Nightlife review: Even craft brew enthusiasts will find something new here

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald correspondent

Published in the Omaha World-Herald, March 9, 2017

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The Casual Pint — Countryside Village

Where: 8718 Countryside Plaza

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday

Info: 402-919-7468 or countrysidevillage.thecasualpint.com

* * *

Stop what you’re doing and go to The Casual Pint. Or go some time when it’s convenient for you instead.

Either way, just go.

You’ll be glad you did, especially if you’re a beer lover like me.

Like most beer enthusiasts, I’m always looking for a new place to get my craft brew fix and, in Omaha, a city of beer enthusiasts, there are plenty of options.

The Casual Pint, which opened up in central Omaha’s Countryside Village in December, offers something a little different, though.

“We combine a bar and retail space in one,” said Casual Pint co-owner David Vannier, “You don’t have to commit to buying a six pack, taking it home and hoping you like the beer. Buy one and open it in the store. If you like it, buy a six pack to take home.”

The Casual Pint has a rotating menu of 30 beers on tap and close to 200 beers by the bottle, so odds are you’ll find something you like enough to take with you.

For beer lovers, this extensive beer menu is a major plus. It might be a bit overwhelming for craft beer newbies, though. That’s where The Casual Pint’s staff can help.

The Casual Pint is a chain with close to 20 locations across the country, and they call their bartenders “beertenders.”

“Our beertenders are knowledgeable and love helping people find their new favorite beer,” Vannier said. “Even if you aren’t a craft beer lover, with 30 taps and 200 different singles, you will find something to drink that is new and exciting.”

I did.

I’ve tried my fair share of craft brews — or, more likely, more than my fair share — and I was pleasantly surprised to find a few things on The Casual Pint’s menu I’d never had before.

I got a flight so I could try a few.

I went with Founders Brewing Company’s Breakfast Stout, a hearty, coffee-flavored brew; Fort Collins Brewery’s Salted Caramel Scotch Ale, which had a strong but not overwhelming caramel flavor; Lincoln’s White Elm Brewing Company’s biere de garde, which was complex and unlike anything I’d tried before; and Ballast Point’s Mango Even Keel, which nicely balances its mango flavor with some serious hops.

All of the beers were completely different, but also, all of them were good.

And they’re just a small sampling of what’s available at The Casual Pint.

The bar/beer market also offers entertainment with a few televisions and a selection of board and card games, along with events such as trivia, dice and Bingo nights, and special deal nights like half price growler fills on Fridays.

They also have snacks. Their small but diverse food menu includes wings, chips and dip, soft pretzels, spiral-cut potatoes and flatbread pizzas. All of the food is between $5 and $10.

I’d recommend the Bavarian Pretzels with beer cheese sauce. You get three large, soft pretzel sticks with a generous portion of cheese for $8. The pretzels are great, but I’m partial to the beer cheese because even it emphasizes beer in the best possible way.

After all, that’s what The Casual Pint is all about — beer.

So, beer lovers, go to The Casual Pint already and bring your non-beer-loving friends with you. The Casual Pint just might have what it takes to change their minds.

Nightlife review: Bar and grill has what you need for a casual night out

By Ashley Strehle Hartman/World-Herald correspondent

Published in the Omaha World-Herald, February 23, 2017

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Tanner’s Bar and Grill

Where: 19102 Q St.

When: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday to Saturday. Kitchen hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday to Saturday

Info: tannersbarandgrill.com or 402-763-4414

* * *

Sometimes you want fancy cocktails with ingredients you can’t pronounce.

But sometimes (most of the time, in my case), you just want to share some beers and burgers with friends. At times like that, you want Tanner’s Bar and Grill.

Tanner’s is a bar and grill chain with close to 20 locations across the Midwest, including spots in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and, of course, Nebraska. There are two Tanner’s locations in Lincoln and five in the Omaha metro area.

I’ve been to a couple of the locations, but today I’m going to talk about the one I visited most recently — the one in southwest Omaha at 19102 Q St.

Like most of the other Tanner’s locations I’ve visited, it’s spacious while still maintaining a cozy, laid-back vibe. There is ample seating at round, wooden tables and at stools along the massive bar.

In keeping with the bar and grill tradition, there are plenty of televisions so you can catch the game as well as the usual entertainment options: keno, darts and electronic games.

The drinks menu features all the bar and grill classics as well — Budweiser, Miller, Michelob, Coors and Busch, along with the usual imports — Corona, Heineken, Modelo and Dos Equis.

For those more interested in craft brews, Tanner’s has beers from Surly Brewing Company, Breckenridge Brewery and local favorites Lucky Bucket Brewing Company and Infusion Brewing Company.

I had a pint of Infusion’s Vanilla Bean Blonde (one of my favorite beers) for $5. This is a fairly easy-drinking beer at 4.8 alcohol by volume, and it has a distinct vanilla flavor. I’d recommend it if you’re interested in branching out to craft beers but you’re leery of typically darker beers like stouts or porters.

I also sampled Oskar Blues Brewery’s Dale Pale Ale, a hoppier beer with hints of citrus and 6.5 percent alcohol by volume. It’s a fairly common craft beer at Nebraska bar and grills.

Overall, though, I’d say Tanner’s has a slightly better than average beer selection for bars of its kind, which is a big plus for beer lovers like me.

I’m also a big lover of bar food, and Tanner’s has plenty of it for decent prices. It offers all the standard menu items — burgers, wings, chicken strips, a bunch of fried and cheesy appetizers, salads and sandwiches.

All of the food is less than $20 and most of it is less than $10.

I had a half pound cheeseburger, which at Tanner’s they call cheese Boogas. I got mine with a generous serving of “Tanner tots” for $8.49. It was a solid bar burger — greasy but not too greasy and so big you probably can’t eat it all at once.

Another popular menu item at Tanner’s is their boneless chicken strips, which they call chicken lips. They make them 10 different ways — battered, grilled, charred, blackened and with a variety of different sauces.

Tanner’s menu says they’ll “make ’em any way you want ’um” and that’s basically Tanner’s motto in a nutshell — friendly customer service delivered in an unpretentious atmosphere.

Tanner’s founder, who is lovingly referred to as Grandpa Tanner, wanted his bar and grills to be: “Friendly purveyors of good times, fine food, and the pause that refreshes.”

From what I’ve seen, they’re doing just that.

Nightlife review: Get your fill at Finnegan’s: Ample servings of bar grub go great with drink specials

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald Correspondent

Published in the Omaha World-Herald, February 9, 2017

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Finnegan’s Pub

Where: 4309 S. 120th St.

When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 12:30 a.m. Sunday

Info: 402-333-6181 or here

* * *

Finnegan’s Pub on South 120th Street, not far from Interstate 80, is a classic Nebraska watering hole that goes big with the food servings.

It has everything you’d expect from your local bar and grill — cheap food and drinks and all of the standard sports bar entertainment.

The pub has plenty of televisions for your sports-viewing needs, Keno, a pool table and darts.

Likewise, its food menu is stuffed with all the bar and grill standbys. Finnegan’s food menu has all the appetizers, wings, wraps, burgers and sandwiches you’d expect from your local brewpub. Almost all of them cost less than $10.

My drinking buddies and I tried burgers and sandwiches, which came in generous portions along with mountains of french fries or tater tots (which you can substitute for a $1).

The Classic Pub Club sandwich, which came with a side for $8.99, was particularly enormous.

Finnegan’s goes big with the appetizers, too.

I’d recommend the loaded potato skins. You get a portion of eight large ones for $7.25. They’re not too greasy, and Finnegan’s doesn’t skimp on the sour cream like some restaurants do.

The pub offers its full kitchen menu from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Finnegan’s drink menu features all of the standard domestic brews — Coors, Miller, Michelob, Budweiser, etc., as well as more specialty beers like seasonal brews from La Vista’s craft brewery, Lucky Bucket Brewing Company.

The night we visited, Finnegan’s offered Lucky Bucket’s Snowsuit, a spiced Belgian Abbey Ale, which at 5.3 percent alcohol by volume is an easy-drinking winter weather brew. Its blend of six spices makes for a complex flavor.

Finnegan’s also offers other specialty brews like Fat Tire, Blue Moon, and Lucky Bucket’s Certified Evil, an imperial oatmeal stout that, at 9.1 percent alcohol by volume, is a heartier beer.

They also serve up the standard imports — Corona, Heineken, Dos Equis and a variety of Guinness offerings.

The pub’s drink menu also features wines and some specialty drinks, including the Original Watermelon, the Big Ginger, Finn’s Kinky Martini and Moscow Mules.

Moscow Mules are a cocktail with vodka, ginger beer and lime served in a copper mug. At Finnegan’s you can also get them flavored, so I made mine raspberry. It was refreshing, like a usual Moscow Mule, and not overly sweet. I’d recommend it.

Finnegan’s has nightly food and drink specials starting at 7 p.m., including 60-ounce pitchers for $7 on Tuesdays and $2 well drinks on Wednesdays.

In terms of seating, Finnegan’s is rather spacious with lots of high tables and low round tables.

They also have comfy office-style chairs that make you want to settle in and stay a while — ideally while snacking on loaded potato skins and sipping a Moscow Mule.

Nightlife review: Laid-back bar opened in 1968 and just keeps growing

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald correspondent

Published in the Omaha World-Herald, January 26, 2017

Candlelight Lounge has staying power.

The laid-back, unpretentious pub at 5031 Grover St. has been in business for almost 50 years.

The neighborhood bar opened in 1968 in a narrow storefront in the same, unassuming strip mall it’s in now.

Over the years, Candlelight Lounge has expanded by absorbing the square footage of neighboring businesses as they closed or left.

Now the formerly small establishment is downright spacious. Its ample square footage affords plenty of room for pool tables, lots of seating at large tables, a sizable bar, and entertainment offerings like Keno, darts and electronic games, including my favorite: pinball.

Also, since no good Nebraska watering hole is complete without them, Candlelight Lounge has plenty of strategically-placed televisions for all of your football-watching needs.

As for its drinks, Candlelight offers all the standard mixed drinks and classic beer options you’d expect from your neighborhood sports bar. On tap they have the classics like Budweiser, Guinness and Blue Moon, as well as a few pleasant craft beer surprises.

The night I visited, Candlelight Lounge had one of my favorite local beers on tap. Joel Porter, from Benson’s Infusion Brewing Company, is an English-style porter. It is robust but still very drinkable, and you can really taste the beer’s advertised hints of chocolate and subtle notes of coffee. At more than 7 percent alcohol by volume, it’s a heartier beer, ideal for sipping on a cold, winter’s night.

On the food front, Candlelight Lounge serves up all of the bar and grill standards — burgers, sandwiches, salads, tacos and a whole host of appetizers from chicken wings to fried green beans.

Most of the food on Candlelight Lounge’s menu is less than $10, and the bar and grill also offers daily weeknight food specials such as hot roast beef with mashed potatoes, enchiladas, rib-eye steak, tacos and walleye. Again, each costs less than $10.

The bar serves food from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 5 to 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Candlelight Lounge also serves food on Husker game days and offers takeout.

Candlelight Lounge owner Travis Saint said the bar and grill’s menu is in the process of being revamped and expanded so new offerings will be available soon.

The bar and grill will also soon have a new website, as it is being updated, too. Meantime, customers can check out the bar’s Facebook page, Candlelight Lounge, to stay up to date on events or specials.

Though Candlelight Lounge has a few changes on the horizon, you can expect the neighborhood watering hole to stay true to what has kept it in business for almost five decades: affordable drinks and food served up in a relaxed atmosphere.

“We’re a neighborhood, come-as-you-are bar,” Saint said.

***

Where: 5031 Grover St.

When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday

Info: 402-504-4966 or candlelightomaha.com

***

 

Nightlife review: Get familiar with McFly’s; Grab a beer, feel at home at laid-back neighborhood bar

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald correspondent

Published in the Omaha World-Herald, January 12, 2017

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McFly’s Center Street Tavern

Where: 4503 Center St.

When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 2 a.m. Sunday

Info: facebook.com/Mcflys-Center-St-Tavern

* * *

Neighborhood bar and grills aren’t conventionally exciting. They’re not supposed to be.

In many ways, neighborhood pubs should be just the opposite. They should feel comfortably familiar even if you’re new there. You should know what to expect even if it’s the first time you’ve walked through the door.

That’s what you get at McFly’s Center Street Tavern.

You’re not going to get artisanal cocktails and gourmet eats here.

Instead, you get exactly what you’d expect — drinks and bar grub at decent prices in an unfussy, homey atmosphere.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about McFly’s is its theme — firefighters. Fire hydrants, fire extinguishers, toy firetrucks and photos of fires are on display. A sign hanging over the bar proclaims that McFly’s is located at “#1 Fireman Way.”

Otherwise, McFly’s looks exactly like what you’d expect. There is plenty of seating at tables and at stools along the bar. The floors are wood, the lights are low and there are University of Nebraska at Omaha flags because all good neighborhood bars support the home team.

And because McFly’s also bills itself as a sports bar, there are plenty of televisions, both in the room with the bar and in a larger, adjoining room that houses McFly’s pool tables.

McFly’s also offers keno, darts and electronic games.

On the drink front, McFly’s offers all of the standard domestic brews and ciders, some on tap, some in bottles — Budweiser, Miller, Michelob, Corona, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Angry Orchard, etc.

My drinking buddy and I ordered arguably the two fanciest brews on tap — a Boulevard Wheat and a Lagunitas IPA. They were each about $4.

Boulevard Wheat is one of my all-time favorite beers. The unfiltered wheat from Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Co. is a light, easy-drinking beer that is a perfect transition for people who are used to drinking standard domestic brands but want to branch out into some more exciting brews. Since it’s so mild, Boulevard Wheat is one of my go-to beers in the summer, but it’s good all year round.

I’m not a big fan of IPAs, but Lagunitas IPA is one of the milder, more drinkable ones I’ve tried. If you’re an IPA lover, it may be too tame for you, but if you’re just looking to check out this beer variety, this may be a good one to sample.

On the food front, McFly’s offers burgers, sandwiches, tacos, wings and more — all the typical food you’d expect from your local watering hole. They have daily food specials — most for less than $6 on weekdays — as well as special deals on prime rib on Friday and Saturday. The full kitchen menu is available from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

All in all, McFly’s is exactly what you’d expect from a pub that bills itself as “your neighborhood bar.” Its prices are on the cheap side, its atmosphere is unpretentious and, more often than not, its televisions are turned to football.

It’s a laid-back, Nebraska neighborhood bar — exactly what it’s meant to be.

Nightlife review: Beers from A to Zipline: Lincoln brewer’s beer hall has something for everyone

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald correspondent

Published in the Omaha World-Herald, Dec. 29, 2016

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Zipline Beer Hall

Where: 5740 Hidcote Drive, Lincoln

When: Noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday

Info: ziplinebrewing.com or 402-475-1001

* * *

I’m just going to say it: I love Lincoln’s Zipline Brewing Co.

Like many people who have lived in Lincoln, I have a special affinity for the brewery that prides itself on its “Brave New Brews.”

But as of this fall, Zipline gave me something else to love: its new beer hall in southeast Lincoln.

The beer hall, which opened in late October, is nestled in a newer development near 56th Street and Pine Lake Road. This is a more upscale neighborhood than the one that houses the brewery and taproom in west Lincoln, but inside, the beer hall has the same laid-back vibe that Zipline is known for.

Like the taproom, the beer hall decor is minimalist and industrial, with hints of quirky cool. Some funky large light fixtures add interest to the beer hall’s high ceilings, and nearly-floor-to-ceiling windows keep things feeling spacious.

There is seating in tall chairs along the bar, at counters along the far wall and at a few smaller tables.

The majority of the seating is at a few massive communal tables in the center of the room, which reminds me of the setup at Crescent Moon’s Huber-Haus German Bier Hall — one of my favorite places to drink in Omaha. There, and here, the communal seating adds to the friendly environment, where you don’t mind sharing a table and possibly a round with strangers.

Whether you’re drinking with a crowd or just a few friends, Zipline has plenty of beers to go around. The beer hall offers more than 20 of Zipline’s year-round, seasonal, barrel-aged and small-batch brews.

The night we visited it also offered a beer made in collaboration with Omaha’s Scriptown Brewing Co. and guest taps from Ploughshare Brewing Co. and Glacial Till Vineyard.

I ordered a flight so I could have a few different beers. The flights are $6 for four 5-ounce samples. I got the Espresso Stout, Barrel-Aged Belgian Golden Ale, Smoked Bock and the small-batch Barleywine.

Of these, the Espresso Stout and Barrel-Aged Belgian Golden Ale were my favorites.

The Espresso Stout is advertised as having hints of chocolate and coffee, and it delivered on both counts. A darker, heartier beer at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume, the stout is a great beer to sip on a cold winter’s night.

The Barrel-Aged Belgian Golden Ale was presented as having hints of apple, spice and caramel, and it, too, delivered. This complex beer, with 12 percent alcohol by volume, would be great for people who usually gravitate toward wine. It’s the sort of brew that backs up my long-held belief that beer, done right, can be just as sophisticated as wine. It’s now one of my favorite beers.

You can find your own Zipline favorite at the beer hall. It offers beers in flights like I tried or you can grab a pint of most beers for $5 and half pints for $3. Cask beer is $6, and the barrel-aged beers are $6 for a half pint.

During happy hour — 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday — you can get $1 off pints.

Thanks to the beer hall’s partnership with its next-door neighbor — Art & Soul, a kitchen and wine bar — you also can occasionally get food by visiting Art & Soul’s walk-up window between the two businesses.

The beer hall keeps it busy with bingo nights on Mondays and events like cask nights, beer pairings and fundraisers for local organizations throughout the week.

Zipline recently announced plans to open a taproom in Omaha’s north downtown district this spring, but until then, I recommend getting your Zipline fix at the beer hall.

You’re sure to find something you love. I know I did.

Nightlife review: Looking for a simple beer and burger? Head to Brownie’s

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald correspondent

Published in the Omaha World-Herald, Dec. 1, 2016

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Brownie’s Watering Hole

Where: 125 E. Second St., Papillion

When: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday to Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday

Info: facebook.com/BrowniesWateringHole or 402-331-9948

* * *

It’s December already.

The hectic holiday season is upon us. Things are about to get really busy, really soon.

Thankfully, there’s an easy way for you to slow down and relax for a bit: Visit Brownie’s Watering Hole in Papillion.

The bar and grill at 125 E. 2nd St. has a decidedly laid-back, small-town vibe.

It’s meant to.

Brownie’s has been promoted as a small-town hangout for years — and the promotions seem to work. This place has staying power. The bar and grill has been serving up unfussy food and cheap booze for more than 25 years.

This isn’t an upscale drinking establishment. There are no signature craft cocktails or gourmet dishes here. Brownie’s is a burgers and beer joint where they keep things casual.

On the beer front, Brownie’s is primarily focused on the classic domestic brands: Budweiser, Coors and the like.

Arguably the fanciest beer on tap (and I am using the word “fanciest” very loosely here) is Shock Top. The Belgian-style wheat beer has subtle hints of citrus and a dash of coriander. It’s a smooth, easy-drinking brew. Though Shock Top doesn’t compare with the interesting craft beers being made by local breweries, it is still a more appealing choice than some other domestic options.

Brownie’s also offers a variety of bottled beer and mixed drinks. I had a Blue Moon, which is always a safe bet if you’re in a bar with more traditional beer offerings. It’s a Belgian White beer and, like Shock Top, has hints of citrus and coriander.

If you’re not into beer, Brownie’s also has all of your standard mixed drinks, but like I said, don’t expect any artisanal cocktails. Brownie’s isn’t that kind of bar.

Small-town watering holes tend to keep things simple, and Brownie’s does that with its food menu, too.

It offers burgers, sandwiches, tacos, salads, wraps and all the fried appetizer options you’d expect, plus a few more, such as fried pickles. Almost everything on the food menu is less than $10, aside from the steaks, which run closer to $15.

I went with Brownie’s 6 oz. cheeseburger, which comes with both American and Swiss cheese. It was less than $7 and it came with a veritable mountain of tater tots. It was a standard burger, one you’d expect at this sort of establishment — good, but not great, and so big there is no way you can finish it in one sitting.

Brownie’s tends to do that with its food — go big. Portions are exceedingly generous. You certainly get a lot for your money.

The bar and grill goes big with its televisions, too. Brownie’s boasts an 8-foot television, which, during football season is always showing one game or another.

If for some reason you’re not into football, Brownie’s also offers shuffleboard, pool, Keno and darts. In short, there’s plenty here to keep folks entertained.

It’s exactly the sort of bar where you can settle in, stay a while and relax, which may be just what you need this holiday season.