (and I) have been looking for.   To quote Richard Russo from Empire Falls, “And there comes a time in your life when you realize that if you don't take the opportunity to be happy, you may never get another chance again.” Make it a point to stop by here, relax, have a drink and most importantly leave happy.  I know I did.


The Grand Old Dame of Omaha Bars!



  1. Hit that Dive should have a foursquare account so people can hang out at the bars you're at.

    1. I think there actually IS a HitThatDive Foursquare account that has not been used in well over a year. Let's see if I can remember the password??

    2. https://foursquare.com/hitthatdive

  2. I've been to JD's Circle-In a number of times and still get lost trying to find it! But this review was spot on! I love that place. Especially on Saturday afternoons...the perfect getaway from life.

    1. I was lucky enough to have a friend drive me there, or I'm not sure I could have found it either! Thanks for reading!

  3. Donna is a treasure and well loved by everyone who frequents JD's. She will whip your butt on the pool table and then offer you a bowl of her homemade chili (the best!). JD's has a great atmosphere which is why many people choose it to celebrate birthdays and other events. They also have awesome horseshoe pits, dart teams and pool teams. Husker game parties are an institution and the food is super and plentiful. For friendly faces, great service and a good time, JD's is the place.

  4. In response to the two anonymous comments above. We have made several changes to our establishment including new entergetic and trust worthy help. We are also getting Donna into the century, slowley but none the less getting there. We have also added an ATM for our customers convience.As for her family that you speak of. me being her daughter ( Kelly ) have and always looked out and been there for my mother. This is why we had to make the changes we did, which has shown to be very sucessfull in all aspects. She is well taken care of by people who love her. She has money in the register,her bills are paid, great customers in the bar and alot less stress. So I say to all you bitter and bad people take care of your own back yard and stay out of others. Cause if you look in your back yard you will find a whole lot to take care of.Move on with your lives we have and Donna has never been better taken care of and always will be. God Bless!

  5. I am glad the "anonymous" comments were deleted; I don't know what they were, but were not indicative of the experience I had at JD's. This bar is amazing, Donna was fantastic: JUST AS SHE IS! There is a terrible trend in this country to belittle the old and decry tradition: I hope that JD's does not change to accomodate a 'normal' bar crowd. Folks, there are plenty of run-of-the-mill d-bag bars in Omaha; JD's is the opposite. A throwback to a simpler time and pleasant experience. Kelly, please don't change what ain't broken on the comments of a couple of buttmunchs. JD's Circle Inn is a fine bar, and Donna is one of my favorite bartenders in Omaha!

  6. "I Love This Bar"
    Been going in J.D.'s for quite some time and haven't found anything that compares. LVU Back Donna