Friday, December 27, 2013

Bar of the Year. HTD Hall of Fame. And 2013 Year in Review.

Exactly one year ago to the day, I walked into the Village Bar...a place I had never heard of before...and 365 days later it is the HitThatDive Bar of the Year.  The end.

Bar of the Year!
Well, there's actually more to the story of 2013 than that. A lot more...

What's odd is that the number of actual bar reviews in the the last 12 months is way off the pace from other years...but the amount of readers to the blog, followers on social media, and overall recognition of the site (including several contacts by Bar Rescue and Google) are at record levels and continue to grow.  So thank you to everyone!

This year was different is a few ways.  Oh sure, there were some always great bars that were reviewed including JD's Circle-In, some bar with no name in Puerto Rico, Aussie's Pub (Are you the fuzz?), and the unforgettable, and now closed (due to the passing of owner Betty), review of the Bar-M Corral in Loma, Nebraska.   So what made 2013 so different?

RIP Betty
Events: 

Spring Stumble:  Usually, this is the only HTD event of the year.  And what a day it was!  Both buses sold out in hours, both buses broke down in minutes and everyone seemed to have a great time...from what they remembered.  

Haunted Hangover:  Combining my love of neighborhood bars, with an odd obsession with the paranormal, we again were able to sell out two buses in hours.  And then, spend an afternoon hunting ghosts while chasing beer with shots.

Office Christmas Party:  Through the generosity of many people and local businesses...we were able to throw two parties, raise more than $3,000 for local families in-need, and have a good old fashioned Christmas party that seemed to be a thing of the past.  

Good times at The Village Bar
Bar Rescue:  

No single event in the Omaha-area brought more fun for HTD in 2013 than the bumbling crew of Bar Rescue as our Barstool Telegraph seemed to dog them at every turn.  A special thanks to "Guy Incognito" for his unbelievable reports that made the whole thing so fun for me personally.  To this day, I have never met "Guy", but there is always a beer waiting for you if and when our paths do cross.

Bring me the head of Guy Incognito
  
Media:
  • Several mentions in the Omaha World-Herald including a great write-up of the Spring Stumble.
  • Radio appearances like this one on Q98.5
  • The always fun Podcasts with Wayne Brekke.
  • Even a local blog followed us around on the Haunted Hangover Tour
I'm sure I could ramble on this for a while, so I'll end it here.  On to the more important stuff...the HTD Bar of the Year...and the first four bars inducted into the HitThatDive Hall of Fame! 

2013's HTD Bar of the Year...The Village Bar: 

Last year, there was an online vote for Bar of the Year.  I decided to go a different route this year and just pick it myself.  The only real requirement is that it had to be reviewed after the last Bar of the Year vote...so The Village Bar just made the cut.  Next year's balloting and voting will be radically different, but more on that right after the first of the year.  

So why The Village Bar?  One...it felt like home before I ever walked in the front door.  "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."

And two...my final thoughts on my way out the door for the first time.  "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."

One year later, and I still agree with my first impressions of the place.  I can now add that it's also a bar that I can go to and just hangout and talk with the regulars and staff that are now also my friends. And a very special thanks to Brock Hatterman, owner of The Village Bar, for doing everything in the last year from pouring me a beer (from the bottom up), letting me use his place repeatedly for my always half-brained event ideas, to helping hand-out Christmas presents to local families with me and my family this week. Thanks and congratulations to my friend Brock!

Congratulations!
Finally, I thought it was time to also recognize the bars that helped to get HitThatDive on the map and then keep it going, even as I lost interest in it about two years ago. So here you go, the inaugural HTD Hall of Fame class...

HitThatDive Hall of Fame Members (Class of 2013):

Brass Monkey:  There would not be HitThatDive without the help of everyone at the Brass Monkey over the years.   The staff, regulars, and owner(s) were the original driving force to get people to read the site and follow on Facebook.  Even though Kevin and Maria, no longer own the bar, new owner Barry Hofmaster has always been a big supporter, even in the days before he owned the place.  Thank you for to everyone at the Monkey for adopting me as an honorary SOB.

The Elbow Room:   I forgot this story until Elbow Room bartender Jeff Novak reminded me of it at the HTD Office Christmas Party.  Two years ago I gave up on writing HitThatDive, deleted both the Facebook page and Twitter account, and basically forgot about ever logging in to see if people were even reading the old posts.  I was amazed to see how many people had been reading the review of "The Bow" and wrote a blog post asking what in the world was going on.  It turns out, that someone there stumbled across the old review and it had been making its rounds on social media.  For the first time, I didn't feel like I was just talking to a few assorted family and friends...and that was the thing I needed to kick my ass back in gear! 

Andy's Place:  Andy's is the bar that I need to go and sit every few weeks to just enjoy the people, bartenders and conversation around me. Where else but a bar like Andy's would I get invited to a women's golf tournament to ride in a cart and drink beer just for the hell of it?  And then, get invited back to the bar for a kickass steak dinner!  And even though I'm not a "regular" here, I am always greeted with smiles, handshakes and "Where the hell have you been?"... kind of like I am a regular.  

Jerry's Bar:  Jerry's was the 2012 HTD Bar of the Year, but owner Rob Rutar's vision for running the quintessential neighborhood bar is why it's on this list. Much like Brock at The Village Bar, I had never met Rob at this point last year. And in fact, the first time I reviewed a bar where Rob worked, I wasn't all that kind.  Flash forward to today, and I can call Rob on his cell phone to ask if I can use his place for something like the annual BlackOUT Friday and I immediately get the same response..."me casa es su casa".  

Thanks to all the new HTD Hall of Fame members...I appreciate everything you've done for me and this site over the years.   

What to look for in the new year...who knows?  Just when I think I know where this is all heading it takes a new direction...which is fine with me! Thanks for reading and following along everybody...you all are the reason this is so fun to do!

Scuba Steve

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

HTD's Office Christmas Party -- DETAILS TOMORROW

Not to be missed!

Bar Rescue in Omaha Final Recap -- PART 4

The final recap?  Really?  It seems like just yesterday that HitThatDive got a "hot tip" that some bar in Bellevue named O'Banion's was going to be the first bar in our area to feel the staged, faked and over-edited "wrath" of Jon Taffer.

A special thanks to the MANY people of the HTD Barstool Telegraph who sent tips in every from possible (practically 24 hours a day) regarding every single misstep of the bumbling Bar Rescue production crew.

The biggest thanks goes to "Guy Incognito" HTD's investigative reporter extraordinaire! I have yet to ever meet, or actually speak to Guy...which made his clandestine reporting that much more fun for me to wake up and read every morning.  So, for the final time on this subject, Guy the HitThatDive stage belongs to you...thanks for everything.

**BUT FIRST A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS**

If you don't know by now, the HitThatDive "Office Christmas Party" for charity, will be held at The Village Bar on December 15th.  Tickets go on sale tomorrow right here at www.HitThatDive.com. For a simple $20 donation you get access to a private party at The Village Bar, limited edition t-shirt, drink specials, food, DJ, raffle prizes, Christmas show trivia contest, ugly sweater contest, Bad Santa handing out naughty gifts, Busch Light giveaways, Maker's Mark giveaways, dancing, singing and yes...butt photocopying!

But more importantly, you will be helping to provide three local families with basic necessities like food, clothing and furniture that they desperately need this holiday season.  When was the last time MY $20 ever got me that much during a bar review?  Answer...never.  Don't miss out, make sure to get your spot early!

The HTD Office Christmas Party...don't miss it!

Target #3: O'Face Bar

This double-wide shack in Council Bluffs is basically what you'd expect of an establishment with this name. Beer out of massive mason jars for $3.50 really isn't a bad deal, and in all honesty, I was actually enjoying myself here before Bar Rescue took it over later that night.

I (and I think most other people) had thought this particular night was supposed to be the stress test, but apparently filming was offset by a day, and this was the night where Taffer does his recon like a pervert hunched over his monitor in his dark SUV parked down the street.

Anyone who watches the show knows this is the night where Taffer spies through a camera feed of what's going on in the bar. In all episodes, when this happens, every infraction that could possibly be committed against Taffer's code of ethics is somehow executed beautifully by the bar’s staff while the cameras are capturing for Taffer's recon purposes. I always found it to be odd how that always worked out so well for him, but now I know why.

You see, leading up to the chaos, all was well in the bar. Everyone was acting normal, and I was seriously wondering why the Bar Rescue crew was even present. I knew something had to be happening since the lights were up and the music was off, but I just didn't know what. It was clear that it was not the stress test. I found myself thinking that if Taffer came in and started chewing out the staff, I'd genuinely feel bad for them, as everyone was being served and the employees were friendly enough.

But there was a noticeable difference when everything started going downhill. There was a really strange vibe, and everything about it seemed forced and over-the-top. Outsiders can be quick to say "Well that's just Council Bluffs for ya", but this was different. The suddenness of how everything unraveled was more than any coincidence could explain. It happened very quickly and was way too drastic.

I also think I saw the recon spies Taffer sent in, as they were put directly in harm's way when the bartender lit some sort of shots on fire and created a nice fireball that could've taken off their eyebrows. And then the fact that the Bar Rescue staff had cameras ready for these moments and then blocked the entrances when they knew Taffer was coming just seals the deal.

OOOOOO Face
As to whether or not the staff knows ahead of time that Taffer is coming on your average episode of Bar Rescue, I'd say it's an emphatic yes. There is not a doubt in my mind. So when you see your average Bar Rescue episode and they seem surprised, maybe they're just surprised that he didn't walk in 15 minutes ago. Or they weren't expecting to see him until midnight. The TV show seems to give the impression that perhaps only the owner knows, but now I have a feeling that the staff is probably informed when they are asked to sign waivers and have cameras follow them around everywhere.

I wasn't able to make it to the stress test for O'Face, so I can't speak to what happened there. But I have three theories of what's going on with the recent development that Bar Rescue left town before completing the rescue:

1. Taffer walked away from this rescue in some sort of dramatic grand fashion that we will see on the episode. I heard through an interview that apparently there will be an episode that has yet to air that he does indeed walk away from one of his rescues. This interview was before O'Face's rescue, so perhaps O'Face will be his second time walking away. Let's face it, any place with a Barbie stripper pole probably isn't owned by anyone wanting to change the color of their stripes. And Taffer is a showman who needs to start being more unpredictable, being an even looser cannon for the sake of ratings. By introducing this whole idea that it's possible for him to abandon ship at any moment, a whole new element of surprise is added to the show.

2. Taffer had some sort of personal crisis or there was a very specific reason they needed to leave so they could return later. They might still come back and finish out the episode sometime after Thanksgiving. And, through the magic of TV, the timeline will still appear intact.

They were able to stay
3. Taffer and the crew pulled out when social media was getting too hot about their presence and spilling too much. I found it interesting that The Daily Nonpareil (Council Bluff's local newspaper) actually published a blurb earlier in the week that the grand reopening was going to be Friday. This was obviously untrue if the stress test wasn't on Tuesday like it normally is, as this would put them off of their 5-day shooting schedule and actually place the grand reopening on Saturday. Perhaps the Nonpareil received an early press release that fit with their original shooting schedule, but the Bar Rescue folks tried to change things at the last minute to get jerks like me off their scent, only to still have me tailing them.

Whatever the case, the truth will shake out in time. The O'Face staff is apparently mum on the whole ordeal, and I don't know how long that gag order will last, because obviously someone is going to leak the info at some point.

Overall, I both loved and hated this whole brush with reality television. I loved seeing the inner workings of a show I enjoy watching, but I hated experiencing the long waits and dealing with the ridiculousness of the Bar Rescue staff. I loved the suspense of seeing what would unfold next, but I hated how ugly the truth was when it came to what's staged and what isn't.

Most of all, I loved discovering Scuba Steve's operation at Hit That Dive and enjoyed participating in this odd chapter of Omaha's bar history. Thanks to everyone for reading these words and for your kind feedback, and special thanks to Scuba Steve for allowing me to take the stage for a few of his blog posts.

Keep reading Hit That Dive, because he will steer you toward all the REAL Omaha bars that are managed by competent people who genuinely give a damn about their patrons!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bar Rescue in Omaha Final Recap -- PART 3

Coming December 15th!
By now, regular HTD readers have come to expect that when I say tomorrow, it can sometimes mean a week from tomorrow.  But, fear not, as promised seven days ago...here is Guy Incognito's recap of the always a sham taping of Bar Rescue.

*Side Note*  Tickets for HitThatDive's Politically Incorrect Office Christmas Party at The Village Bar in Ralston go on sale this Thursday.  It will be a great afternoon of booze, Bad Santa, and photocopied butts...but more importantly...every dime raised will be used to buy presents for local kids that might not get much else this year.  And, it will the only place you can get the greatest t-shirt you can find anywhere this holiday season...


Target #2: Oasis Hookah Bar (Taza Nightclub)

I made sure I participated in this bar's rescue after being burned at Sorties. I wasn't happy about what I saw and experienced at Sorties, so I was quite surprised when I practically walked right into the stress test for this one. There was hardly anyone there to stress the staff out! Turns out people don't show up at bars on very cold Tuesday nights to experience a bar documenting its hard failings at customer service.

Of my experiences throughout the three weeks, this seemed the least scripted. And why would it be? The whole purpose is to just let the merciless public in and bring the operation to a standstill so Taffer can rip into them over how much they suck. The producers aren't trying to frame anything as being pretty. They want this portion of filming to be raw as possible.

Just what we need
Unfortunately for the Bar Rescue folks, Oasis didn't fail that bad. The bartenders were producing drinks quick enough to keep up with everyone, although the servers were starting to fumble where they should be going. I think I had 4 different people wait on us throughout the night, but the fact is that they were keeping on top of things and being as courteous as possible about it.

Even with Taffer chasing them around and trying to dig up fodder for his wrath, they seemed mostly unrattled. I guess when you try to stir Midwestern folks, we just don't care to reciprocate anger with more anger. I did find it interesting that after Taffer had his final big blow-up of the night, as he walked away from it, his anger almost disappeared from his face immediately and turned into a huge grin as he approached who I assumed to be one of the producers, almost as if to say, "That was a good one, wasn't it?"

Not hard to memorize, I guess
I actually applaud the Oasis staff and management for persevering and seeming to actually be a good group of people who are perhaps in over their heads trying to run a business on a city block that is half-developed and littered with sketchy people waiting for buses that never seem to come. I don't know what the owner’s financial situation is, but I can't imagine this whole facelift was as much of a sham as Sorties appeared to be.

Whether or not the new Taza Nightclub will attract the Morocco-lovin' female demographic that likes squatting on ottomans with expensive cocktails for most of their evening remains to be seen. If the fact that most of the crowd walked out when the cameras left was any indicator, I'd say it might be time to pack up the hookahs and head further east, where you might get half a chance at getting steady foot traffic from the core Old Market area.

I will say the remodeling was a step in the right direction in terms of creating a more coherent theme. Once they add the hookahs back in, the Moroccan theme might not mean a damn thing if the old crowd wants to just come back and enjoy their old haunts.

When it came to waiting in line for this reopening, though, this did pour salt into old wounds and once again proved that the Bar Rescue staff just absolutely sucks at this whole process. Rudely padding the front of the line with friends, families, vendors, gypsies, clubbers, etc. in front of people waiting for hours to get in is simply inexcusable.

But I guess that's the bottom line when it comes to television. You want the pretty faces up front in that shot that lasts for barely a second. I was just happy to get inside (at 11:50 p.m.???), but was satisfied and ready to go home once I realized the service was actually worse and the overpriced drinks were not worth draining my bank account over.