In 2011, Steve Gates, who followers of a website called Hit That Dive know as Scuba Steve, organized a bar crawl down Leavenworth Street.
That Leavenworth Street crawl, dubbed the Spring Stumble, drew connoisseurs of hole-in-the-wall bars, mostly readers of Hit That Dive, a website Gates founded in 2010 on which he rates dive bars based on a variety of factors. (More on that in a minute.)
It was a reader who suggested the stumble take place. Gates, who said he was sort of surprised to learn that anyone other than his family was reading Hit That Dive, was skeptical, but he figured the worst that could happen was that he would end up drinking alone.
“I put it on the blog, I put it on Facebook, and lo and behold, people showed up,” he said.
About a dozen turned out altogether, and that was all the encouragement Gates needed to make the Spring Stumble an annual event. Last year's stumble, in Millard, attracted a few more friends and readers than the year before (including me; I can attest it was a good time).
So this year, Gates is planning a third, sort-of super stumble, which will take place on Saturday at a variety of Gates' favorite dive bars throughout Omaha.
“A lot of the places we're going to are more than bars, they're kind of meeting places,” Gates said.
This year's stops include the Village Bar in Ralston, where Gates and other stumblers will meet at 1 p.m. From there, they'll continue to the Brass Monkey at 2:15, the Lemon Drop at 3, the Corner Pocket at 4, Andy's Place at 4:45 and the Elbow Room at 5:45. The stumble will end back at the Village Bar at 7.
All are bars that have received favorable reviews on Hit That Dive, but that doesn't mean they're fancy or even necessarily clean. Some dust on the jukebox is often a good thing, in Gates' mind. So are rickety barstools and decor that hasn't been updated in decades.
The bars Gates likes, he explained, are places where regulars ask about fellow regulars' families and children. Gates has felt so comfortable at each of the bars on this year's stumble that he has taken his 8-year-old son to all of them.
“Yes, some of them are old. Yes, some of them have some rough looking people in them,” Gates said. “But you walk in and there's a feeling of people want to be there because they enjoy being there, and I can see it and an 8-year-old can see it.”
Other people can apparently see it, too.
Lately, Gates is sometimes recognized when he sidles up to a bar he's never visited before. Before this year's Spring Stumble rolled around, both Jack Daniels and Jameson asked if they could be sponsors. (Gates agreed.) And when Gates posted the schedule for this year's stumble online, the bus he had chartered to cart stumblers from place to place sold out in less than a day. He scrambled to round up a second bus, which sold out, too. There's a waiting list in case any of the 70 coveted spots open up, and Gates expects that others interested in taking part in the stumble to pop in at various bars over the course of the day.
Gates said he hopes to meet others who love dive bars as much as he does, and to introduce his fellow dive bar enthusiasts to places they might not have heard of before, places where “the feeling you get is that people want to get there, they can't wait to get there.”