Nightlife review: Bar and grill boasts laid-back vibe and inexpensive menu

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald Correspondent
Published in the Omaha World-Herald, May 18, 2017

HopHouse.OWH

The HopHouse Bar and Grill

Where: 11425 S. 72nd St., Papillion

When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day

Information: 402-933-0511 or hophousebar.com

* * *

There are two kinds of bars in this world: bars with “regulars” and bars without.

The HopHouse Bar and Grill in Papillion is of the first variety. It’s the kind of place where as soon as you walk through the door you can tell that the people sitting around the bar have been here before — many, many times.

That’s a good sign. It means people have found something they like enough to visit again — and again.

Bars like this are usually pretty comfortable places to grab a beer. They will inevitably have pickup trucks in the parking lot, burgers on the menu and small-town vibes.

The HopHouse Bar and Grill is like that. Located in an unassuming strip mall not far from Highway 370, HopHouse has everything you’d expect from a laid-back, small-town pub, plus a few extras that make it stand out in a good way.

Their drink menu includes all of the standard domestics — Budweiser, Coors and Miller — as well as the usual imports like Guinness, and craft brew options from Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Company and Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery, to name just a few.

But, to its credit, HopHouse also has some impressive local craft brews on its menu, like favorites from Benson’s Infusion Brewing Company.

My personal favorite beer, Infusion’s Vanilla Bean Blonde, is on HopHouse’s menu. Its noticeable-but-not-overwhelming vanilla flavor keeps it interesting and its low alcohol by volume content (4.8 percent), makes it a refreshing spring-time drink. It’s delicious. You should have some.

HopHouse also has a few craft beer options I’d never seen before like the Union Jack IPA from California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Company. IPAs aren’t usually my go-to beer, but I might choose this one again. It’s hoppy but well-balanced with subtle hints of citrus.

Like all good neighborhood pubs, in addition to its beer menu, HopHouse offers all of the standard liquors and mixed drinks, as well as drink specials throughout the week.

They offer particularly generous happy hour specials from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday where you can get well drinks for $2.50, domestic draft beers for $2 and domestic bottled beer for $2.25. Yeah, drinks for less than $3. Not bad, huh?

HopHouse’s food menu is also on the cheap side. With the exception of a sizable appetizer platter and some steak options, everything on the menu costs less than $10. They offer all the burgers, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, wings and personal pizzas you’d expect at your neighborhood bar and grill, all of it served in generous portions.

If you’re looking for entertainment, HopHouse has plenty of televisions, as well as darts, electronic games and Keno. Plus, on the Saturday night we visited, they also had karaoke.

HopHouse offers plenty of seating inside with lots of tables and chairs, as well as stools along the bar. Outside they have a sizable patio area where you can enjoy the weather while sipping your beer. (Just to reiterate: Get the Infusion Vanilla Bean Blonde.)

If you’re looking for a bar with a small-town vibe in the city, check out HopHouse. You may even become one of its regulars.

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

* * *

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

* * *

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.

Nightlife review: Longwell’s is for lovers. Beer lovers.

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald Correspondent
Published in the Omaha World-Herald, April 6, 2017

Longwells-OWH

Longwell’s, 350 Canopy St., Suite 100, in Lincoln.

Where: 350 Canopy St., Suite 100, Lincoln

When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to midnight Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Information: longwells.com or 402-904-5283

* * *

I love beer, and Longwell’s does, too. The Lincoln bar’s motto is “76 Strong” which refers to the 76 different beers it has on tap.

Longwell’s, in Lincoln’s Railyard district, has beers from Nebraska favorites like Omaha’s Brickway Brewery and Distillery and Lincoln’s Zipline Brewing Company, as well as international brews and craft beer standouts from across the country.

Basically, their beer menu is huge, which is good news for craft beer enthusiasts.

The good news for craft beer newbies is that Longwell’s beer menu is informative, too. Both online and in the bar, Longwell’s beer menu lists each beer’s type, its alcohol by volume (ABV) and, in some cases, its International Bitterness Units (IBU) rating.

Don’t know much about ABVs or IBUs? No worries. Longwell’s staff can offer suggestions, and you can always sample a beer in a smaller size.

Longwell’s beer menu allows you to order draft brews in 5-ounce, 10-ounce and 16-ounce servings.

The prices vary by the beer, but you can get a 5 oz. glass of most of the brews for less than $3. That makes it a good option if you’d like to taste a few different beers.

That’s what I did on my last visit.

I stuck with Nebraska breweries and got Farnam House Brewing Company’s Ginger Brett, Scriptown Brewing Company’s Sassy Lassy and White Elm Brewing Company’s Inverted Galaxy.

The Ginger Brett is an interesting and heartier brew at 8.9 percent ABV. The Sassy Lassy, a blonde ale, is a lighter beer perfect for spring, and White Elm’s Inverted Galaxy is a double IPA chockful of hops.

All of these beers were different, all of them were good and they’re just a very small sampling of the beers on Longwell’s menu.

If beer isn’t your thing, Longwell’s also has a selection of wine and all the liquors you’d expect at your neighborhood bar.

But really, at Longwell’s, it’s about the beer. And sports.

Longwell’s bills itself as a place “where craft house meets sports bar.”

On this front, they deliver.

In addition to their extensive craft brew selection, Longwell’s also offers everything you’d expect from your local sports bar: bar eats and tons of televisions tuned to your favorite sports teams.

Longwell’s food menu offers all of the sports bar classics: fried and cheesy appetizers, burgers, wings, salads, sandwiches and wraps, most for $10 or less. They also offer a selection of barbecue, including pulled pork, brisket, ribs and more, most of it for less than $15.

I’ve been to Longwell’s a few times and have eaten items from across the menu. As someone who eats at a lot of sports bars, trust me when I say Longwell’s selection is better than most.

Longwell’s also more than lives up to its sports bar credentials with plenty of televisions, including a 45-foot LED television inside and great views of the Cube, the massive television in the Railyard’s common area, outside.

So, if you’re looking for a sports bar experience that can satisfy your craft beer fix, check out Longwell’s the next time you’re in Lincoln. They’ve got you covered.

Nightlife review: Beer, wings, sports on TV; If that’s what you want, then you want to go to Brewsky’s

By Ashley Strehle Hartman / World-Herald correspondent

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

Brewsksys_OWH

Brewsky’s — Q Street

Where: 15350 Weir St.

When: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, noon to midnight Sunday

Information: brewskys.com or 402-614-2739

* * *

During March Madness, you talk about sports bars, and when you talk about sports bars in Omaha, you’ve got to talk about Brewsky’s.

Brewsky’s Food & Spirits is a chain of sports bars and restaurants started in Lincoln in 1990. The chain has since grown to include six locations — four in Lincoln and two in Omaha.

Today I’m going to talk about the Brewsky’s at 15350 Weir St. in Omaha. Brewsky’s website refers to this as the Q Street location.

Like the other locations, this one is spacious, low-key and offers plenty of televisions for all of your sports-watching needs.

Brewsky’s co-founder Jim Mumgaard said that this location was recently renovated to include even more (and even bigger) televisions. Plus, he said, the bars offer “every television sports package out there.”

On the food front, Brewsky’s offers everything you’d expect from your neighborhood sports bar — burgers, salads, sandwiches, wraps, plenty of appetizers and, of course, wings.

Brewsky’s does its wings four ways: boneless, original “sauced” wings, chargrilled or double-dipped wings (which are sauced, grilled and then sauced again), with a dozen sauce options.

The wings range in price from $6.49 for 6 wings to $17.49 for 18 wings. Boneless wings are around $10 for a basketful. Brewsky’s offers special deals on sauced or grilled wings on Wednesdays and boneless wings on Thursdays. Brewsky’s also has deals on tacos on Tuesdays, burgers on Sundays and extended happy hour specials on Fridays.

Most of the food costs less than $10 and, aside from some very large servings of wings, everything on the menu costs less than $15.

Their drink menu is also on the cheaper side. When I visited the other day, my drinking buddy and I got two bottles of craft beer for about $5 each.

I went with Free State Brewing Company’s Wheat State Golden, a light, mellow beer that would be a good craft beer transition for someone used to drinking classic domestics.

I also tried Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery. It’s crisp and refreshing with subtle notes of citrus and floral to keep it interesting. Brewsky’s also offers beers from Nebraska companies like Zipline, Nebraska Brewing Company and Lucky Bucket. As expected, Brewsky’s also has all of the standard domestic offerings like Budweiser and Coors, as well as the usual imports like Corona and Guinness, to name a few.

I’d recommend picking something from the craft beer menu instead — particularly something from one of the Nebraska breweries. Zipline’s my go-to.

I’d also recommend you check out a Brewsky’s on trivia night. At the Q Street location, they offer trivia on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.

But if trivia isn’t your thing, there’s no shame in stopping by Brewsky’s for the televisions alone. Like I said, there are plenty of them, they are big and, for the next couple of weeks, they’ll have your March Madness needs covered.

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

Casual Pint-OmahaWorldHerald

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.