It’s simple math. Any bar can be a dive, but only a great bar can be a great dive. Take California Bar as an example.
In the heart of Gifford Park, it has to deal with an outdated perception about the neighborhood, which has become far less applicable over time. Out-of-town “landlords” have been replaced by more civic-minded local residents. One might have been understandably cautious about Gifford Park back in the day, but between Guy Fieri’s beloved California Tacos, Burnzzz, Myrtle & Cypress Coffeehouse, Taysha’s Fancy Pants Sweets, Selena’s Market, the Community Bike Project, the Gifford Park Farmers Market, Snap Productions and Shelterbelt Theatre, you’re looking at a reinvigorated (not gentrified) neighborhood worth visiting, and then frequenting.
Several things distinguish the California Bar. It’s been a bar since 1937, it never closes early, bartenders give over-indulgers ice water to say it’s time to go without embarrassment, it’s got a beautiful, antique mahogany bar and manager Darryl Hutton is a neighborhood fixture. It’s a rite of passage for Creighton students in the middle of one of the most diverse communities in Omaha. Immigrants and students from around the world live here alongside working-class residents, lawyers and doctors who work or live around Gifford Park. Cali Bar is where you can find them all in various quantities every night.
Cali Bar’s got all the fixings: pool table (moved every Friday for a hopping Karaoke night), jukebox, dartboard, fenced-in beer garden, eight taps (including Boulevard, Infusion, Blue Moon, All Hopped Up IPA, Empyrean Third Stone Brown, Coors Light, Bud and Bud Light), about 50 craft/domestic bottles and a tidy package section near the door. My bartender, Gina, was as genuinely friendly and charming as anyone could hope for anywhere west of the Mississippi and east of 72nd. While talking it up, I had the Third Stone, a good brown ale.
The absolute heart of Cali Bar is Hutton, the manager. Hutton said he’s been working at Cali so long, he honestly can’t remember when he started officially as he transitioned from regular customer to helping out behind the bar to manager over a quarter century. My friend and advance scout Chris said it well: Hutton handles himself like a concierge. He knew the name of everyone who was in the bar, made sure they had whatever they wanted and treated us like old friends with no foreknowledge of our mission to review Cali Bar. He’s gregarious. He loves his neighborhood. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him talk about the evolution of Gifford Park. I feel like an insider now. Go say hi.
Happy hours are Monday through Friday from open to 7 p.m., when it’s a dollar off every drink. Specials include $6 Bloody Marys on Sunday, $1 off bottled craft beers and free pool on Mondays, $2.50 tallboys and $1 off Fernet shots on Tuesdays, $1 off shots on Thursdays, and $2.50 tallboys on Fridays.
Hope to see you there.
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