Tag Archives: House of Loom

Transitorily Yours

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a new Encounter column focusing on millennial life by Brent Crampton. To share your significant life experiences, email millennials@omahapublications.com

Today is Jan. 7, 2017, and yesterday I walked out of House of Loom one last time. It was a place that I co-owned, DJed at, and curated events for. The scene I left was only a shell. There were no swirling lights or sounds, no Victorian lounge vibes, and certainly no lively, booze-fueled conversations. Just an echo of the life that filled that place for 5 1/2 years remained (along with the bustle of a construction crew ripping a hole in the wood floor).

Loom was many things to many people, but to me it was a lovely little social experiment that blended cultures, creatives, and communities. Categorically, it was a nightclub and event venue, but to the folks frequenting its experiences, it was a place where patrons and friends could mobilize around causes, express emotions, mourn passings, and celebrate life’s contrasts.

The influx of people was so fluid that you could not distinguish it as a straight or gay bar, but simply as a people’s bar. On its best nights, it brought together folks who normally wouldn’t intersect in our city, and lifted us out of the doldrums of our daily lives.

It is rare for a business to shut down without the force of an unpaid bill. As a friend and fellow small business owner says, it is a gift to be able to close on your own terms. And that is exactly what we did. For myself and the other owners, House of Loom was never meant to be permanent. It was a successful social experiment. And it was time to move on.

I have spent the past 13 years of my life fervently dedicated to contributing to Omaha’s nightlife. With this new year, I embark on a new chapter—one where the loud and flashy peaks of club life are swapped for the quiet joy of watching my 1-year-old baby stand on her own for the first time. Now, spontaneous social gatherings are traded for intimate dinner parties (often planned months in advance). Instead of falling asleep as the sun rises, I wake up  with the sun.

It is a different life—one with its own advantages. My prior life could never hold a candle to this new world. In fact, as I write this, my baby daughter is napping away on my chest after a messy meal of liquified plums, apples, and carrots. She is tuckered out, and so am I.

This brings me to why I am writing this column. During this next chapter of my life, I will be taking some time to hibernate in the creative womb. The invitation to turn to the reflective act of writing seemed like a synchronistic opportunity. Instead of only sharing my notions of creativity and thought from behind a DJ booth, I will gladly be able to do so in this space.

Much like my life right now, I am going to ad-lib my writing. Most likely I will touch on topics ranging from the social impact of nightlife (of course), the curiosities of parenting (because I’m new at this), food (because I get giddy when I eat good food), and inclusiveness and equality (because of our new president), all through the millennial lens of a 30-something, post-nightclub-owning new papa.

Here’s to new beginnings.

Brent Crampton previously co-owned House of Loom and is co-owner of Berry & Rye, a bar in the Old Market. A multi-award-winning DJ in a former life, he now prefers evenings spent at home with his family.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Baller Artist

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Kids need a community that shows them they can be successful and invests in their success,”

-Aaryon Williams

With an international basketball career spanning Peru, Denmark, Iceland, and Mexico, most 30-year-olds might be tempted to coast. Not Aaryon “Bird” Williams. The prolific artist and arts supporter is in the legacy construction business.

aayronwilliams3Williams has directed well-known local mural projects, such as the Terence Crawford Mural (inside Miller Park Elementary) and the Love Mural (at 24th and Lake streets behind Love’s Jazz and Art Center). He’s a spoken word artist and regular at Verbal Gumbo at House of Loom. His painting “The Butterfly and the Bee,” a tribute to Muhammad Ali pictured in victory over Joe Frazier, was unveiled at Carver Bank, where Williams puts his art management education to use as a program director.

Williams is tall and charming, especially when talking about his passions. He looks equally at ease suited up in the VIP room or paint-splattered in the studio. But when speaking of the past, he looks down as if haunted.

“Born” and “failed” are the two most significant words Williams associates with his old hometown: Gary, Indiana. According to the Department of Justice, Gary is one of six American pilot communities targeted by the federal government for nationally publicized civil rights abuses. A model American ghetto. Not exactly the land of opportunity for a young black man.

“I failed there, miserably,” Williams says of his time in Gary. “After my older sister died of lupus, I moved to Omaha on my 18th birthday by Greyhound. I had no money, no friends, a small group of family members, and a high school GPA of 0.56 as an incoming senior.”

“After my older sister died of lupus, I moved to Omaha on my 18th birthday by Greyhound.”

-Aaryon Williams

Fortune reversed itself when Williams enrolled at North High School in 2004. There, unlike in Gary, he got the palpable sense that people wanted him to do well, motivating him to do better than an F average.

aayronwilliams2“I met teachers and administrators who actually wanted to see me succeed. That was important. Kids need a community that shows them they can be successful and invests in their success,” says Williams. “I became the star of our basketball team, one of the leading art students of my class, sang solo for high school a cappella men’s group, and scored a 3.25 GPA my first semester. Turned out, I wasn’t as incompetent as I thought.”

That formative time changed his life, and working with Omaha youth has been a priority for Williams ever since. He’s worked for Girls, Inc., the UNMC Wesley House Leadership Academy, Impact One gang intervention, and Omaha City Sprouts Garden to name a few.

“I always had a passion for working with kids and inner-city youth,” says Williams. “I stepped away from basketball in 2010 because I’m about more than how high I can jump.”

Williams is founder and director of FLIYE Arts Company, a group providing resources and support to talented young artists. “It’s an acronym that stands for ‘Focused, Liberated, Intelligent, Youthful, Extraordinary.’ It’s a combination I used while transitioning from Gary to inspire and encourage myself.”

Williams is also founder and director of the FLIYE Arts Youth Development (FAYD) after school mentoring program at Omaha North High where kids have lined up to learn from metro area experts.

“FAYD specializes in building better artists and intellectuals through mentoring. We want kids at North—and eventually at other Omaha high schools—to have the chance to meet and learn from people who can help them achieve their goals. Kids need a community support system to be successful, and that’s what we give them.”

Visit facebook.com/fliyeartsco for more information. Omaha

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Brent Crampton & the House of Loom

August 19, 2016 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Photography

The concept was pure, simple, true. A come-as-you-are, judge-free zone. But billing a “safe space” in Omaha’s nightlife scene comes with a great deal of responsibility. House of Loom co-owner Brent Crampton understands this responsibility from experience.

Crampton, 32, fathered Loom 10 years ago. Initially started as a pop-up dance party, Loom circulated through some of the city’s most prestigious venues, operating under the values of inclusivity, unity, creativity, and respectability.

BrentCrampton2“In that era, we were known as a space open to all different types of people that might not normally interact,” Crampton explains in a recent interview. “A space for them to go and be accepted.”

Crampton is a calm, soft-spoken man, full of purpose and persistence. He is keen to talk about Loom’s infancy and how it evolved into a popular brick-and-mortar nightspot on South 10th Street. A place where anyone can relax and fully express themselves without fear of being judged or harassed on account of sex, race, gender identity, religious views, age, or physical or mental ability.

Running a “safe space” is about sharing and creating, trying to build something better. It is not just a nightclub or bar, but a place that connects people on a higher level and facilitates meaningful discussions.

Music is not just a backdrop, Crampton says.

“Music is very much at the forefront, and the events we do take the focus, but the vehicle that we use, to do our best to create a harmonious environment, is rooted in safe
space principle.”

Unintentionally, Crampton, who also serves as the director of management talent and booking, has brought Omaha to the forefront of several larger discussions on what our city could do to make it a more inviting and welcoming place for all.

Crampton collaborated with countless arts and community organizations to help make Omaha a more culturally progressive city. In fact, he sits on the board of Safe Space Nebraska, a grassroots, local non-profit that formed as a response to the need to simply enjoy a good night out, free of assault or harassment.

People are becoming more aware of harassment issues, Crampton says, and realizing they should have a support system to counter harassment when it happens.

He recently took part in a Huffington Post live webcast discussion about safe spaces and why they’re essential to nightlife. He has also met with other local bar owners to discuss how their businesses could become more inclusive and safe for all to enjoy.

Crampton is optimistic about creating an environment filled with like-minds—an optimism that many bar owners quickly replace with the very real practicalities of running a dimly lit bar with loud music and unwelcomed alcohol-induced conversations. Women’s bottoms are grabbed. Harassment happens.

It’s a pervasive issue, Crampton says. One that shouldn’t be ignored.

“Responsibility,” Crampton says. “We need to be conscious of that and how to respond as bar owners.”

Everyone is hyper-aware of the value of space. Safety implies privacy, but even with a strict door policy, in bars, the variables are much less controllable.

Crampton has established a code of conduct and stuck to it. As patrons visit, they’re encouraged to respect the House of Loom values. In fact, the nightspot is one of the first Omaha bars to initiate a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment, Crampton says. If patrons feel unsafe, they are encouraged to notify staff immediately in order to remove the person responsible for the harassment. The incident is then documented in a report.

The House of Loom’s code has inspired many, igniting a current of social rebellion in Omaha’s nightlife scene. But as with all paradigm shifts, people must understand the new way of thinking before change happens on a larger scale.

Crampton continues to strive for an inclusive and safe community. He considers it his passion project.

“Positive response. It empowers people,” he says. “Collectively we can change nightlife culture.” 

Visit www.houseofloom.com for more information.

Ben Rowe

June 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Benjamin Rowe creates cocktails that, quite frankly, say, “drink me.”  They are magical, but they won’t make you smaller. The magic comes from the fact that they are crafted with a lot of thought and care.

“I couldn’t quite decide what I wanted to do for a living,” Rowe says of starting as a career bartender. “Bartending was something I had always done on the side.”

Rowe has worked in the bar industry for more than 10 years, and through that time he’s seen several changes.

“It’s only been in the past few years that you have been able to see bartending as  a career. It’s not just about slinging drinks anymore. It’s about being professional. I think it’s good for the industry to have someone in it for 20 years and impart that knowledge on to others.”

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He’s worked in several places, but came to the forefront of the bartending profession with an opportunity to work at the Dell in 2006, which, he says, had the best bartenders in the city then.

“It was a great opportunity to learn from who were at the time the masters of bartending,” Rowe says.

After learning from the best in Omaha, Rowe eventually wound his way to a bar that became synonymous with craft bartending and themed parties—the House of Loom.  The new wave of craft bartending reinvigorated Rowe for the profession.

“For me it really was the culture of The Loom that did it,” Rowe says. “From the beginning the motto at the Loom was ‘we care.’ We care about the customer experience, we care about the music that’s playing, we care about the cocktails that go across the bar.”

That care began to show in the passion he gained for the profession. He began wanting to know more about the spirits, about the ingredients. The House of Loom focused on a seasonal menu that encouraged people to try new drinks every quarter.

“For us it was more important to have you try a new drink. We put a lot of time and effort, and money, to develop these cocktails,” Rowe said. “They are still making great interesting seasonal cocktails.”

These days, Rowe can be found behind the bar at the Wicked Rabbit, a speakeasy near Hotel Deco serving a wide selection of pre-prohibition style drinks.

“Wicked Rabbit is a different animal,” Rowe says. “We find it is very much about the cocktails. It’s very much about the quality of the cocktails, right down to the glassware we choose to serve it in.”

While customers can, and are encouraged to, try a new cocktail, they can also serve the standards.

“A lot of this bar is about suspension of disbelief,” Rowe said. “You don’t go and watch Schindler’s List and then read it and expect the same thing out of it. Just to get into the bar you have to walk into a store, and then you have to walk through the shelf. That sets the tone for the bar. The rest of the experience should take you down that path. That being said, we don’t want to tell someone who has been drinking whisky and Cokes for 20 years that we can’t serve it.”

That attitude of serving what guests want was especially helpful when they first opened.

“We are technically a hotel bar,” Rowe said. “We get a very eclectic mix here. I appreciate that. The first week we were open there was a convention here that had something to do with farming. So they came in and looked around, and at first they thought they were a little out of place. But you put a whisky in front of them, and you chat with them, and soon they had a great time.”

But it’s the specialty cocktails that keep patrons coming back, and Rowe continues to create new specialty cocktails.

“As I progress, I want to push the boundaries of what is a great cocktail…At the end of the day, it’s liquid in a cup. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some of those bars that give out the best liquids in some of the best cups in the city.”

Whether someone wants to drink their standard cocktail or to try something new, Rowe’s commitment to caring about cocktails means he wants every patron to enjoy themselves.

“We want anyone who wants to experience this journey to come here and have a great time. I don’t care what walk of life you’re from. Anyone who wants to come here should be able to come here and have a great time.”

Free to Be

May 29, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jared Spence is a unique star in the dance of life. Seriously, you should see his dance moves.

“As a DJ, you always want Jared on your dance floor,” says Brent Crampton, DJ/co-creator of House of Loom and Berry and Rye. “He’ll be front and center just going off to the music.”

A jack of all trades and staple of the Old Market, Spence brings that same sincere enthusiasm to everything he does, whether beauty, fashion, journalism, design, theater makeup, or costuming.
He’s ubiquitous in Omaha’s social scene. If you’re out and about, especially downtown, you’ve likely shared a dancefloor or bartender. Perhaps that’s why a friend of Spence’s always introduces him as “an Omaha institution.”

“In college I really started to become one with Downtown,” says Spence, who moved to the Omaha area in elementary school.

Circa 2008, he worked at the now-closed boutique, Trocadero. During this time, he says, he really “fell in love with the area,” began doing styling for fashion shows and photo shoots downtown, and making lots of creative connections.

“[Downtown] is a very creative environment,” says Spence. “I feed off the energy and I’m always inspired by the different things and people I see.”

First it was work. Then it was work and play. Now Spence works, plays, and lives in the Old Market.
“It’s kind of a romantic thing, the relationship the Old Market and I have,” he says. “It’s just the best to me. Everything I need is here.”

Still freelancing as a stylist, Spence also works as a natural nail tech at Sirens at the Loft Salon & Day Spa, doing spa hand and foot services.

“I’ve always had an affinity for beauty, skincare, haircare … and I love helping people, making them feel good and beautiful,” he says.

“Jared is a unique soul,” says Sirens owner Chevy Kozisek. “His customer service is above and beyond—we get rave reviews about his pedicure treatments. He is amazing.”

On a typical day you might see Spence at Barry O’s, House of Loom, or Berry and Rye.

“Downtown is very cozy, spatially for sure, but also in terms of people,” he says. “It’s a friendly place where people feel comfortable no matter who they are, because they’re always so many different types of people.”

Spence, who now often wears makeup and occasionally a wig, was insecure growing up worried what others thought of him or how they might judge him.

“I’m a big advocate for being yourself,” he says. “I’ve learned that the beauty of being a person is being an individual. There’s no one else like you, or him or her or anyone. Being an individual is what it’s all about; it’s what sets you apart that makes you beautiful. And I think the Old Market is a great place to be yourself.”

Spence says he gets the occasional look when he’s out, but that doesn’t bother him.
“I think it’s important to make people aware that not everybody’s the same, but that you’re allowed to do what makes you feel good even if others don’t agree or understand.”

“Jared’s an integral part of downtown, bringing laughter and joy,” says Crampton. “He just wants to look fabulous and treat others like they’re fabulous. He has a gift for empathy and an ability to sense what others are feeling.”

Spence concurs he is “everybody’s Oprah,” doling out wisdom and support when needed.
“Happiness is a state of mind, it’s not something you wait for,” he says, with insight beyond his 25 years. “You have good days and bad, but focus on the positive and you’ll realize you’re surrounded by lots of love and opportunity.”

Art Show + Party

November 18, 2013 by

This Thursday at 7 p.m., Sokol Auditorium will host Omaha’s inaugural RAWards semifinals. Twenty-five local artists across nine categories will compete for a chance to be one of nine finalists at the National RAWards in Los Angeles in January.

While RAW as an international, independent arts organization is itself five years old, RAW:Omaha is only now trying out its wings. “We just started in April,” says RAW:Omaha director Amber Keller. “So we didn’t have a full season.”

Due to the short 2013 season, the filmmaker category will be represented by one artist, Rob Kasel, as opposed to the usual three per category this Thursday. The remaining nominees are:

“It’s a mix between a nightlife event, an art show, and a party,” Keller says, attempting to describe the look of the evening. “Every artist that’s involved will have a booth section, but musicians will play on stage, and we’ll have a runway for hair, fashion, and makeup.” Artists will have decorated their space according to their craft, and “anything that anybody sets out will also be for sale,” Keller says.

A few examples of artistry to expect include Omaha Street Percussion, who will play for guests waiting in line; the Wetworks special effects team’s live demonstration of making up a model; and Alyssa Keller, who will be painting a canvas at her booth.

Given that the goal of RAW is to empower artists professionally, $15 tickets are available online to sponsor a particular artist. Otherwise, general admission tickets online are $17 and $20 at the door.

“Door money doesn’t go to artists directly,” Keller points out. Those fees go instead toward two showcases, one local and the other in another participating RAW city, for each artist plus a media packet. The packets include materials for the artists’ promotional use, such as video interviews of each artist, professional headshots, and candid photos and B-roll footage at their shows.

C.J. America Bergner will host this Thursday’s RAWards semifinal, and Brent Crampton will DJ. The Sokol bar will be open, and Scotty’s Go-Go Grill will be parked outside. Guests should note that the RAWards after-party at House of Loom at 10th and Pacific streets will feature $10 bottles of champagne.

RAWards Gen Flyer

The Hip Hop Transformer

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A man wearing a backpack walks up to the stage where a DJ sets up a turntable. He sets his backpack down, takes a swig from his water bottle, and checks the microphone once, twice, three times. When the lights dim, he is no longer “the guy with the backpack” to the audience. He is Marcey Yates (Op2mus).

Yates, 28, was born and attended school in Omaha. He studied at University of Nebraska-Omaha for four years but found himself often escaping class to make music. “I tried the music program at UNO, but it wasn’t as advanced in mixing and recording music.” So he headed to Arizona, where he attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences for two years. There, Yates learned studio engineering, sound production, recording, and more. But when he finished, he realized his true passion was making music, not just producing it.

That’s why he returned to the Omaha music scene in 2011. Compared to the music on the West Coast, Yates saw progression in Omaha, and that was a huge draw. “I would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond,” he says. “I wanted to bring something to the table and represent hip hop here.”

Yates started performing under the stage name “Op2mus” when he was in college. The name, he says, came from one of his three kids. “My son likes to play Transformers. So we’d be playing, and he’d call me Optimus [Prime].” The name just seemed to fit since Yates longed to transform hip hop music.

Over the last few years, however, he’s been trying to wean himself off the moniker. That’s when he adopted the name “Marcey Yates,” which, by the way, is not his real name. If you try to ask him what his real name is, he’ll just smile and shake his head. “I wanna brand myself as Marcey Yates. That’s how people know me.”

The backpack, on the other hand, has remained his thing. He wears it everywhere. He even wore it when he performed on KMTV’s “The Morning Blend.” In it, he carries whatever he needs—laptop, notes, music. But above all, the backpack reflects his transformative journey as a student of life, he says.

“He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.” —Rick Carson

It’s that journey that permeates his latest album, The MisEducated Scholar, according to Theardis Jay. “It’s about his story through school, through going to Arizona, through it all.” The graphic designer has seen a good deal of Yates’ story, helping to brand his albums since 2009. “I try to just help him any way I can. I remember I went over to his apartment for the first time, and I saw his studio in his basement that he put together himself. No one taught him that or showed him that.”

Today, Yates produces, writes, and performs hip hop. His most recent work includes writing and producing The MisEducated Scholar, and producing the hip hop album Eat, Drink & Be Merry for Blk Diamond out of California. Currently, he’s working on producing several new records for other artists and writing new songs for upcoming albums of his own.

“I don’t write songs for other [artists],” he explains. “Sometimes, I’ll ghostwrite if I’m in a studio session and an artist needs help. Otherwise, I write for myself.”

Listening to Yates’ music, you can hear various hip hop and rap influences. Kanye West is one that comes to mind. But Yates has taken those influences and breathed some fresh air into them. And “fresh” is exactly how he describes his music. “The genre’s so muddy,” he explains. “I feel like hip hop has been saturated with a certain sound. So when I write, I write against it.”

“Vinyl hip hop that’s smooth and soulful” is what Yates wants his music to sound like. The track “Soda N Cream” off of The MisEducated Scholar is the perfect example of this sound, as Yates raps over a doo-wop mix in the background.

Even more interesting is that he wants to get away from the whole “gangster” feel of the genre. “I wanna use the platform for something good. If you’re speaking in this outlet, don’t waste it with feeding listeners garbage. Feed them positive things that make them think, you know?”

“The thing about Marcey Yates is he’s one of the only people out there making real hip hop but also party music.” Rick Carson, owner of Make Believe Studios, pauses before going into detail about the artist whose records he mixes. “A lot of people get into hip hop to just talk [crap] on each other. I’ve never seen that from him.”

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Yates respects rappers who don’t need to cuss to sell records. “If you do it, it’s gotta have meaning. Don’t just do it to do it. Like I only have four songs where I cuss, and I dropped a full-length record with 19 tracks. You gotta step up your game by stepping up the substance.”

“He grinds,” Carson emphasizes. “He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.”

You can find Yates performing all over Omaha. Barley Street Tavern in Benson, The Slowdown in NoDo, and House of Loom in the Old Market are some of his frequent stages. He has done a few showcases and business openings as well. Lately, he’s performed with bands instead of other hip hop artists, which he says he likes because he can introduce his music to a completely different crowd. “I’m just trying to market myself a lot,” he says.

“He put together a plan, and he’s stuck with it,” Jay adds. “There’s a system to it. It’s an exciting time to see what happens when you work so hard.”

A tour in the Midwest is Yates’ five-year goal. A Grammy® is the big game for him though. “I want this. I’m not just doing music to say I’m doing it.”

 

Find Marcey Yates’ music at op2mus.bandcamp.com or on YouTube by searching “Marcey Yates Op2mus.” Follow him on Twitter @op2mus or find him on Facebook.

The Church of Tomorrow

August 30, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Dillon Gitano

Nicholas Wasserberger and Mark Steffan are almost, well, In Real Life meme generators. “We really feel that immersing people in an artificial environment, in a bubble, in a world, is amazing,” Wasserberger says. “We want to immerse them in a certain genre, a theme, so that everyone can have this experience, this nostalgia.”

Together, Wasserberger and Steffan are the Church of Tomorrow, an avant-garde party-planning duo responsible for themed events in Benson galleries and Downtown Omaha nightclubs. They’ve also collaborated with local band Icky Blossoms and North Sea Films for video styling, as well as local dance-party group GOO.

The Church specializes in themes of music and fashion from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. “With events at, like, [House of] Loom, we come up with the ideas and concepts and themes,” Steffan says. “We promote it. We decorate it. We set the theme, the mood. And then we discuss with the DJs what the music genre should be. We set up the environment.”

“There’s a lot of history and education that goes into it,” Wasserberger says of their event prep. For example, their inaugural David Bowie tribute party last October at House of Loom was a study in glam rock. “Other cities around the nation throw David Bowie parties,” Steffan points out, “which just brings Omaha to a greater connectivity with other cities’ night-life culture.”

“Nobody’s trying to be too cool. We can see how people find the humor in what we do. It looks completely outrageous, and we’re completely outrageous, and we can laugh about that.” – Mark Steffan

“Our New Romantic Party was based off of one club that ran in London for, like, six months,” Wasserberger says. Such ’80s London nightclubs started a trend of evenings dedicated to specific themes. “Boy George came from there,” Steffan says. “Duran Duran. Spandau Ballet. Changed music forever.”

Wasserberger and Steffan encourage party-goers to dress to the theme. “It’s Halloween all year-round,” Steffan says. Realizing that not everyone is up on the movements or music they select, they try to educate the masses ahead of time. In the weeks leading up to a party, they post links on Facebook Event pages to documentaries such as Paris Is Burning or songs like “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by The Velvet Underground.

“We want to let people in Omaha experience where the roots of music and youth movements and nightclubbing came from,” Wasserberger says.

Last January, the Sweatshop Gallery in Benson asked Church of Tomorrow to create “a full-on art installation” for their Afterbirth show during the neighborhood’s First Friday art crawl. “We went thrifting for about three or four weeks just picking up the ugliest stuff. Kids’ bed sheets, after-Christmas-sale tinsel,” Wasserberger says. “We put the sheets on the walls and spray-painted them with political symbols, grabbed every disco light we could find in Omaha.”

“They both have a very distinct style,” says Caitlin Little of Sweatshop Gallery, “and they were able in this instance to transform thought into feeling and experience. The events they put on are meant to challenge the normal, beat the boring, and provide an all-inclusive, full-force fun time.”

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“We wanted to present what our physical chapel would look like,” Steffan says. “This is basically our religion, these are things we like to do, and they’re sometimes a little more progressive.” They both are advocates of women’s and transgender rights and radical homosexuality.

To fully immerse people in their passions and ideals, the pair burned incense and filled the gallery with flashing lights, projections, and obscure disco music. “It was a sensory overload,” Wasserberger says.

Little agrees. “Afterbirth in particular was like going to a sleepover in their brains!”

About 200 people came, they estimate. “That’s probably an average crowd,” Steffan says. “We get more at Loom,” Wasserberger counters.

“Everybody that comes to our events, they’re the nicest people,” Steffan says. “Nobody’s trying to be too cool. We can see how people find the humor in what we do. It looks completely outrageous, and we’re completely outrageous, and we can laugh about that.”

If there’s money involved, the two split the profit 50-50. Their one-of-a-kind buttons help fund their parties, too. Steffan and Wasserberger wear them out on the town, and if someone admires one, “Oh, they’re $2,” Steffan says, “take one.” They also design the buttons that Icky Blossoms takes on tour. The pair splits cover charges among themselves and an event’s DJs. “We’re pretty savvy about thrifting,” Steffan says.

House of Loom co-owner Brent Crampton agrees. “Their DIY method of throwing a party is raw yet fabulously tacky,” he says. “Meaning, I’ll give them $100 for decorations, and they’ll make the place look like a thousand bucks.” He adds that, quite simply, the Church of Tomorrow is his favorite promoter to work with. “They come up with some of the off-the-wall, almost forgotten corners of culture to celebrate.”

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Crampton points out that the pair not only designs and decorates an event, they clean up after it as well. “At the end of the night when everyone just wants to get paid and go home, they’ll stick around and help the staff clean. It’s quite amazing.”

“Everything we do, we do sober,” Wasserberger says. “Which surprises a lot of people. If we were sloppy at a party, come 1:30 in the morning, we would not still be on the dance floor keeping everyone there.”

Steffan has been clean and sober for two and a half years. “And in the last two and a half years, I’ve been the most creative I’ve ever been.”

Wasserberger will occasionally have a drink. “Never when I’m working,” he clarifies, “because you don’t need it. The true freaks are always sober. Like Boy George. Sober now.”

Steffan has plans to promote Church of Tomorrow events in New York after he settles in from his move in May to be with partner Joey Koneko. “And then when he comes back for visits, we’ll do more together here,” Wasserberger says, such as the second David Bowie Tribute this Oct. 5 at House of Loom. He also hints that he already has things set up to do on his own with Sweatshop Gallery and Loom.

Party Animal Style

Style is (obviously) a huge part of life for Wasserberger and Steffan. Their inspirations include such flamboyant names as Boy George, David Bowie, Vivienne Westwood, Isabella Blow, Leigh Bowery, and Anna Biaggi. “Otherwise, our style is just wear what you want,” Wasserberger says. He points to his shirt that he bought for a dollar, but his pants are Versace, no matter that he found them at Goodwill. “As long as you feel good, you’re going to look it.”

“I think that’s what it all basically comes down to,” Steffan says. “Our bodies are the medium for our art.”

“Sometimes we look really shallow, but there’s philosophy behind this,” Wasserberger says. “We know fashion history. If you make fun of us for wearing skirts, we’ll tell you that skirts were invented by men for men.”

Steffan and Wassberger at their David Bowie tribute party

Steffan and Wassberger at their David Bowie tribute party

Fortunately, Omaha has amazing thrifting, and Steffan and Wasserberger know where to find it all: The Salvation Army, Second Chance, Shop Around the Corner. “I don’t invest in fine art or other collectibles,” Steffan says. “Purchasing clothes, that’s my collection. There’s only a few things I’d pay a lot of money for, but it has to be really special.”

“If we pay $3 for most of our wardrobe,” Wasserberger explains, “then we can afford that one special item.”

Their experiments extend to hair as well. Wasserberger’s lavender hair is a result of Steffan’s experimentation with toner and fabric dyes. “Constant evolution is key,” Steffan says. “When you get stuck in the same old routine, that’s when you start feeling trapped.”

“It blows our minds when other people are like, that’s so foreign,” Wasserberger says. “Why should it be? Everyone should be constantly changing. It’s a really positive thing.”

Bringing Bali to Nebraska

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Concrete floors and 26-foot ceilings. A spiral staircase up to the loft where Stephanie Francois has made her “comfy-couch room.” Vast windows. A huge balcony with an honest-to-God cabana, drapey white curtains billowing from the canopy over the outdoor sofa.20130514_bs_5751_Web

Francois’ travels have inspired the exotic décor. She loves Asia—her favorite place is Bali. Drawn to the culture and the food (her favorite to eat and to cook), she felt immediately at peace and at home there. That same feel is what she wants to bring to her apartment in the Residences at the Slowdown near 14th and Cuming streets. Francois is well on her way to capturing the simple, open, clean-line look of her Bali dreams. “I want it to be almost like a boutique hotel,” she says.20130514_bs_5831_Web

She’s only lived in her place since mid-January. She sold the house she bought two and a half years ago, when she felt she’d reached that time in life where she was supposed to buy a house. A little farther west (near 78th and Pacific), it had an in-ground pool and five bedrooms.

Soon, Francois realized that it was all a lot of maintenance, especially since she travels so much and spends a lot of time at work.20130514_bs_5737_Web

Plus, she wanted to be back in the action. She chose her location in the North Downtown district because it’s close to a lot of things, but far enough that she wouldn’t find herself out too often. (She does spend quite a bit of time at House of Loom and the conveniently close Blatt Beer & Table.)20130514_bs_5739_Web

Francois also keeps herself busy with her restaurant, Stella’s Bar & Grill in Bellevue. Her great-great-aunt was Stella, and Francois bought the place from Stella’s son six years ago. A Bellevue native, Francois says that even though running a restaurant can at times be stressful, “to have a tradition—I mean, it’s 76 years old—it’s worth it to keep a staple in the area.”20130514_bs_5743_Web

In the summer, she loves to ride her moped scooter to Bellevue (and everywhere else). During previous colder months, the red, shiny beauty sat in the middle of her main room, calling her name. Francois also owns an older yellow moped—a 1973, she thinks—but so far it’s been another cool decoration.

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The rest of her décor has been recently picked up from CB2, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, online boutiques, Amazon, and, of course, Nebraska Furniture Mart. When she sold her house, Francois also sold all of her furniture.

“My house was so big, I just kept buying stuff to fill it,” Francois says. “That’s why I decided, ‘I’m just gonna sell everything.’ You collect that much stuff, and then it just drowns you.”20130514_bs_5757_Web

The fresh start has allowed her a more minimal style, closer to the Bali feel she wants. “It’s not where I want it yet,” Francois says. “But it’s getting there.”

Crafty Cocktails

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

House of Loom owners Brent Crampton and Ethan Bondelid finally took the plunge and dove headfirst into a new entrepreneurial endeavor, The Berry & Rye. Tucked away in the former Myth Cocktail Lounge at 1109 Howard Street, The Berry & Rye is a craft cocktail lounge with a unique objective in mind.

“I love the culture of the drink experience behind the craft. It’s a very soulful approach to imbibing,” Crampton explains. “Something I get to experience often is friends getting together to order these labor-intensive drinks that have lots of creativity and skill put into them, and enjoy good conversation in this sit-back-and-take-your-time kind of atmosphere. Then, when the drinks arrive at your table, people are so intrigued by their drinks, they become a conversation piece.”

Brent Crampton and Bondelid

Brent Crampton and Ethan Bondelid.

The craft cocktail is rooted in the classic recipes of the early 1900s. The practices were lost once the Prohibition Era hit in 1920, and people stopped caring about sculpting a superior drink with fresh juice, fresh ingredients, and high-quality spirits.

The Berry & Rye strives to provide not only a relaxed environment, but also a carefully concocted and tantalizing drink.

“In a sense, it’s like visiting a restaurant,” Bondelid says. “You wouldn’t expect to grab a menu and eat standing up. We ask that people take and enjoy a seat while being served at their table. It’s not the type of place to yell or act overly loud. It’s a comfortable, conversational bar, and this heightens everyone’s experience.”

Considering that loud behavior and drinking often go hand-in-hand, creating a more cultured craft cocktail atmosphere may seem like a lofty goal. But for Bondelid and Crampton, it’s something they’ve experienced throughout their many travels. They are bold enough to envision the potential in Omaha.

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“There is a wealth of great culinary and cocktail experiences out there,” Bondelid assures. “Omaha’s culinary culture has seen some great strides recently, and its cocktail culture is starting to grow as well. In traveling, I’ve been able to visit some of the country’s greatest cocktail venues. I’ve wanted to bring that flavor to Omaha, from the non-overcrowded, loud rooms to the incredible range that can come from balanced and creative cocktails.”

Both Bonelid and Crampton are confident in The Berry & Rye’s intriguing concept. To date, they have invested nearly $15,000 into their “ice program.” They have a massive reverse osmosis system, which provides the purest water possible for all syrups and ice machines. From commercial freezers to Japanese ice presses that create perfect spheres to order, they have taken ice very seriously.

“The thing that separates The Berry & Rye from the rest is that when you collectively consider all the aspects of our concept, such as the ice program, specialized tools, methodology, expertise, and dedicated atmosphere, we’re taking craft cocktails further than many people in Omaha have up to this point,” Bondelid explains. “Namely, we’re taking our ice program further than any other venue, and we’re the only non-restaurant craft bar that offers hosted seating, ensuring that the consistency in experience remains the same.”20130516_bs_6498_Web

Crampton is careful to point out that the seating-room-only policy isn’t a “VIP or exclusive” thing. It’s in place “solely for consistency,” he says. It takes time to craft each drink. The duo has also developed an in-house soda program; they make their own cola, tonic, and citrus syrups, but, of course, their focus is on original cocktails. Classics like gin and tonics are always an option, but they urge you to try one of 20 original recipes on their menu to truly grasp what The Berry & Rye is all about. Perhaps Lily’s Dinner Party, with Broker’s gin, wasabi, and egg whites; or Smoke Over Trinidad, with Zaya rum, sherry, and tobacco syrup made with pipe tobacco from SG Roi. (The latter is served in a corked carafe so guests can pour for themselves at their own speed.)

“When tending a bar and making drinks becomes an art form and an experience visually and flavorfully for the guests, then you know what makes it special,” Bondelid says. “When you have people that follow their passion to the farthest extent of their skills, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Berry & Rye
1105 Howard St.
402-613-1331
theberryandrye.com