Welcome to Omaha, Nebraska, and the College World Series!
Not much could be better, not to mention more traditional, in the warm summer months than watching live baseball unfold upon a well-manicured field of grass — especially at the far less steroid-driven NCAA level. Yes, the CWS is finally here, and even though we seem to have abandoned good ol’ Rosenblatt in favor of our glitzy new accommodations (complete with air-conditioned luxury suites for people who have no real interest in baseball at all) there’s still plenty of team spirit and rivalry to go around. But what if you don’t eat, sleep, and live baseball? What then might Omaha, Nebraska, hold for you? Given our relative knowledge of the Omaha metro area, and of course our unquenchable desire to help our readers have a great experience during their travels, we thought that we might devote a blog to try and offer some help to those less familiar with the area who may this June find themselves in lovely Nebraska. Whether your husband drags you to Omaha to watch the CWS when you’d frankly rather not, or if instead your top-rated team gets eliminated in short order, we thought we’d try to help you pass any down time you may find yourself with at some of the Omaha area’s many phenomenal establishments. Below are our top recommendations for places to eat, drink, and relax, both in and around the city. Several of these great establishments keep limited hours or are closed one or two days of the week, so use the links to the web pages below or call ahead before you venture out. Of course, it’s a (relatively) huge city, and these aren’t the only places to go, but they are the places that we would typically choose to go, so, well, see ya there.
First off, given that this is our wine blog, we thought we’d mention a few area wineries that we quite enjoy. The closest to Omaha is called Soaring Wings Winery, and is located in Springfield, maybe a thirty-minute drive from downtown O. Soaring Wings offers a great selection, including the only Syrah in the area, a lovely fortified (port-style) wine that comes in 750ml bottles, unique Nebraska-varietal sparkling wines including Edelweiss and Traminette, and much much more. Soaring Wings also operates a respectable microbrewery that makes some pretty great craft beers. It has quickly become one of our favorites, and is an excellent place to sit on the covered patio, or enjoy live music on the weekends.
The others are a bit farther away, but well-worth the drive if it’s a winery you’re after. Farther to the west, if you head toward Ashland, probably a forty-five minute drive from TDAmeritrade Park, you’ll find two wineries just off exit 426. The tasting room for Glacial Till Vineyard is fantastic, with an art gallery upstairs (wine allowed therein) and a rustic, exposed-brick interior with wooden catwalks and a flair for modern architecture in the ancient Main Street building. It’s a classy place, and their wines are great as well. We recommend the 2011 Chambourcin, the Zephyr white blend, or perhaps a refreshing glass of Sangria. Like Soaring wings, they make a nice fortified wine that we like called “Prairie Fire.” You know, if you’re not the one driving.
Opposite Glacial Till in Ashland, just a few quick miles down the road, is Cellar 426 . Their gorgeous tasting room is new construction, with high ceilings and a nice outdoor patio with a good view looking out toward Lincoln. Their “Big Bold Red” is a cab-style monster that we enjoyed recently, and their “Linoma Lighthouse” is a nice, sweeter white. As of our last visit they should be releasing several new vintages very soon, and they often stock a nice selection of local artisan chocolate as well. It’s a great place to sit outside and relax, and they have food and live music most weekends, too.
Finally, though we’re Nebraskans at heart, there’s an excellent Iowa winery we can’t help but tell you about. Vine Street Cellars , located in Glenwood, Iowa, is probably only a twenty-minute drive over the river from downtown Omaha. Their wines are great, their staff is super friendly, and the tasting room has a great ambiance. Try the Chancellor for a red, or the dry Vignoles for a white. The blackberry wine, aged in bourbon casks, is pretty awesome as well, though honestly, everything they make is good, and the meat and cheese plate is a steal at maybe $6 or $7. We don’t hold the fact that they aren’t Nebraskans against them (the owners are from Bellevue, an Omaha suburb, anyway).
If you’re allergic to grapevines or oak barrels, or if you just don’t care to venture quite so far from your hotel, Omaha has a number of great wine bars that we would also recommend. A personal favorite of ours is Corkscrew. Corkscrew has a relaxed, coffee-shop feel, a huge selection of wines, and an excellent staff that is both knowledgeable and helpful. The prices aren’t exorbitant, the corkage is a mere $5 (and waived on bottles over $25) and they offer a nice selection of cheeses and meats, in addition to a chill outdoor seating area that’s surrounded by greenery, complete with a fire place and plenty of seating. If you watch their web page, they do great wine flights on Wednesdays as well, and they regularly bring in winemakers to taste their wines as well. Though you’ll need a car to get there from the stadium, we promise you it’s worth the drive.
Brix is another Omaha staple we enjoy. It has two locations, the closest to TDA Park being conveniently situated in Midtown crossing. Like Corkscrew, Brix has outdoor seating and a good selection of wines. They also stock an excellent selection of craft beers and, though we usually come for the wine, they also offer a full menu of food. In addition, they have those “evil vending machines” that sell wine by one, three, or five-ounce pours and, just a tip, they’re half-price on Mondays! Definitely worth checking out.
One of Omaha’s more… er… unique attractions, is the Homy Inn. The place is a grand paradox of environment; juxtapose their infamous champagne on tap with the feel of an eclectic pub/dive bar and you have what may well be the best known establishment in the entire city. There are all kinds of fascinating things decorating the interior, and the locals are always friendly. Named one of Esquire Magazine’s Top Fifty Bars in the United States (yes, seriously), the Homy is a don’t miss for anyone who likes to hit the local stops. And hey, cold bubbly on tap? That’s a sound offering after a day of sun-soaked sports watching.
Places to Eat (and Drink)
Omaha is utterly saturated with restaurants, truly, and even to locals like us it can be overwhelming at times. That said, there are a few places that we would strongly recommend to wine drinkers, especially if you’re in the area for only a limited time. Our favorite by far is V. Mertz located in the passageway in Omaha’s Old Market, within walking distance of TDA Park. It was the location of our first date, and most of our celebratory meals since that point as well. One of Omaha’s only true five-star restaurants, it is both elegant and intimate; you’ll definitely want to call ahead for a reservation. The food is excellent and the wine list as diverse as it is immense. To help you navigate it, they staff certified sommeliers, who are some of the friendliest and most helpful people we’ve ever met. On weekdays, the pre-fixe meals, complete with wine flight, are a great deal, though neither of us has ever left the place at all disappointed. By anything. Ever.
Another great Omaha eatery, also located in the Old Market, is M’s Pub. We love M’s for the pleasant staff, classy, almost pub-like atmosphere, and reasonably priced meals. Their wine list is great, they carry a nice selection of port wines in particular, and we’d recommend, amongst other things, the crème brule. Their menu is a all over the place, representing a variety of cultures that might come together to be termed “Americana,” and everything on it is delicious. Limited outdoor seating is available. M’s is great for lunch, dinner, or evening cocktails, and again, we’d strongly recommend you call ahead during the busyness of the CWS.
Just around the corner from M’s is Vivace, also in the Old Market (we didn’t figure you’d want to travel very far to eat after sitting in the sun watching baseball all day). Rumored to be owned by the same proprietor as M’s (which is most likely accurate given that their web pages link to one another), it has a decidedly different feel, though both are equally enjoyable. Vivace makes great Italian food at a reasonable price, and has a nice selection of wine (one of their house wines is B.R. Cohn’s outstanding Cab-Sauv, if that tells you anything). They also have an outstanding and diverse gluten-free menu, and the chefs are always happy to accommodate your needs. We took our parents there after seeing Wicked a few weeks ago, and they loved it too.
Finally, we’d recommend you check out Pitch in Dundee. Dundee is an older neighborhood of Omaha that has been revitalized and isn’t terribly far from all the action downtown. They have their own house wines bottled in Napa (“Pitch Black” and “Pitch White”) that they sell at a reasonable price, and they make great pizza, amongst other things. The atmosphere is laid back and enjoyable, and their happy hour deal is half-priced bottles from 3-6pm daily, as well as all day long on Sundays, which is especially awesome since the bottles aren’t overpriced to begin with and they have a nice selection. If you’re venturing out of the immediate vicinity of TDA Park to eat, this is where we’d suggest you go. Plus, it’s like, got, like, the perfect name for, like, baseball fans. Get it?
If you like Beer
Let’s be honest; sometimes, you’re just in the mood for a beer. Well, Sonja isn’t very often given that she’s gluten intolerant, but Mark frequently is. And to satiate that need, there are plenty of good local establishments. The local microbrewery, which also serves food and is conveniently located in the Old Market, is Upstream. They’re frequently crafting more than ten beers at a time, everything from raspberry wheat for a hot summer day on their outdoor seating to great dark stouts for you to cry in after your team goes home vanquished. Go for the beer, stay for the food. They also have pool tables, and if it’s nice outside, their rooftop seating, which is also outdoors, is a wonderful and secluded place to get away from the rest of the world (and those annoying fans of the other team who beat you earlier today).
Omaha is also home to another great brewery that’s beginning to make a serious name for itself. Lucky Bucket beers are fantastic. From lager to wheat to “Certified Evil,” a strong dark monster of a beer, they’re all worth trying. Further, if you’re killing time, they offer tours, and though we’ve never gone on one we plan to. Friends have told us it’s a great time. You’ll see their adds all over town, and one day soon you’re liable to see their beer back home in your favorite haunt. Wouldn’t it be cool to say you’d been to the brewery? We recommend you check it out.
The other must-stop beer join in Omaha is Krug Park. Located in the Benson neighborhood, Krug keeps more Belgian beers on tap than most of the bars we’ve visited in Belgium. Their staff is knowledgeable and the beers, for what they are, are crazy-cheap ($5-$7 range for draught Belgian delights). To date, it’s the only place outside of Brugge that we’ve found St. Bernadus XII and Gulden Draak 9000 on tap. They stock non-Belgians as well, of course, and a decent selection of Scotch. It’s a really chill place, pretty unique, though you might want to program the cab company into your phone before you get there. Jus’ sayin’.
A couple more things…
Right, so just in case it wasn’t crystal clear, we’re only writing this guide to imbibing in Omaha for people of the legal drinking age, capish? For those you are, we encourage you to plan ahead a tiny bit, even though you’re on vacation. If you do, you’ll find that many of these establishments can be found on Living Social, Pinpoint, and Groupon, making their awesomeness even more affordable. We regularly use all three of those, and save enough money that we can go out a lot more frequently than we otherwise might. We highly recommend you sign up for those services before you head to Omaha. Pinpoint especially has many welcome rewards such as buy one get one free but you have to sign up at least a day prior to when you want to use the app, as your account has to be created. Lastly, when you’re here, we’d love it if you’d comment on this post, tweet at us @itheewine, or post to our Facebook wall the places you enjoy the most. Welcome to Omaha! We’re glad you’re here.