Nightlife review: It’s a bar & grill, but better; Mantra in Benson serves up craft cocktails, upscale eats

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald Correspondent
Published in the Omaha World-Herald, May 4, 2017

Mantra Bar and Grille

Where: 6913 Maple St.

When: 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Information: mantraomaha.com or 402-933-1666

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Mantra Bar and Grille in Benson isn’t your typical neighborhood pub.

It’s better.

It doesn’t have mozzarella sticks on the menu. Instead it has crab cakes and escargot. The dessert menu doesn’t feature giant chocolate chip cookies; instead, Mantra serves up crème brulee.

You get the idea. This is a bar and grill made sophisticated, with food and (more importantly) drink menus to match.

Mantra Bar and Grille offers plenty of beer. They have standard domestics like Budweiser, foreign standbys like Guinness and craft beer from Deschutes Brewery, Lucky Bucket Brewing Company and Boulevard Brewing Company, among others. Of these, I’d recommend Boulevard’s Tank 7, a complex Saison/Farmhouse Ale that packs a wallop at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume.

From there, though, the drink menu gets decidedly more upscale. In addition to its decent beer selection, Mantra offers about two dozen wines, available by the glass or by the bottle, champagne and a selection of about a dozen specialty cocktails.

Drink prices vary. The cheapest bottles of domestic beers cost $4 and some of the more high-end wines cost more than $45 to buy by the bottle. Most of the drinks are less than $10, though, and all of the specialty cocktails cost $8.

The cocktail selection includes classics like Manhattans, Moscow Mules (they call them Mantra Mules) and Mint Juleps, along with more creative offerings that feature ingredients like hibiscus flowers.

My drinking buddies and I kept it simple by ordering the Cable Car, Peach Julep and the Paloma.

The Cable Car, with spiced rum, Grand Mariner, lemon juice and simple syrup, is a heartier cocktail full of flavor.

The Peach Julep with Bulleit Bourbon, Peachtree liqueur, mint and simple syrup was one of our favorites. The subtle flavor of peaches balanced out the sharpness of the bourbon to make it refreshing and easy to drink.

The Paloma was my favorite. It features 1800 Coconut Tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and blood orange puree. You can taste all of the ingredients, but coconut is the standout. Like almost all drinks with coconut and tequila, it seems like something you should sip on a beach. Slowly. You should sip it slowly. Word to the wise, Mantra’s drinks are on the stiff side, in a good way. They do not skimp on the alcohol here, so take your time.

I’d recommend kicking back on Mantra’s patio, which offers plenty of seating at round tables, as well as a fire feature that keeps things nice and cozy.

Inside, Mantra has seating at chairs along the bar, as well as plenty of tables for large and small groups.

And, because this is still a bar and grill, there are several televisions so you never miss a game, even as you’re sipping your fancy cocktail.

Mantra’s like that — it keeps things classy while still respecting the bar and grill classics. They’ve got upscale food and drinks, but they’ve also got burgers, beer and sports, too. It’s the best of both worlds.

Nightlife review: It’s no surprise Blackstone Social is a neighborhood fave

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald Correspondent
Published in the Omaha World-Herald, April 20, 2017

Blackstone.OWH

Where: 3910 Farnam St., Omaha, NE 68131

When: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Thursday, noon to 2 a.m. Friday to Sunday

Information: www.blackstonesocial.com or 402-260-7900

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Blackstone Social is in, you guessed it, the Blackstone District.

A historic neighborhood along Farnam Street between 33rd and 44th Streets, the Blackstone District has seen some extensive revamping in the past few years and is now a trendy neighborhood full of bars, restaurants and breweries.

Blackstone Social fits right in, and judging by the crowds, it seems to be something of a neighborhood favorite.

When I visited early on a weekend night, the place was packed. I was a little worried about finding somewhere to sit, since, like many businesses in the neighborhood, Blackstone Social is on the small side. But, noticing the bar area was full, the bartender quickly escorted my drinking buddy and I toward the back where staff members were already clearing off a table for us.

The staff at Blackstone Social was like this all night — fast, friendly and, frankly, just really good at their jobs.

And as for the drinks, they were darn good, too.

Blackstone Social has an extensive whiskey selection, a large menu of flavored shooters, wine available by the glass or by the bottle, and a beer menu with craft and domestic brews.

Drink prices vary, with the highest-end whiskey topping out at $35 and the cheapest beers costing less than $5, but the majority of drinks on Blackstone Social’s menu are for less than $10.

Blackstone Social also offers a selection of house cocktails — most of them for $7.

My drinking buddy and I tried three of them: the Whiskey Smashed, Secretariat and Grand Pappy’s Breakfast.

All of them were good, but the Whiskey Smashed was my favorite. It’s made with Bulleit Bourbon, lemon juice and honey nectar syrup. It’s also surprisingly easy to drink. The honey nectar syrup makes it sweet but not too sweet, and it slightly masks the sharpness of the bourbon, so it goes down smoothly.

I highly recommend the Whiskey Smashed, especially for people who don’t necessarily consider themselves whiskey fans but who are looking to try something new. You just might find you like it.

The Secretariat, a cocktail made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, lime juice, ginger beer and topped with berries, was good too. It’s refreshing and a great springtime drink, provided you like ginger beer, which I really, really do.

Our third cocktail was Grand Pappy’s Breakfast, which is made with coffee from another Blackstone District favorite, Archetype Coffee. It’s spiked with Tullamore Dew Whiskey and Saint Brendan’s Irish Cream Liqueur.

It normally comes topped with whipped cream but they were out the night we visited. That was disappointing, but the drink was not. It was great without the whipped cream, but I’m sure the whipped cream would have made it even better. I’d recommend Grand Pappy’s Breakfast for those spring nights that are still a bit on the chilly side.

But overall, I’d just recommend you get to Blackstone Social.

Though the neighborhood may be busy, and the limited parking in the area may occasionally test your patience, like all great things, Blackstone Social is worth the wait.