NIGHTLIFE

IN MY nearly two year residence in north-central Omaha, I think I've driven past Harold's Bar roughly 300 times, though my first visit was just three weeks ago.

The inconspicuous watering hole — tucked away behind a gas station at 85th and Blondo — is "a short trip from anywhere in Omaha," according to the bar's website. Aside from proximity or maybe curiosity, there isn't much of an aesthetic draw to Harold's (no offense). The simple exterior, with cream and tan bricks, almost resembles a 1970s-era house, outside of the neon beer signs, of course.

In addition to its relative closeness to my home and work, a more personal calling drew me to Harold's: its name. You see, both of my grandfathers are named Harold. What are the odds? (One passed away when I was just a babe; the other is among my three loyal readers.)

Harold's is akin to any Omaha neighborhood dive, though it's perhaps among the cleanest. The bar — maybe social hall is a more appropriate term — is dimly lit and cluttered with mementos of staff and patrons, past and present. Among the bar's keepsakes: plaques to honor winners of the bar's most well-known recreational activity: shuffleboard. But the entertainment options don't stop there. In addition to shuffleboard, Harold's boasts volleyball leagues during the summer and fall, with pool, Keno and karaoke on the weekends.

Of course, Harold's also offers a unique form of entertainment — the cast of characters who call it home. There's a heavy family vibe at Harold's, which hosts potlucks and holiday-themed dinners every so often. Most recently, the bar hosted a Fat Tuesday boil, where patrons were encouraged to bring a side to share. As an outsider, I received a few stares — and questions over my age (I have a babyface) — but the atmosphere is mostly welcoming.

Beverage options are limited to domestics and standard mixed drinks, but everything is dirt cheap, so I can't complain. You won't spend more than $3 for a single beer or $8 for a pitcher.

In a way, Harold's reminds me of my grandpas. It's well-suited to folks like my Harolds — hard-working, loyal Midwesterners deserving of a cold drink and a night free from responsibilities from time to time, a simple pick-me-up after a long day's work in service to one's family, city or country.

My paternal grandpa, Harold Parrott, owned and operated a couple of bars in Council Bluffs before his death in the early 1990s. To this day, when some folks hear my last name, they'll ask if I'm related, and they'll reminisce about his days behind the bar. I get the same feeling from Harold's regulars, who talk about the bar's founder, Harold Newbanks Sr., and his son and the current manager, Harold Newbanks Jr., with a similar fondness.

Though I may never take up occupancy at Harold's Bar, it's good to know that there's always a warm seat and cold drink there to welcome me.

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