If you could own a sports bar, what would it look like?
You'd probably look for prime real estate, across from, say, Memorial Stadium or TD Ameritrade Park. Go for 100, no, let's make it 200 flat-screen HDTVs. Assorted framed jerseys of the local heroes hanging on the walls. Personally, I'd put some sort of barbecue sliders on the menu, but that's just me.
Take all the necessary ingredients that make an ultimate hangout, and chances are good you would never have this:
1. Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer stopping the team bus on the way to the hotel to let him off in front of your bar, where Switzer promptly hangs out for the next two hours, letting the locals buy him drinks.
2. Creighton baseball coach Jim Hendry dropping by, in full uniform, right after the school's first College World Series win, to celebrate and then stand on top of the bar and lead cheers.
3. The head football coach of a hated rival stop by your place the night before a game, with his parents, to eat Thanksgiving dinner.
4. The University of Southern California baseball team show up at your place after sneaking out of the team hotel and hijacking the team bus.
Suffice it to say all of the HDTVs and Golden Tee golf games in the world cannot provide the charm, the stories — the legacy — that Barry's and Pauli's have provided Nebraskans for 30 years or more, or whenever Laura Barry served the first Oklahoma sports writer.
Their hallowed doors are closing. Pauli's, on 40th and Leavenworth Streets in Omaha, closed on Monday night. Meanwhile, Barry's, located on Ninth and Q Streets in Lincoln, will give last call on Nov. 25, the day of the Iowa-Nebraska game.
It's by strange coincidence that they are going out together, but there's a symmetry here. These were the standards for sports bars in Omaha and Lincoln, the spots on the to-do list of every out-of-town fan, coach or player. That is, before they were overrun by technology and menus with more than one page.
Full disclosure: I'm a fan of both spots. I met my wife, Jennifer, at Pauli's in 1993 when the place was a hangout for newspaper and TV types. I consider Paul and Chris Griego, owners of Pauli's, friends. Same for the four partners who own Barry's — Lou Mary and Mike Webb, and Ken and Ryly Jane Hambleton, the husband-wife sportswriting team in Lincoln.
These spots were universally known, from Omaha to Bristol, Conn.; from Lincoln to Tallahassee, Fla. How many of you readers, you sports fans, have been to Pauli's or Barry's at least once? Sixty-five percent? Eighty percent? Anybody else meet their spouse there?
It's the end of an era. Both Paul Griego and Lou Mary Webb say it was time to get out. Greigo opened Pauli's in 1982; the Webbs and Hambletons took over Barry's in 1988. The sports bar business isn't easy. There's a lot of long nights, lot of work.
And in recent years, the crowds had stopped coming. The CWS moved downtown, and so did Pauli's patrons. In Lincoln, Barry's became surrounded by a fleet of new spots in the Haymarket District. And though a new arena beckons in two years, just two blocks away, Webb said the group felt it was the perfect time to sell the prime piece of real estate.
The bottom line is, the old places aren't as charming as they used to be. I met Webb in Barry's on Wednesday, and they still have the 25-inch TVs in every corner. It reminded me of the time in 1984, after covering a Missouri-Nebraska football game, when I watched San Diego Padre Steve Garvey stick a dagger in the Cubs. It may have been one of those little TVs in the corner. A group of us had to move our chairs close to watch it.
It's a different world. As Webb said, "Fans used to come here after Nebraska games to find out what happened everywhere else. Now, they just read the scores on their phones."
Back in 1982, they went to Pauli's because it had the first satellite in town. Greigo remembers the line out the door on June 11, 1982, because his was the only place that had the Gerry Cooney-Larry Holmes fight. This was when Omaha was another world, when west Omaha meant 90th Street and Pauli's became a Creighton hangout because everyone would leave the games at the Civic Auditorium and head home via Leavenworth Street.
But Barry's and Pauli's didn't become local legends because of TV sets. You didn't go there to watch a game as much as you went there to see who might be watching a game.
Hendry was a Pauli's regular. Bruce Rasmussen, back when he was Creighton's women's basketball coach, would make appearances. Greigo recalls that Bob Harstad and Chad Gallagher came to watch NCAA games at his spot as soon as the Jays were eliminated from the 1991 NCAA tourney.
Ron Stander and Bruce "Mouse" Strauss, a pair of local boxing legends, would stop by. Jack Brickhouse, the famous Chicago Cubs broadcaster, would occasionally stop in with his wife, an Omaha native. Griego said Brickhouse would sip scotch and watch a Cubs game. Talk about a Cubs bar.
For a long time, the guest speakers of the B'nai B'rith sports banquet were brought to Pauli's after the dinner. Steve Spurrier told stories all night. So did Dan Patrick. I was lucky enough to be there when the late Dick Schaap held court with former NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride at a table into the wee hours. Sorry, their amazing stories will never leave that bar.
Mostly, Pauli's became famous because a couple of ESPN staffers needed a place to watch games during the 1984 CWS. They saw the Cubs logo painted in front of Pauli's and stopped. The rest is ESPN/CWS history.
Soon, the line was down the block to attend Pauli's during the CWS, and the line sometimes included Tommie Frazier, Eric Crouch or Eric Piatkowski. Of course, Griego would let them in the back door, which was the ESPN entrance.
Jim Kaat. Tim Brando. Harold Reynolds. Mike Patrick. Fred Lynn. Anybody who worked the CWS for ESPN made their way in. One of the favorite stories the Pauli's crew likes to tell was when a "Baseball Tonight" anchor, who shall remain nameless, ordered $20 worth of drinks and refused to pay, saying, "Do you know who I am?" An argument with the barkeep ensued until Erin Andrews stepped in and paid the tab.
Down in Lincoln, the luminaries had more of a college football feel.
Former Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel brought his parents in to eat dinner on Thanksgiving night one year because Barry's was the only spot in town open. Switzer made several appearances over the years, including last year, when he brought some former Sooner players in and signed autographs all night.
Back in the day, Bob Devaney stopped by. Every Wednesday night during the season, Frank Solich dropped in and ordered chili. McBride ate dinner there every Friday night before home games, Webb said, because he thought it was good luck.
Two of Barry's favorite patrons were former Nebraska basketball coach Danny Nee and volleyball coach Terry Pettit. Ken Hambleton recalls hanging out with Nee and his mentor, Al McGuire, for a few hours one night in the early 1990s. Another time, Digger Phelps showed up while doing a game for ESPN and scored himself a green Barry's shirt.
Webb remembers Pettit was always "doodling plays on the place mats" at lunch. Hambleton said one night Pettit was having dinner at the same time the coaches of a youth volleyball league were there.
"One of the coaches had six quarters on the table, and he was lining them up, trying to come up with an offense,'' Hambleton said. "We called Terry over to talk to him. Terry said, 'What's your record?' The guy says '4-13.' Terry said, 'Get some new quarters.'"
Timing is everything. Barry's and Pauli's had the fortune of having golden years before the Internet. These days, you don't see coaches and players hanging out in bars, for good reason. By the end of the night, their images would be on message boards or YouTube.
It was also a time when a hangout felt and looked like the town it was in.
"All of these places now, the franchise places, are all cookie cutter," Greigo said. "They all look the same. They don't have the personality, the stories. The local touch. Some of these places put stuff on the walls, but they come with it. The stuff on our walls are things I collected over the years, and there's a story behind each one."
Like a piece of the goalpost from the 1978 Nebraska-Oklahoma game that used to hang in Barry's. Or the wood floor at Barry's, which was the former basketball floor at Henry (Neb.) High School, out by the Wyoming border.
What it means is we're in a corporate era now. Webb says most Lincolnites would rather go to a chain restaurant. A lot of folks, she said, thought Barry's was just a "game day" only place. The new owners can figure that out. Webb says her group had a prospective owner lined up, but it fell through. She says they are talking to a handful of groups. Barry's might be a sports bar again. Or something completely different. But it will never be the Barry's where Nee and Devaney and McBride would pop in.
That goes for the CWS, too, without Pauli's. Griego laments the idea that the CWS is becoming too corporate, complete with the tents around TD Ameritrade Park last June that elbowed their way into the local action.
"I heard the Old Market was down 25 percent," Griego said. "At Coors Field or Wrigley, they would never allow tents to go up. Some of these people are like carpetbaggers, who come in for two weeks and leave. They should let the established places, which are there year-round, get the crowds. People think we're a town full of tents. It's not right. But that's life today."
Exactly. And that's probably the biggest reason I hate saying goodbye to these places. They represent another time in my life. It also means I'm getting old.
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