Hi there, kids, my name is Old Man Drinker. I don’t care about your $2 special on Bud Light. I don’t care about your trendy club crammed with sweaty 22-year-olds lurching their way into adulthood with Jaeger and 2 a.m. drama.
Listen. I have been there. I get it. But I’m 35 now, and I require three things and three things only from an Omaha drinking establishment: 1. A place to sit. 2. A conversation. 3. A damn fine drink.
With those ground rules in mind, I present to you Old Man Drinker’s Top Six Places To Have a Damn Fine Drink in 2015. Shield your wallets and your livers. Let us begin.
I thought a bar focused almost solely on Nebraska beer was an insane, sure-to-fail idea.
I’m happy to report that I was very, very wrong. Instead, Local is the place where I have discovered that Nebraska beer is both better and more diverse than I ever imagined.
This bar does a great job featuring beers you will never find anywhere else in Omaha, and its staff does a great job of steering Old Man Drinker toward the best beers from their dozens of taps.
If you are in the mood for a cocktail, the bartenders here can and will make you an above-average Manhattan, Negroni or Aviation.
But hey, this is a Nebraska beer bar, and because Old Man Drinker believes that life needs rules, I mostly stick to the Nebraska beers. A couple I have really enjoyed in 2015: Anything by Scratchtown, a fantastic brewery in Ord; The No Coast IPA from Peace Tree Brewing (technically from central Iowa, but whatever it’s almost Nebraska) and the Devil’s Gap Jalapeno Ale from Kinkaider Brewing in Broken Bow.
I’m drinking jalapeno beer from Broken Bow and loving it! The world has gone insane!
One minor quibble: Local always smells like grease. My New Year’s Wish is for Local to smell minty fresh in 2016.
5. The Grey Plume
It always blows Old Man Drinker’s mind that more people do not take advantage of the wonder that is the Grey Plume bar. You can sit at the bar, order a damn tasty cheeseburger from a kitchen run by Clayton Chapman, one of the Midwest’s finest chefs for about what you pay for a crappy dinner at Applebee’s. And, major bonus: You can wash this cheeseburger down with one of the finest fancy cocktails you will find anywhere in Omaha.
The bar menu is a fine mix of classic cocktails and the Plume bartender’s own creations. I have had many tasty Manhattans and Blood and Sands here, and if you are a coffee fan, I highly recommend the Plume, which is a tequila-and-espresso delight.
4. Berry & Rye
Old Man Drinker is no fan of the weird gold-colored seating or the fact that after two cocktails you have to share the men’s room with snot-nosed grade schoolers who have just eaten their body weight in ravioli at Spaghetti Works.
But the quality of the cocktails here is undeniable. I like their version of the Boulevardier (that’s a classic whiskey and Campari drink). If you are feeling adventurous, just point at anything on the whiskey or agave menus. It’s probably going to be good.
A short note about Wicked Rabbit, the new craft cocktail bar at 15th and Harney brought to you by the owners of Berry & Rye. In theory, it’s a fantastic idea: Omaha’s first true Pre-Prohibition-era craft cocktail bar. In practice, thus far, it’s a bit of a mess: Long wait times, constant confusion about how to actually get into the bar (please, please just set up a coherent text system when your table is ready) and drinks that are fine but don’t yet live up to the hype or the $13 prices.
Wicked Rabbit deserves a month or two more to work out the kinks. Here’s hoping that it will assume its place on this list in 2016.
3. Nite Owl
There is only one place in Omaha where you can watch The Shining or The Goonies while eating totchos (that’s tater tots crossed with nachos) and sipping on a fantastic drink. Nite Owl is that place. The cocktails are the focus here, and I have rarely been led astray. To me, the best part of Nite Owl is the vibe. The bar effortlessly straddles the line between relaxed and refined. I bet Mrs. Old Man Drinker and I went here more times in 2015 than any other spot on this list. We’re voting with our feet and our debit cards. So should you.
2. Krug Park
Krug Park is aging comfortably into middle age right along with Old Man Drinker. It’s no longer than trendiest bar in Benson, but I think it’s the best. A constantly rotating tap of beers, experienced, friendly bartenders, a half-dozen tasty variations on the Bloody Mary and my favorite beer cocktail in the city (It’s called the Paradisi and it features Odell’s IPA, grapefruit, cardamom, vodka and a double-shot of love.)
This is where I meet old friends for drinks. Heck, this place is an old friend.
1. V. Mertz
I can hear the gasps now. V. Mertz is one of the city’s nicest restaurants, you say. It’s too fancy, you say. It’s not even a bar!
Bullhonky, sayeth Old Man Drinker.
I mean, granted, don’t walk in here drunk at midnight wearing a t-shirt. It’s not that kind of place. But put on a shirt with buttons, show up around 10, walk to the back of the restaurant, to the timeless brass bar and I promise you, you will have yourself a night.
The drinks that general manager Matt Brown and his staff will make you will be both wildly creative and undeniably quality. A drink dreamt up by former bartender (now Chicago whiskey pusher) Alex Diimig is one of my favorites in all of Omaha. It’s a Ramos Old Fashioned, which combines the best elements of the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Old Fashioned. If you don’t know what that last sentence means, just imagine a high-class yet still really fun cocktail party going on inside your mouth.
It’s not a bar, not really. But it’s my favorite place to get a damn good drink in 2015.
* * * * *