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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Omaha-Area Bars

Seems like every lazy writer on the Internet these days is posting a list of some sort.  And, since I am a lazy writer, I figured why not jump all over that trend...eventually.  But what?  Well, I do write about bars (duh) but I don't want to walk down the slippery slope of ranking the Omaha-area's "best" bars....because God knows anytime I try and do something like that everyone gets mad at me.

So I figured, what if I come up with a list of quirky little things that the regulars in that bar already know, but the average person would have no idea about.  To me, other than the people in the bar, it's the quirky little things about the place that really give it character. So here, in no specific order, are some things about Omaha-area bars that I'm sure you probably never knew...

Knock Three Times

Never been to The Elbow Room before?  This classic American dive bar has great drink specials everyday of the week, great regulars, and is a place I love to frequent...there's just one catch. The front door doesn't open from the outside. So, the only way into the bar is through the door in the back that looks like it should say "Employees Only" on it.  Park your car in the tricky parking lot and hightail it in through the door in the back of the building.  Don't be afraid, just pull the door open (if it's daylight let your eyes adjust to the darkness) and walk right on in. Bar's to the right...belly up and ask for today's specials.

Not knowing this little "insider's tip", I almost never walked in here the first time four years ago. Thankfully I didn't, because "The Bow" might actually be the exact image of a dive bar, if I had to explain what a dive bar looks like in my mind to a police sketch artist.

Don't Use That Door
Ready For My Close Up

Less than an hour from Omaha is the town of Hooper, home to some of the most active HitThatDive followers on Twitter, and also home to the Sodbuster Saloon.  Now, I'm actually not a huge fan of the Sodbuster, but Academy Award-winner (and Nebraska native) Alexander Payne sure was for the movie "Nebraska".  All of the interior bar shots in the movie were filmed right inside of the good old Sodbuster.

But why that place?  Dennis Washington, production designer for “Nebraska,” said the Sodbuster was appealing for a variety of reasons. “It’s one of the best-looking bars I’ve seen,” Washington said. “It’s the tone of the walls with the dressing, as we call it, on them, and just the configuration of it.”  Not sure I agree, but he makes movies, and I sit in Starbucks and write a blog...so maybe he's right.

Academy Award Nominee? 
Have a Seat...Just Not There!

One of the best neighborhood bars is Omaha is Andy's Place.  It's one of the first places I mention when people ask me "What's your favorite bars in Omaha?" But, as I found out earlier this year, Andy's has its own "secret society". Know as "The Table of Knowledge", it has a very Freemason-mystique history. In fact, I tried to get one of its members to talk about it on camera and got a stern lecture from one of its more senior members for even asking about its origins in the first place. I've never sat there again.

But don't let that scare you off.  There is no better place in town to just sit, have a few beers with some of the best people I know, and watch the world go by. Just avoid the only long table toward the north side of the bar that is situated east to west. Capiche?

Did You Choose Your Seat Wisely?

Hit a Dive During the CWS

There's something about the whole tent scene at the College World Series that I just don't like.  Well, I'm not a fan of the price of beer in the vagabond-looking tent areas for sure, but it all just lacks a certain atmosphere that a real dive bar gives you.  But don't fret, in the shadow of TD Ameritrade Park is the not-so-well-known Happy Bar.  Well, Omaha's only gumshoe reporter Matthew Hansen knows about this one, but it seems to fly under the radar for the two weeks of beer drinking mayhem that is the CWS.

Next June, stop by Happy Bar and throw back a few with some real bar people as a way to avoid the over-priced frat party chug-fest that is the refuge-like tent city.  Not that there's anything wrong with it.

Better Than a CWS Tent Party

It's Never Too Early for Happy Hour

It's 6:00 AM on a Tuesday morning and you're dying for a drink...where do you go?  Well, around here, stop by The Poop Deck or the Neighber's Bar (that's how they spell it) and catch yourself an early morning buzz.  Now, before someone gets too judgmental about a person wanting to have a few drinks that early in the morning, keep in mind that a lot of the customers just got off work from the late shift at one of Omaha's fine medical facilities, and that 6:00 AM for them is most people's version of 5:00 PM...aka same as YOUR after work happy hour.

Of note, The Poop Deck opens at 6 Monday-Saturday and opens at 9 on Sundays.  But the Neighber's on the other hand is open at 6 everyday of the week!

Editor's Note: Thanks to the keen eye of local bar legend, Eric Franz, I left off another 6:00 AM bar... and that's the dive-o-rific Bud Olsen's Bar. Bud's opens at 6:00AM Monday-Friday. 8:00AM on Saturday and 12:00 PM on Sunday. Thanks for that catch Eric!

Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start at 6:00 AM

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost 

Omaha's Old Market is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city (hence the word "Old" in the title), so it stands to reason, it's also home to some of the most haunted bars around.  But, the bar most highly regarded as "Omaha's Most Haunted Bar" is O'Connors Irish Pub.  Again the starting point for this year's Haunted Hangover bar tour, O'Connors has just about anything you want if you're a fan of the paranormal like me. Spirits that hide your keys? Got it. A couple of spirits that sit a table on the back wall and smoke? Yep.  A creepy presence in and around the ladies room? Of course.

Personally, I've never had an experience in there...not for lack of sitting at the bar looking for one either. But, make it a point to stop by here and ask owner Katie O'Connor her story about the "ghostly pens" encounter.  That story gave me goosebumps one afternoon.  And be prepared for this year's Haunted Hangover on October 26th...it's going to be GOOD.

Can I Bum a Light From You Two?

Last Call...Forever

Today, The Village Bar in Ralston is a place to drown your cares away as you have a few drinks at HitThatDive's Bar of the Year.  But 100 years ago, this was the place they brought you after you actually drown.  As in like, right after you died.  Yep...this cozy little Ralston bar was once...home to the only undertaker in Ralston.  Just a floor below the bar, dead people were examined and embalmed for burial.  On that cheery note, the next logical question would be...is The Village Bar haunted? Hmmmmmm...well, unlike O'Connors...I DID have an odd experience in here.

One day while "taking care of business" in the men's room, I watched the faucet on the sink turn on a full blast.  So who knows? During last year's Haunted Hangover, we also learned (via a spiritbox) that at least one of the entities that hangs out in the bar is named David.

Want to check this out for yourself?  Mark your calendars NOW for our HitThatDive/Village Bar End of the Summer Street Party on August 31st! More details on that one coming up.

Says So Right On The Front Door

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Betty

In the town of Loma, Nebraska (population 54), which is a less than 90 minute drive from Omaha, sits the Bar-M Corral. Owner Betty passed away last year, so now the bar is closed, but in it's heyday...the stories that have emanated from this place were simply astounding.

But Loma also has its own place in Hollywood history.  In 1995, Loma became the fictitious town of "Snydersville" in the movie "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar". Former Loma resident Ross Benes wrote about what is was like to live in Loma when Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes were running about the "Bohemian Alps" of Nebraska in this great article he wrote for Esquire...complete with a HitThatDive shout out!

The Bar-M Corral may be closed for good, but for those that walked through its dirty screen door (even once) it will never be forgotten.

A Nebraska Original 

Step On a Crack, Break Your Father's Back

This might be one of those pointless little tidbits of information that only I find kind of cool, but as you walk into HitThatDive's 2012 Bar of the Year, Jerry's Bar, take a look at the original 1950's flooring.  It, well, it looks like flooring. But, did you know that the flooring was originally installed by Jerry's Bar owner Rob Rutar's Dad?  In fact, Rob didn't even know that when he bought the place a few years ago.

It wasn't until several months after Rob Bought the place that his Dad offhandedly mentioned that he installed the floor in his son's bar decades ago. A bit shocked that he didn't know that before, Rob asked his Dad why he hadn't told him that when he bought the place.  Rob's Dad hit him back with one of the most logical answers ever.  Something to the effect "I installed A LOT of floors over the years, hard to remember all of them."

Rob's Dad Does Good Work

The Legend of Table 19 

A short 35 minute ride from Omaha sits the town of Memphis, Nebraska.  The town of 114 people is home to one of the best out-of-the-way dives in the area...Don's Bar.  Now, before I go any further, the first time I was in there...word got around that I was "That dive bar feller'" and that if I ever write about the bar, I better not attract any "hipsters" to the place. And that warning did not appear to be a joke. So, jaunty beret-wearing, scarf-tying, beard-growing, PBR-slurping, Homy Inn-types...you've been warned.

Other than the fact that Don's still looks like a place where two cowboys would have Wild West pistol duel (to this day), it's also home to the "well known", and now infamous, "Table 19".  About a year ago I tried to track down the origins of what makes Table 19 so famous.  This is what I heard from HTD reader Debbie Frank:

"The tables have always been numbered, and the story is if you sat at Table 19, you were going to be there the entire night until close and you would be a mess by the time you left. Table 19 is a big table and is the closest table to the bar. No wait for drinks and people gather around it buying round after round for the table. So, if you sit at Table 19 plan on staying awhile...and you'll probably need a ride home afterwords."
Hop in the car. Jump on your motorcycle. And make the short ride to Don's for a seat at Table 19. Bring your appetite, because the food is great. Just don't bring your hipster friend...for obvious reasons.

Pull Up a Chair to Table 19

Now you too can walk into a few bars in the area, for the first time, and talk like one of the regulars! Know a interesting /historical/bizarre story about the bar you hang out in?  Send them my way!

Scuba Steve