A Night on the Town
By Jesse Starita
Just a few years ago, when people thought of downtown Lincoln nightlife, things like overcrowded college bars, the Pershing Center and the disappearance of retail stores likely came to mind. But thanks to a constellation of aligning stars, Lincoln’s downtown is now an entirely different universe. And, since it’s also more pedestrian friendly, I’ve assembled a self-paced, weekend walking tour through craft breweries, sculpture gardens, gastronomic high points and bass-thumping nightspots. Ready? On to our first step.
6 p.m. Raise golden suds at Ploughshare Brewing Co. (1630 P Street). This rustic, TV-less brewery crafts some of the region’s finest microbrews. Fridays and Saturdays at 6 p.m., beer savant and Ploughshare owner Matt Stinchfield gives 45-minute tours ($5.50) that include a custom pint glass, beer of your choice, history of Nebraska craft beers and a view of the fermentation tanks and malt mills in action. Want to feel like a bulldozing fullback? Try the Percheron IPA, a cinder block of a draw. On the thoroughbred side, the Helga Honey Wheat is a smooth-gliding lighter ale. Post tour, grab a cushioned stool on the south side to people watch and admire the Nebraska State Capitol’s golden dome. With your custom glass in hand, head out. On to the next stop.
7:00 p.m. From Ploughshare, walk west along P Street. Cross Centennial Mall and take a peek at its multi-million dollar renovation. In short time, Centennial Mall from P to R Streets will feature a kinetic water fountain, art alcove and amphitheatre-style seating. Continue on P until 10th Street, hang a left, enter the Grand Manse building and look for the door to Blue Orchid Thai Restaurant (129 North 10th). Since the mid-2000s, Blue Orchid has been venting fragrant curries and cool cocktails with a modern, cosmopolitan styling. If a reliable favorite is your mood, go with the Panang Curry, which pairs amazingly with a cut of salmon. For spicier palettes, Drunken Noodles is a fine choice. As you’ll recall, this is a walking tour, so order your aromatic cuisine to go. Double back on P Street to 13th.
7:15 p.m. Styrofoam in hand, cross the street and find a table inside Tower Square (13th and P), a new 18,000-square-foot public crossroads. Between bites of seared tofu, check out Ascent Tower, a kaleidoscopic glass tower by renowned Omaha sculptor Jun Kaneko. First lit on the 2014 Winter Solstice, it’s now a nightly beacon for the city’s nocturnal navigators. Also of interest is the Stuart Building—a gorgeous 1927 Art Deco-Gothic Revival hybrid—directly to your south.
8:15 p.m. Shake your legs. Let’s head north. Take 13th Street up to R Street where you’ll border the southern edge of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus. Turn left and continue leisurely along R. Clustered along this block are Love Library, Van Brunt Visitors Center, the Ross, the Temple Building and the College of Business Administration. On the corner of 12th and R is the Sheldon Museum of Art, a wonderful trove of sculptures, paintings and photographs from the likes of Warhol, Pollock and O’Keefe. But, a nightlife guide this is, reroute yourself to the building’s south and descend to the sunken sculpture garden. For a moment of zen, sit on a bench and listen to the water trickle. Down here, quiet speaks volumes.
8:45 p.m. Continue south on R for a block and then hang a right on Q Street. Proceed until 8th Street, turn left and go up one block. Welcome to The Mill (800 P Street), a Lincoln institution and solid portal to the Haymarket District. If you’re indecisive, ask a barista who’ll whip up something frothy in no time. The big porch flanking the west side is a cultural, generational and ethnolinguistic melting pot where, on any given night, Iraqi men play dominoes alongside college students planning a sustainability summit. If you’re content to retire early here, I bid you adieu and hope your time was well spent. If not, let’s find adventure in other places!
9:30 p.m. Finish that coffee. Head west on P and cut through the alley between Lincoln Station and The Creamery (7th Street), towards Canopy Street. You’re now in front of one of the Haymarket’s newest buildings, home to the engineering and design firm Olsson Associates. The building is also home to one of Lincoln’s newest and hippest bars, Hop Cat. Since opening in March 2016, the bar has fast gained a loyal clientele attracted to the mesmerizing offering of 132 tap beers and interior design that combines chandeliers, irreverent cartoons, red vinyl chairs and cushy outdoor couches.
11:30 p.m. From Hop Cat head back towards the Mill and turn left on 8th Street. Turn right into the alley between P and Q and head about 200 feet until reaching The Other Room. Its Facebook page bills its address as “secret,” kindling the mystique. This speakeasy-style bar can only hold 20, and on busy nights guests wait until space is made by those departing. Once you’re in, order a Mumbai Exorcism—or really anything—and watch the bartender pour, mix, dance, shake and, sometimes, set fire.
A.M. You’ve been waiting patiently to show your dance moves. Let loose at Rule G (350 Canopy Street, #300). If it’s nice, dance on the rooftop patio, in the shadow of Pinnacle Bank Arena. If it’s not, head inside to the Spin Room, a Lite Brite on steroids with 500 color-changing LEDs. Little about Rule G—the music, drinks, patrons, vibe—is mild. If flashy is your thing, set up shop and enjoy.
When you need to get home, Uber, Lyft and an assortment of local cab companies are at your beckoning. Whichever route you decide, as you get ready to turn it in, think about the ways there are now to turn it out when downtown. What makes our city great is that it’s hungry without being full of itself—a balance that many places lack.