Tag Archives: Blackstone District

Momos on My Mind

March 6, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Think of Nepal, and the first thing that springs to mind may be mountains. The South Asian country in the Himalayas is home to eight of the world’s tallest peaks, including the mighty Mount Everest. But one local business owner who grew up in Nepal is on a mission to put the country’s cuisine on Omaha’s radar.

Food is one of the best ways to get acquainted with other cultures, and for the past year or so, Sagar Gurung and his wife Mira Tamata have been introducing local diners to the flavors of Nepal by serving momos, or Nepalese dumplings, at various pop-up events around town. Last spring, they started bringing their pop-up eatery, Kathmandu Momo Station, to Scriptown Brewing Co. in Omaha’s Blackstone District for a few nights a week.

The dumpling spot is making the leap from pop-up to permanent shop, adding to the diversity of dining options in the Blackstone area. The momo shop had plans to occupy the same space as the pop-up—a narrow sliver of a room to the west of Scriptown, with rustic brick walls, vintage tile floor, and counter seating that looks out on Farnam Street. The eatery is scheduled to open by March, and the owners plan to offer momos five nights a week. Lunch service may be added later. Gurung hopes to expand the menu and offer a few other Nepali dishes, as well as drinks such as chai.

three momos on decorative wood

“It’s my momo dream come true,” says Gurung, who moved to Omaha in 1996 at age 16.

Nepalese food, with aromatics of ginger, garlic, cumin, and coriander, shares similarities with the cuisines of its neighbors, India and China. A popular street snack sold by vendors in Nepal, momos are stuffed, steamed dumplings filled with a mixture of ground meat, vegetables, and fragrant, warming spices. Small but packed with flavor, they’re often topped with a tomato-and-sesame-based sauce that ranges from mild to spicy. 

During a December visit to the pop-up at Scriptown, I sampled all three of the available varieties of momos: chicken, pork, and vegan. Fresh from the steamer, the piping hot dumplings come eight to an order, nestled in small paper trays. The meat-filled momos contain ground chicken or pork seasoned with ginger, garlic, a blend of spices, and other ingredients. Vegan momos feature a mushroom-and-onion filling.

The pork and vegan dumplings are both half-moon shaped, with delicately crimped edges. The chicken momos—my favorite of the three—are plump, pingpong ball-size morsels with intricate pleats. Best eaten in one bite, they’re pure comfort.

Once the new space is up and running, the couple and their team may offer different kinds of momo fillings and sauces. They also would like to make the wrappers from scratch instead of using premade dumpling wrappers. Everything else is homemade, including the dipping sauces, which Tamata makes using her own recipe. Both the mild and spicy sauces are bright, fresh, and flavorful. Slightly spicy, sweet, and tangy, the reddish-orange sauce cuts through the richness of the savory fillings.

two momos on wood serving board

Besides the pop-ups at Scriptown, Gurung serves momos twice a week during lunch at his downtown Omaha coffee shop, Himalayan Java, near 16th and Harney streets. It took a while for momos to catch on with customers, he says, but they’ve become increasingly popular as word spreads.

It takes just one or two bites to see why many local diners have a soft spot for momos—they’re fast, fun to eat, and delicious.

Kathmandu Momo Station

3924 ½ Farnam St.

Food: 4
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 3
Price: $
Overall: 3.5

Visit @kathmandumomostation on Facebook for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2019 of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Let’s Do Brunch

December 20, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Love weekend brunch? A better question is: who doesn’t? For many, it’s the most important, and most fun, meal of the week—a sweet, salty, savory, often boozy feast where it’s equally appropriate to enjoy eggs Benedict or a BLT and wash it all down with mimosas and bloody marys.

Across Omaha, there are plenty of places to indulge in omelets, waffles, avocado toast, and other breakfast and brunch favorites. Since opening in November 2017 in midtown’s Blackstone District, Early Bird has become a go-to spot for many local brunchgoers, and not just on weekends. A modern take on the classic diner, the restaurant aims to give guests “an elevated brunch experience,” according to Ben Brigman, general manager. “We thought we could bring that whole diner feel and elevate it.”

A fanciful flight of three pancakes

Open daily, Early Bird offers a handful of breakfast staples and brunch favorites, along with sandwiches, salads, and other dishes. Pancakes are available in flavors ranging from chocolate chip, to blueberry, to cinnamon roll, to pineapple (and more). I opted for a pancake flight, three kinds of cakes on one plate. They were light and fluffy with golden exteriors. Mine were plenty sweet and didn’t need syrup.

The menu also includes a few types of eggs Benedict. My dining partner ordered a meatless version with spinach and asparagus. Toasted English muffin halves each held a poached egg draped with a luscious blanket of hollandaise. The sauce had just the right silky consistency, not too thin or thick. She asked for the eggs poached hard, and they arrived as specified with a firm yolk.

Eggs Benedict variation: “Shrimp Grit Benny”

Grated potatoes used for hash browns are formed into a tiny cylindrical tower instead of a thin, flat layer. Although the presentation is nice, less surface area means less of the crispy, golden-brown crust that makes hash browns so good.

Diners can satisfy their doughnut cravings with doughnut holes served on a skewer or a giant doughnut the size of a plate. The sweet treats are from Bob’s Donuts next door, which shares the same building and owners as Early Bird.

A doughnut kabob, aka “Ka-Bob’s”

Fried chicken strips are paired with a maple doughnut for a sweet-savory dish that was a hit with the youngest at our table, my friend’s 8-year-old son. He also tackled an order of tots that were hot, crispy, and just salty enough. The chicken, served with a side of turkey sausage gravy for dipping, was crunchy, golden brown, and well-seasoned.

Bright and colorful, the dining room features comfortable round booths, wood and brick accents with pops of yellow and pale blue, plus a bar with counter seating. A focal point is a mural with birds hand-painted by a local artist, a perfect complement to the relaxed, casual atmosphere. “Fun is very much a theme here,” Brigman says.

From day one, business has been brisk, he says. Hourlong waits are common, especially on weekend mornings. Brigman attributes the popularity to the broad brunch-focused menu and the prime location in Blackstone. “It’s such an up-and-coming area of town. The neighborhood is outstanding,” he says. “There’s a real sense of camaraderie.”

Early Bird
3824 Farnam St. | 402-934-5535

Food: 3.5
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 3.5
Price: $$
Overall: 3.5

Visit earlybirdbrunch.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Celebrate Earth, Life, and Imagination

April 19, 2018 by

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Pick of the Week—Saturday, April 21: Join the rest of the world this Saturday in celebrating our Mother Earth at Earth Day Omaha 2018 in Elmwood Park. There will be plenty going on to entertain all, from kiddos to doggos. Bring a picnic or some cash for the many local food vendors who will be on hand. Don’t miss the main stage, featuring candidate forums, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, the Friend of the Environment Awards, and live music, including a performance by Edem Soul Music (featured in our next issue of Encounter). This event is happening rain or shine, so get out and celebrate all that is green. Click here for all the info.

Thursday, April 19: Debating whether you want to stay home and cook and splurge and go out to eat tonight? We’re going to make it easy for you. Tonight only, Stirnella in the Blackstone District is donating 50 percent of their food sales to the Women’s Center for Advancement. The center recently relocated and is now just one block away from the restaurant. So get out and help the staff at Stirnella welcome the WCA to the neighborhood. Be sure to call ahead and make reservations here for A Night Out at Stirnella. To learn more about the center, go here.

Friday, April 20: Experience one of the most unique live performances around with Lightwire Theater as they present Moon Mouse: A Space Odyssey at The Arts Center at IWCC. Join Marvin the Mouse as he escapes life’s everyday bummers by retreating into his science books and a world of fantasy. Watch the story come to life through electroluminescent artistry and sweet dance moves. Get your tickets here, and learn more about Lightwire Theater here.

Saturday, April 21 and Sunday, April 22: It’s market season! Head to 10th and Bancroft streets for the Handmade Omaha Spring Art & Craft Bazaar at the Bancroft Street Market. With more than 25 local vendors, free parking, and free admission, this is a must-attend event. It’s their sixth year, so get out and help keep it going. For a full list of vendors, go here. For other Bancroft Street Market events, go here.

Sunday, April 22: Join the YMCA’s national initiative to improve the health and well-being of children and families this Sunday. Healthy Kids Day at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village encourages a healthy, safe lifestyle. Activities and learning opportunities include bounce houses and safety checks. This free event starts at 11 a.m. and goes until 2 p.m. No registration is required. Just show up and have fun while learning! To find out more, bounce on over here.

Special Addition Edition—Wednesday, April 25th: The Omaha Police Foundation has their 18th annual Officer of the Year Awards Luncheon next Wednesday, the 25th, at the Scott Conference Center. Twenty-five OPD officers will be recognized for their outstanding service, and the 2017 Officer of the Year will be chosen from among the honorees. This event is open to the public and will feature an outdoor exhibit of various law enforcement units and vehicles. Show your support and get your tickets here now.



Punk You

August 15, 2017 by
Photography by Keith Binder

You can call Brothers Lounge a “punk bar” and not get too much grief from so-called “punk purists.” However, calling Brothers a “punk bar” is like calling The Clash a “punk band.” Technically, it may be true, but both are so much more than that definition.

But to truly understand Brothers (located at 3821 Farnam St.), you must go back to its beginnings.

More than a decade before 1977 (or “The Year That Punk Broke”), three brothers—Joseph Jr., Ernest, and Robert “Bobby” Firmature—opened The Brothers Firmature. The Firmature brothers had already established themselves in the Omaha dining and bar community with establishments like the Gas Lamp and the Ticker Tape Lounge. For the first 20 years, The Brothers Firmature—located next to the Colonial Hotel at 38th and Farnam streets—was a cozy bar, complete with drapes on the windows and a tiny dance floor (where two dartboards reside today).

The Brothers Firmature’s patrons included insurance reps from nearby Mutual of Omaha, reporters for the Omaha World-Herald, and the occasional long-stay occupant of the Colonial. It also became a respite for a young Omaha couple—Trey and Lallaya Lalley.

Not yet married, the Lalleys operated the Capitol Bar, which was located downtown near 10th and Capitol streets. In its heyday under the Lalleys, the Capitol helped jumpstart Omaha’s burgeoning indie-rock scene by booking lots of local and national acts. The Lalleys would frequent The Brothers Firmature on Sundays, their only day off. The bar offered an escape from the demands of club management and music promotion.

“It was our secret spot for us and a few friends,” Lallaya recalls.

“It felt like your weird uncle’s cool basement,” Trey adds.

In the mid-’90s, after the Capitol Bar closed, Trey worked at the now-shuttered Theodore’s Bar located at Saddle Creek and Leavenworth streets. Lallaya ran the front of house at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe, which was located across the street from The Brothers Firmature on Farnam. The beloved organic restaurant shut down last year. Around 1997, Trey and Lallaya were approached by Robert Firmature about working at The Brothers Firmature in hopes that the two would eventually take over ownership. In the meantime, Bobby offered to mentor both Trey and Lallaya on the ins and outs of operating such an establishment.

“I knew how to smile and sell a beer, but I didn’t know how to do the books,” Trey says.

Trey and Lallaya took over Brothers in 1998. Some of the original decor remains (the original The Brothers Firmature sign, old movie posters like The Plainsman, starring Gary Cooper, and Riders in the Sky, starring Gene Autry), but the attitude of the place took on a new edge. In 2003, they were operating as owners. In 2012, they owned the building outright.

Edward Huddell has been coming to Brothers for almost 40 years. Sitting at the bar on a Friday night, sipping a lemonade, Huddell said he knew Robert Firmature, but connected more with Trey and Lallaya. During Huddell’s heyday, he would go to Brothers three or four times a week. His drink of choice: Rolling Rock or tequila shots.

“When I first came here, there was mostly Mutual of Omaha people. Then, after a while, it became more working-class people,” Huddell says. “When Trey and Lallaya took over, the average age of the patrons went down quite considerably.”

Trey and Lallaya’s personal touches are all over the bar. Brothers has become home to one of the most revered music jukeboxes in the Heartland, hosted a secret show by The Faint, and now serves as a sort of bridge between old neighborhood regulars and new patrons who are drawn to the renovated Blackstone District.

Visually, there are subtle indicators of Brothers’ punk aesthetic: the obligatory bathroom graffiti, black-and-white portraits of Joey Ramone, Nick Cave, and The Clash. But the obvious indicator is in its fabled jukebox. It’s one of the few in the city that contains actual physical CDs, chosen by the bar owners. Along with established icons including Bad Brains, X, and Dead Kennedys, it also plays beloved hardcore and punk staples like the Pornhuskers, Agent Orange, and the Circle Jerks.

Trey and Lallaya have a simple system regarding what goes into the jukebox: Both must agree on the CD. Having a bar where you can determine what is played has its advantages, but also some obvious drawbacks. The primary one being the risk of burning out on some of your favorite bands.

“It’s ruined some of my favorite records of all time for me,” Trey says. “What can’t I listen to anymore? Minor Threat. Black Flag, Slayer, and any Ramones song. Bands I cherished and love, I just wore into the dirt.”

Many of the institutions near Brothers have either went away (McFoster’s), or have dramatically revamped themselves (Sullivan’s). The rest of the businesses are part of the newer bars and eateries in the Blackstone District. The new businesses have given Brothers some new patrons, who mainly stop by more out of curiosity while bar-hopping than to hang out, Lallaya says.

“I call them ‘weekend tourists.’ They stop by once or twice, and they never come back,” she says.

Trey expressed some annoyance with the development around the bar. For months, it looked like Brothers was under construction as the high-end bar and kitchen eatery Stirnella, located next door, was being built. Parking has also become a problem, Trey says.

“I’m all for progress. I just really liked it the way it was before. People came here for a reason. It wasn’t just like ‘Oh, what’s this place. Let’s walk in and check it out.’ It was ‘Let’s go to Brothers.’”

One notable blogger of historic Omaha falls into the “Let’s go to Brothers”-style of patrons. She was so taken by the bar’s history that she penned an exhaustively researched piece about its history for her blog, My Omaha Obsession. Because of the sensitive nature of her job, she chose to remain anonymous, opting to use her pen name, “Miss Cassette.”

Miss Cassette spent months researching the history of the Brothers building. In a post titled “Brothers Lounge and the Case of the Vanishing Mom and Pop,” Miss Cassette used old articles from the Omaha World-Herald and The Omaha Daily Bee, as well as the Omaha city directory to trace the building’s history. Some key facts she discovered was that the spot where Brothers now resides used to be home to two separate businesses. Before the Firmature brothers bought the building, it was a grocery store and a self-service laundromat.

Miss Cassette began her research the same way she does most of her stories: by tracking down the city directory. “It starts with the address, then I see what shakes out,” she says. “It gets really rabbit hole-ish.”

In 2016, Brothers celebrated its 50th anniversary. Trey and Lallaya plan to keep Brothers operating long enough to justify another research piece by Miss Cassette. Don’t expect many changes to the bar, with the exception of more live shows. Lallaya says the number of live shows has grown from six to about 25 each year.

Trey says he can imagine running the bar for another 20 years, minus a week or two off a year for vacations.

“We don’t have an exit plan. This is it…We were in business to have a good time with our friends, not to make millions of dollars and sell out. Obviously, we did that,” Trey says with a laugh.

Visit facebook.com/brothersloungeomaha for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

From left: Trey and Lallaya Lalley



July 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.


Like music? Of course you do—you’re cool. That’s why you’ll want to boogie woogie to Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets) for the Saturdays @ Stinson Concert Series that began in May and runs on most Saturdays into August. The lineup includes the Confidentials (July 8), Hi-Fi Hangover (July 22), The ’70s Band (July 29), Jimmy Buffett Tribute (Aug. 5), and the Personics (Aug. 12).



The Waiting Room Lounge is takin’ it to the streets—and hometown favorite Conor Oberst will be among those helping the Benson rock club hit the pavement as it marks 10 years offering all sorts of jammage. The Waiting Room (6212 Maple St.) earlier this spring announced the launch of a new outdoor concert series on nearly an entire city block that can host up to 3K music lovers. Oberst takes the stage July 13 with Big Thief (just four days after another native son, Matthew Sweet, hosts the second of two shows inside the Waiting Room). Also playing street music are Blue October (June 24) and Fleet Foxes (Sept. 29).



Finally, something for those of us who love running—and beer. Scriptown Brewing Company (3922 Farnam St.) hosts the Scriptown Running Club every Thursday. Runners meet in the tasting room at 6 p.m. then toodle their way to the nearby Field Club Trail for a stretch of the legs. Then it’s back to Scriptown for a discounted pint. Oh, and those who get hungry can run down the street to Noli’s Pizzeria (4001 Farnam St.)—it has moved into new digs (with a new oven) at the corner of 40th and Farnam streets.




Imagine that you and a special someone meet at DJ’s Dugout (1003 Capitol Ave.). Imagine you hit it off and book a second date at Local Beer, Patio and Kitchen (902 Dodge St.). Now imagine things get serious, and the two of you start having a regular date night at Nosh Restaurant and Wine Lounge (1006 Dodge St.) where, one day, the two of you get engaged. Imagine you host your wedding at One Thousand Dodge (1002 Dodge St.). No imagination is needed, though, to know all this can happen right in the ever-emerging Capitol District.



Dundee denizens have something to get giddy about with a new project from the Giddings Group of Augusta, Georgia. A real estate development firm, Giddings has started construction on a 283-multi-family-unit apartment building rising along 46th Street between Dodge and California streets. The project is named “The Duke” similar to other apartment complexes Giddings has built in Nashville, Tennessee, and Victoria, Texas. The Dundee Duke is expected to open in 2018.


There’s proof that Midtown Crossing is better than ever. Namely, Proof, a new upscale lounge specializing in a generous whiskey selection and craft cocktails. Proof opened in May in the former Grane space (120 S. 31st Ave., Suite 5105) They weren’t the new kids on the block very long, though. In June, Ray’s Original Buffalo Wings also opened in the Grane space (Suite 5103). In addition to their signature fare, the family owned business offers a specialty sandwich popular in Western New York—“Beef on Weck” sandwiches—thinly sliced roast beef steeped in au jus and served on a kummelweck roll.



Omaha Fashion Week celebrates 10 years Aug. 21-26 at the Omaha Design Center (1502 Cuming St.). Thirty-three designers will showcase their work on the runways. SAC Federal Credit Union will award nightly prizes of $500 to the designer with top scores for the evening. As part of the anniversary celebration Friday, Aug. 25, previous designers have been invited back for a special show that features curated collections representing each year of Omaha Fashion Week’s history highlighting the most iconic looks to hit the catwalk as well as some fan favorites.


Yes, there are good things in Lincoln, Nebraska. But one of those—Zipline Brewing—is now in Omaha, too, with a newly opened taproom (721 N. 14th St.).



Finally, delivery is in sight for a new venture in the former postal building at 10th and Pierce streets. Work is slated to begin this summer on Tenth Street Market, positioning itself as a year-round indoor market offering fresh food and goods from all-local vendors, plus places to shop, eat, drink, learn, and meet. The market is expected to open by fall 2018.



How did they roll back when the Vinton Street Historic District was becoming—historic?  With bowling balls, of course. And they still do at Chop’s Bowling (13th and Vinton streets) and ICC Bowlatorium (24th and Bancroft streets). The former starts a 26-week Thursday night league Sept. 21. But if you want a spot, get signed up now. The latter is enjoying a retro renovation that gives the Catholic church-owned alley a look much like it had in the 1950s—when things really were rolling.



Just as there was no better place to catch early jazz than in Omaha’s 24th and Lake District, there’s no better place to catch the evolution of jazz—with hip-hop and soul—than at Love’s Jazz and Art Center (2510 N. 24th St.). The center offers live music July 15 with Sidewalk Chalk, a Chicago group offering “powerful vocals over dope electric horns and beats.” Time to jump in the Lake.



February 22, 2017 by


Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.


A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.


The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.


Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.


In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.


The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.


M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

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

Lowbrow Pop Culture Maven

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If it wasn’t for Bugs Bunny, Ren and Stimpy, or Johnny Bravo, we may never have gotten to know Dan Crane, artist extraordinaire. One of Omaha’s rising contemporary creators, Crane credits his formative years watching Cartoon Network as much as his degree in printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute for his unique visual perspective.

“That pre-internet, pop culture aesthetic that animators were doing at the time was so particular. It never really left me,” Crane says.

Dan-Crane-1One look at his work and that’s astoundingly clear. A hybrid of commercial and fine art, his pieces range from fartsy to artsy: one of his printed t-shirts displays a butt in mid-squat, while large abstract paintings fill his studio with inviting neon-hues.

Equal parts kid-at-heart and all-grownup, Crane has built an impressive professional portfolio. He has lent his eye-popping visual perspective to the Omaha Creative Institute, and Scout Dry Goods & Trade, and has helped to establish B&G Tasty Foods’ creative brand.

“We try hard to have interesting and unique signage at B&G, and Dan has really helped with that immensely,” says Eddie Morin, restaurant owner. “The most important work he has done for us is designing our new mascots, Louis Meat and Louise Frenchee. We’re using those guys all over the place now.”

Crane recently completed a gig for Mula where he had been commissioned to design, and print t-shirts. The finished shirts feature a monster holding a basketball and a taco with peace signs for eyes. The characters might seem unnatural for a Mexican kitchen and tequileria, but they are representative of Crane’s kooky and bold signature style.

Dan-Crane-2When Crane’s not cooking up art for local eateries, he spends time at the Union for Contemporary Art. As a previous fellowship recipient, he has a small temporary studio at the Union. During his fellowship, which lasted from November 2015 through April 2016, he helped North Omaha school kids transfer their small drawings onto much larger pieces of plywood. The finished products were installed in Habitat for Humanity yards as pop-up public art.

“The Union is all about spreading positive social change through art,” Crane says. “Can I just say that I am so f***ing grateful for them?”

Yes, Crane’s language is commonly peppered with swear words. He’s also got a penchant for Atlanta trap music and once lived in an 1,800-square-foot Blackstone District storefront that was notorious for all-night raves. Nothing Crane does is by the book. And he’s just fine with that.

“The whole art with a capital ‘A’ thing really bugs me,” Crane says. “I’m not motivated to do something unless it’s super-approachable and can be related to on a real level.”

Crane often slips into episodes of nostalgia. Whether he is recalling childhood summers spent copying doodles inside libraries or the two weeks he served pad thai from a truck at Coachella (so he could quit the food industry and focus on art), he’s all about the journey. Not the destination.

“I still feel like I’m in my infancy stage as an artist,” Crane says. “I’m loving what I’m doing now and taking it one day, one project at a time.”

Visit therealweekendo.tumblr.com for more information. Omaha Magazine

The Sunks

December 18, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I met Matt Dwyer on the north end of…well, it’s not really a park. It’s technically part of Happy Hollow Boulevard in Dundee, but it’s too wide to be called a median. It’s a three-city-block-long stretch of greenery lined by towering oaks and elms. Many probably know it as the spot where generations of kids (and grown-ups) played touch football and, in winter, went sledding down the slopes or, more recently, skated on the seasonal ice rink.

It’s…well, most people just call it The Sunks.

If difficult to describe today, The Sunks 100 years ago was much more clearly delineated. It was a formal, Parisian-style garden with sculpted, circular beds of flowers, and—possibly, the old photos are pretty grainy—a small pond with a fountain. Far from the industrial hub of Omaha, The Sunks bordered the western edge of Dundee, a newly founded “city set on a hill” that boasted “high, dry, pure, and clear air,” low taxes, sociable people, and homes built for a minimum of $2,500 (as described in a circa-1890s brochure cited in Dundee’s application to the National Register of Historic Places). It was a city designed as a “garden suburb,” and The Sunken Gardens was its defining space. The gardens went to seed around 1929, most likely a victim of the tail-spinning economy.

“It wasn’t real grand, not super opulent,” Dwyer says. “But it was a good start.”

Dwyer is the co-founder of GreenSlate Development, a key force behind the remarkable transformation of the Blackstone District around 40th and Farnam streets. Greenslate has restored six buildings on the strip with another four in the works. Now Dwyer is setting his sights on restoring The Sunks.

Dwyer grew up in one of the stately, red-brick homes that line the old garden. He used The Sunks to play football on the lawn and sneak cigarettes under the trees as a teenager. “It was a huge part of my life,” he says.

It was around 8 a.m. when I met Dwyer at The Sunks. It’s at a busy intersection and cars whizzed by as people headed to work. We walked down the steep hill, our feet slushing through wet grass, to get to the bottom where the ground leveled out. The depth dulls the passing traffic noise and creates a peaceful, secluded feel. Dwyer says the slopes and winter ice rink (neighborhood favorites) will stay. But for the rest, he envisions meandering pathways, benches, and picnic spots…maybe even a water feature, with room to spare for a robust game of football.

Dwyer aims to raise private capital to build the gardens and create an endowment to maintain the space. The Parks Department has promised to help as much as it’s able, but Dwyer knows that the real muscle behind such an initiative will come from the neighborhood itself, one that in 2011 was named to the American Planning Association’s list of Great American Places.

The strongest asset at his disposal could very well be the Dundee-Memorial Park Neighborhood Association, perhaps the city’s gold standard for such community groups and one known for its ambitious vision, can-do spirit, and dedicated volunteer base.

“Great cities have great public spaces,” Dwyer says. “And I think we’re a great city.”

Visit dundee-memorialpark.org to learn more.


Lauren Garrison

December 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Demand for haircuts begins early in Omaha’s up-and-coming Blackstone District. It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, and customers have already begun queuing inside the Surly Chap’s renovated storefront near the intersection of 40th and Farnam streets.

The Surly Chap Barbers offer a traditional barbershop experience—affordable men’s haircuts, shaves, and beard trimming—that have attracted a rapidly growing clientele. They don’t offer reservations. It’s first-come-first-serve only.

So, with obvious need for more manpower, they hired a British fashion model to bolster their crew of tattooed, male barbers with slicked-back hair. Lauren Garrison isn’t a chap, but she is a barber with plenty of sass. It rolls off her lips in a thick British accent that she describes as a “mix between East End and country.


“Have a seat, darling,” she beckons. I catch a glimpse of tattooed cursive script inching across her chest. Her hair is tied up in an immaculate top knot. She has bright red lipstick, long painted eyebrows and big eyelashes; huge hoop earrings, designer sneakers, and a chic black-and-white outfit inspired by the latest London fashion.

Garrison describes her own style as a little bit of everything: classy, modern, retro; inspired both by English trends and passersby on the street. But with her clippers now readied, she is all about the customer. She asks what I want to do with my hair. Garrison cuts conservatively, then re-trims as needed to ensure satisfaction.

Garrison was born in the British countryside and spent most of her youth in London. Her “mum” helped her get into modeling at age 14. After various gigs, she hit the catwalk of London Fashion Week as a high-schooler. At 18, she narrowly missed the final cut to advance to Britain’s Next Top Model.

Her father’s side of the family hailed from Nebraska, and she had visited before. A Navy man, he relocated to Colorado. Garrison moved to be with him after finishing high school in 2012. Culture shock didn’t fully set in until she later moved to Lincoln.

“Oh my gawwwd,” she says. “I’m out in the sticks!”

Still interested in pursuing a career related to fashion, she decided to study at the College of Hair Design in Lincoln. That’s where she met the Surly Chap Barbers. They were among the many professionals scouting for talent (only to overlook the female trainees, she says). Fate—along with Garrison’s surly attitude—intervened.

“They didn’t pay much attention to us, so I threw a fit.” she explains. “I said ‘Why aren’t there any barber shops interested in talking to me? And my teacher went and told them.” Then, the recruiters came and talked to her. They liked her enough to invite her to a job shadowing session.

“I ended up just loving them,” Garrison says. Soon after graduation she had a job in Omaha. Here Garrison found the pace of life more agreeable, faster than Lincoln but still fairly relaxed. She fell in love with neighborhoods—Blackstone and Benson with their plethora of hip bars—which reminded her of home.

Unfortunately, a day doesn’t pass without unwelcome commentary on her accent, questions about her kinship to the Queen of England, whether she lived in a castle, teasing about the Revolutionary War (she admits history was not her best subject in school), and other “bloody irritating” comments conversely familiar to any Omahan traveling afar, a la “Did you ride a cow to school? Are you a farmer? Etc.”

She misses British food—bangers and mash, curries, fish and chips, full English breakfast—but was pleased to discover elusive British-style Heinz beans in tomato sauce, Ribena, and a sparse selection of overpriced British fare at local groceries. She relies on annual trips back to see her mother to satisfy her homesick yearnings. In the meantime, she has come to appreciate the finer side of American cuisine: fast food, deep-fried Oreos, Twinkies, Gushers, and Fruit Roll-Ups.

I ask what the tattoo on her chest reads.

“Dream like you’ll live forever and live like you’ll die today,” she says.

For now she’s content in Omaha. “If I was home, I wouldn’t have gone to barber school, or met the boys from the shop, or even realized how much I love Omaha,” Garrison says. “I’ll definitely be setting up my nest here for a while.”

That’s good news. My hair grows pretty fast and I’ll need to see her soon for my next haircut.

Visit surlychapbarbers.com to learn more.


New Beginnings on Park Avenue

May 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It wasn’t until Dave Wingert was in his 20s that he learned, that, like himself, his father had been an actor and radio personality. And it wasn’t until that time that he learned the full circumstances surrounding his father’s death. He had committed suicide the day Dave was born.

“I inherited his talents to a T,” Wingert says. “I also inherited his melancholy.”

In December 2014, Wingert had his suicide planned. He’d recently been let go from KOOO when the station changed formats—he’d served as morning host since his departure from KGOR in 2012. He was in the middle of a run of A Christmas Story at the Omaha Playhouse. He was going to have to leave his downtown condo. He couldn’t imagine leaving it.


When the Playhouse show closed, he thought, he’d just leave altogether.

He started writing letters to his friends. And then he realized he couldn’t do it.

“It leaves such a wake,” he says. “I have friends who have people they’re still missing. You can’t do that.”

So he opened up to his friends. He started looking for a new place. After combing through numerous apartments downtown, he walked into a lofty apartment in The Unitah Flats, an Urban Village Development property at 29th and Leavenworth streets. There he found his new home.

“This place really was a life-changer,” he says. “To start a new chapter, your environment is important.”

The City of Omaha might agree. It approached Jerry Reimer and Scott Semrad, owners of Urban Village Development, in 2011 to come up with housing solutions for a four-block section at and around Park Avenue and Leavenworth Street—a notoriously difficult intersection plagued by drug activity and buildings in various states of disrepair.


“It was a hard project,” Reimer says. “The buildings were in awful condition.”

Urban Village, established in 2008, had been avoiding Park Avenue in its work to renew multifamily housing in Midtown; once it decided to tackle the project, the only real place to start was with a blank canvas. The buildings were gutted. Roofs were replaced. Buildings originally designed to contain specific numbers of units—which, over time, had been divided up to include more units—were outfitted with only the number of units intended.

The goal was to marry the best new-construction amenities—granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, lofty ceilings, washers and dryers, walk-in closets—with Midtown character; exposed brick walls, wood floors, and, especially, well-working windows.


Reimer was careful to say the project, while respectful of the buildings’ history, wasn’t about historical preservation.

It was about a better future.


Wingert’s apartment in the Unitah is filled with things from his previous home—contemporary chrome and glass tables, a grey sofa, wood, and glass storage pieces. The walls are studded with vibrantly hued art and wall sculptures mostly done by local artists and friends. Twelve-foot ceilings and 8-foot colonial doors in crisp white gave him an airy space to fill.

“Everything found its own home,” Wingert says.

Several of his windows overlook a landscaped courtyard that’s part of the development; the others offer views of the neighborhood streets.

“I can sit at my computer or on my couch and watch 20- and 30-somethings walking their dogs outside,” Wingert says. “It’s a village. I feel that energy in the building.”

Of course, the hope now is that future improvements will come to Park Avenue—commercial and mixed-use space both. Reimer said the Park Avenue project couldn’t have happened without the model Mutual of Omaha’s Midtown Crossing created; he’s encouraged now by emerging developments like the Blackstone District.

“I hope it will come down to Leavenworth,” Reimer says. “It’s a big dream, but I think it could be the new Dundee someday. And if Park Avenue and Leavenworth can be successful, there’s not a project in Midtown that couldn’t be successful.

For now, for Park Avenue and Leavenworth, and for Wingert, things are beginning.

“Right now, I don’t need anything,” Wingert says. “Things have to move forward or move back. The nature of Omaha has gone away from the center and it’s starting to come back.

“I love it here,” he says. “I love making a difference in the city. This is my home.”

It’s all as it should be, he says.

“The universe always takes care of you.”