The night before Thanksgiving, I gathered with my brother, my sisters, some former co-workers, a bunch of people I know from college, one of the guys who recently tiled my bathroom and a bunch of other people at O’Rourke’s in Lincoln.
I went to college in Lincoln, and when I was in college O’Rourke’s at 13th and O Streets was my bar. It was my siblings’ bar and my former coworkers’ bar, and my college friends’ bar. It’s cooler than a regular crappy beer bar and it’s way more relaxed than a club.
Thus, it has become the official holiday bar for what seemed like every person who has ever lived in Lincoln.
This is one of the things I love most about the holidays.
I’m not a I-need-to-go-to-the-bars-to-escape-my-family kind of person. I love my family. I believe that hanging out in my parents’ living room eating pie under the watchful eyes of decades worth of awkward family portraits is an awesome way to spend the holidays. But I also love my friends, and my friends are scattered. My closest three girlfriends from school live in three different states. We see each other a few times a year, but it’s hard to schedule a time when all of us can meet when we’re home for the holidays.
Luckily, the night before Thanksgiving has become the official night to meet up with friends you haven’t seen since the night before Thanksgiving the year before.
This night has become known as Black Wednesday. Urban Dictionary claims it’s the biggest drinking night of the year. The college kids are home for the holidays. People well past college age are home for the holidays. Parents are feeling festive and excited to see their kids, even if it means hanging out with them in a dank bar. And, unless you’re hosting or volunteered to make something significantly more complicated than green bean casserole, chances are you can sleep in late the next morning.
“Nobody’s got to do anything the next day,” said Scott Piotrowski, owner of the Interlude Lounge at 76th and Pacific Streets, which is a big Black Wednesday bar, particularly among Creighton Prep and Omaha Westside grads.
Piotrowski has worked in bars for 14 years, and he said the night before Thanksgiving has always been a huge night. People are home, for the most part, they’re happy, and they’re ready to have fun, he said.
“I think it has to do with people get in the mood for the holidays, and they want to go out,” he said.
Plus, Black Wednesday has its own brand of festiveness. It’s almost its own holiday, one that involves both family and friends, as well as strangers and more alcohol than most traditional holiday gatherings, said Alex Diimig, manager of Jake’s Cigars and Spirits in Benson.
Jake’s, like many Omaha bars, was packed this year, Diimig said. This was the busiest year yet, he said.
“Every year we are packed, and each successive year we redefine what packed means,” he said.
The crowd at Jake’s is mostly regulars who bring their family members and friends. The same goes for Crescent Moon at 36th and Farnam Streets, said bartender Chris Bettini.
“(There were) a lot of new faces, or faces I had not seen in a while. People were in a good mood,” he said. “It was busy as hell — busiest to date.”
As with Thanksgiving, there are joyous reunions and there is drama. Diimig spent two hours last Wednesday talking with a guy who had been stood up by his own brother.
That’s sort of the beauty of it.
Like Thanksgiving itself, the night before spurs combinations of people from many aspects of one’s life — elementary school friends mingle with siblings’ spouses, fun-loving aunts chat up your boyfriend’s roommate. I spent the night after Thanksgiving at Husker Bar II in my hometown of Brainard, Neb., drinking red beers with my siblings, high school friends, siblings of high school friends, people I babysat as children and Brainard residents I don’t often talk to but have known my entire life.
And just as Thanksgiving kicks of a month and a half of family get-togethers and holiday parties, Black Wednesday signals the beginning of a month and a half of reunions with faraway friends in hometown bars, long conversations between siblings that are inappropriate for the dining room table (no offense, Mom) and sightings of old friends and acquaintances that it would feel weird not to see over the holidays.
Black Wednesday — and evenings spent in bars with friends, family, acquaintances, strangers and combinations of all of the above — may be about drinking, but it’s also about tradition.
“Imagine it’s a Thanksgiving dinner of 40 different families,” Diimig said. “And everyone’s gay cousin is there, and everyone’s cool with it, except for the drunk uncle we kick out.”