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. 

Cozy
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.


DIVE-O-METER
9

The Grand Old Dame of Omaha Bars!




 


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Buffalo Company -- Omaha Wing Challenge

4725 S. 96th Street
Not very inviting

Omaha, NE 68127
402 592-9999

A few weeks ago, the Omaha World Herald assembled a few people to taste test wings places around town to determine which one served the best in Omaha.  Hey, wait?  Didn't HitThatDive already do that a few weeks before the OWH article?  Why, yes...yes we did.  

After reading the entire long, and slightly confusing article, I walked away with two thoughts.  1) Come on Sarah Baker Hansen, would a brief "shout-out" to the number one wing review site in town really have killed you? (Google: Best wings in Omaha and see what comes up first).  And, 2) if I read the piece correctly, are the wings at a place called the Buffalo Company really the best in Omaha, as I think the article finally eluded to?  Well then, for the first time in my life I am going to heed the advice of a fine dining and occasional fashion reporter and make a trip to try "Omaha's Best Buffalo Wings".  

30 minutes in the making!
First Impressions:  This usually begins once the wings show up at the table, but since that took 30 minutes in a completely empty restaurant to get my order of 10 wings (on wing night no less) I was able to make a few other observations.  One word Buffalo Company: VACUUM.  This modern invention would really do wonders for the disgusting carpets in your place...this coming from a guy that hangs out in dive bars so I know gross when I see it.   

Just wondering out loud here, but if the dining area looks like a rodent's wet dream...what does the kitchen look like?  If you indeed sell beer like your website says, you might want to make that obvious to your customers by you know, having it visible OR having a sign that says we sell beer.  I just saw that on your website now.  After sitting for half an hour in place that seemed intent on either making me sad, or pissing me off, a fine young lad toted my order out from the kitchen.  No celery. No blue cheese.  No extra plate for the bones.  Three words came to mind WTF!

Score: 0!

No sauce
Sauce:  This is supposed to be "authentic" buffalo wing sauce...it most definitely is not.  I ordered the hot sauce and it was sort of OK at first, but then started giving off some sort of mutant vinegar taste and smell.  Not horrible necessarily, but nothing I want to ever have to ingest again.  And, by the time I got to the second layer of wings on the bottom of the basket they were SWIMMING in what looked to be some kind of buffalo wing primeval ooze.  Not only that, while the poor wings at the bottom were forced to soak up the saucy-greasy-yucky puddle at the bottom of the basket, a few lucky wings were never even tossed in the "sauce" before they came out of the kitchen.  Looked like they went from the fryer, to a bucket with way too much sauce dumped on them then flopped into a basket.  Hell, you already took 30 minutes to make them, why not take the extra 25 seconds to coat them the right way? 

Score: 2

Crispy:  No doubt that they were crispy, but they were somehow oddly crispy.  Someone on a HTD Facebook post wrote that the wings here reminded them of beef jerky...I though they had more of a pork rind crunch going on.  The few that were spared from the sauce were on the chewy side, but most definitely not under cooked.   Not sure what else to say on this one.  I know, I'll say something positive...they were not under cooked!  Nicely done Buffalo Company. 

Score: 7

Coated in grease
Size:  They are big and meaty wings, can't argue that one either.  But, a few bordered on wings so big the chickens must have been raised in or around Chernobyl because there were some mutants in the bunch. For those that like giant wings in a bizarre soupy sauce while sitting in a dirty restaurant...I have found your place!

Score: 7

Extras:  No celery.  No blue cheese. No extra plate.  And those are just for starters.  This place is horribly over-priced for what it is, and serves arguably the messiest, most sloppy wings I have even eaten.  I went to take a picture of one wing, and was disgusted by just how much grease soaked through the paper towel in less than 30 seconds (and I am not easily grossed out).  I lost count of how many paper towels I needed just to try and keep my hands relatively "authentic buffalo sauce" free.  Even my cell phone received collateral damage from the grease that dripped off of one wing as I was trying to shove it into my mouth before it potentially dripped all over my pants. 

Score: 0

Final Thoughts: For the first time in a LONG time, I didn't even finish my order of 10 wings and happily dumped them where they belonged...in the garbage.  Five hours after eating there and I was still belching up the remnants of the Buffalo Company wings as I watched the Pittsburgh Penguins get slaughtered by the New York Rangers which only compounded the misery of my evening. Clearly this is the last time I take advise on where to eat wings that isn't from a fat guy!

Final Score: 16 out of a possible 50.  16???  The previous low score was 34 at Tanner's. 

To see the full list of HitThatDive wing reviews click here.  


Waiter there's a wing in my soup
 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The New Old Bar, Omaha -- REVIEW

1008 Bancroft St
New AND Old

Omaha, NE 68108
(402) 449-9130 

As usual, I'm a bit of a sucker for a bar with a slightly odd name.  So when my friend, and bar finder extraordinaire, Mark told me about a place called the New Old Bar, it didn't take a lot of convincing for me to find a few hours to sneak out of the house for a few beers.  Just one question...where the hell is it?  Not to fear, I met Mark downtown and we were off for a very short drive due south of the Old Market.

PROS:  Good get drunk vibe. Freshest smelling bar in town. High Life tall boys.
CONS: Dude to my left was not digging me. Not for inexperienced dive bar goers. 

First Impressions:  The place is surprisingly bright and smells...ummm...like being on the beach in St-Tropez.  OK, well maybe not THAT good, but the assortment of candles behind the bar, mixed in with a box of scented baking soda on the corner of the bar, gave the entire place a completely unexpected pleasant aroma.  Not sure why I was expecting dark and smelly, but that is the complete opposite of the bar when I walked in.  But, don't let the smell of bikini-clad women frolicking in the French Riviera fool you...there are some bad ass-looking SOB's hanging out in here.

Way cleaner than expected
The Bar: Let's call it a long, yet short L-shaped bar that can easily seat 12 people.  The bar-area itself is quite clean and organized, and has some old-school coolers with wooden doors that seem to be part of dying breed these days.  Surprisingly, there are seven beers on tap and the coolers are well-stocked with a pretty decent collection of beer including Miller High Life tall boys. It's kind of an oddly shaped building so there aren't a ton of tables in the main bar area.  As Mark noted before we got there, it's kind of an "F" shaped building.  You'll just have to stop by here to see what he means.  Of note, there was a bullhorn behind the bar as well.  I can only guess what its intended purpose might be?

The Crowd:  In the time we were in there, I'd guess roughly 20 people were in there at some point...and 95% of them were dudes.  For the most part they were a bunch of crusty old guys, mixed in with a few bikers, but a generally older good-natured collection of let's-talk-sports/no nonsense/take no shit sorts of bar goers.  Well, all but one guy directly sitting to my left that was just waiting for me to look at him the wrong way...being dumb (but not stupid) I never gave him the chance for him to tell me what he thinks of my Mother (you're welcome Mom) .  For good measure, someone even started quoting a line from the movie Fletch that immediately made me yell down the bar "You using the whole fist doc?" which actually got the intended laugh from the crowd.

Good place for pool
Service:   A younger good-natured, take-no-shit bartender wearing a t-shirt that read "Caution: does not
play well with others".  But don't let the shirt fool you, he was quick with the refills, told me right upfront that beers by the pint were a better deal than by the mug, and seemed to like the fact that I'm the type of person at a bar that says "Better give me one more" at least four times before leaving.  Mark and I clearly were not regulars, but that didn't stop our bartender from treating us like ones in no time at all.  Thumbs up!

Prices:  A pint of my usual domestic swill beer was setting me back $2 each... now that I can live with.  I saw a sign on the wall for $3 mini pitchers of Busch Light on Mondays, and another sign that said happy hour is Monday-Friday from 4-7 that gets you $1 Bud Light and Busch Light draws and 50 cents off of any mixed drink.  Not too shabby. 

Food:  Pretty standard assortment of bags of chips and a few vending machines back by the dartboards that sell everything from stale nuts to stale-looking Hot Tamales.  Come here thirsty, not hungry.

Box 'O baking soda
Entertainment:  Oh, you know, your usual stuff...pool table, dartboards, a long shuffleboard table and five smallish TVs that were fine enough for me to watch an ESPN 30 for 30 featuring Bo Jackson.  But, the best part of the entertainment here are the kick ass speakers when someone drops a few bucks in the jukebox.  It looks like they had a dedicated DJ area for karaoke too...but I was more than happy to just sit there and listen to a few AC/DC tunes BLASTING from the speakers behind me. 

Bartender Chat:  Since this is a pretty outgoing bar, it's not the kind of place where you sit and have a long conversation with the bartender, it's more the kind of a bar where every sits and has one big conversation and the guy behind the bar chimes in as needed.  And there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Restrooms:  Not too bad.  Nothing to write home about, but also, nothing that needs to ever be avoided either.

Could do worse
How Far Did My $20 Go?:  Well, on this afternoon, $20 will get you 10 beers.  Well, make that more like 9 beers so that you have some cash left for a tip.  Get here for happy hour, and $20 will exactly double your beer purchasing potential. 

Final Impressions:  Two reviews of this place on Foursquare kind of sum this place up perfectly for me: "Best fight I've seen in a long time. Karaoke is awesome. Nice staff" and "If u like good lookin women dont come here.lol".  Well, I didn't actually see a fight when I was here, but I bet you when there is one...it could be of the Battle Royal variety.  

Not sure this bar is quite for everyone, but all I know is that I had a good time here.  It has a bit more of an edge that just your average bar, but that's what made it an entertaining afternoon as well.  Definitely a place I will stop by again when I'm in the area...just next time I'll bring an umbrella for my beer to see if it compliments the aroma of fresh mangoes or makes the guy to my left dislike me even more.  

DIVE-O-METER
7.5

How do one of these things work again?