Music & Diversions
Discovering evenings out in Lincoln
by Cynthia S. Peterson
Some days, you just get tired of entertaining yourself at home with streamed blockbuster movies and deliveries of your favorite Chinese food or pizza. When it’s time to go out and about, Lincoln has plenty of entertaining diversions after the sun goes down to bring a smile to your face and lift your spirits—if they need it. ‘Early-nighters’ have options, too. When you’re ready to spend time with people at places you love or like, or to discover something (or someone) new, there’s a place for you in Lincoln.
Lincoln has multiple spaces for smaller performances, to big names who attract thousands to the Pinnacle Bank Arena or Pinewood Bowl. While Covid is still a factor, most venues, bars and restaurants have come out on the other side, though some have adjusted their hours and the way they do business. Bands, other entertainers and theater companies are on the road again and eager to provide you with a few hours of fun escape.
Most recently, Lincoln concert-goers came together in large crowds to enjoy jazz artist Diana Krall, country stars Jake Owen and Cody Johnson, Jack White, Bonnie Raitt, comedian Jim Gaffigan, ZZ Top, Earth Wind & Fire, Pentatonix, George Strait, and Elton John. Country star Blake Shelton is expected in February 2023, and more big names are expected to follow.
More than 100 bands call Lincoln home, amazing considering the city’s size. Lincoln’s lower cost of living means artists and musicians can work ‘real jobs’ and make their art. It’s all fed by two universities with stellar fine arts programs, too.
There are a lot of music venues in close proximity to one another, so artists can hop between venues or play to different crowds that patronize them. Omaha is 45 minutes away, and a lot of talented people go back and forth between the two cities. Chicago, Kansas City and Denver are within driving distance, too. Lincoln is also lucky to have numerous nonprofits working to support the arts and foster a younger demographic.
The Bourbon Theatre and The Zoo Bar have the biggest reputations to live up to on the local music club.
Patterned after classic Chicago blues clubs, The Zoo Bar has been in the same spot at 136 N. 14th St., seemingly unchanged since 1973. It’s a long and narrow venue in a 1921 building. Many of the biggest blues artists and legends in the business have played here like James Harmon, Charlie Musselwhite, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and Robert Cray. The club hosts the best local musicians and future legends as well. There’s history here, but it’s probably good the walls can’t talk.
With changing demographics, The Zoo Bar has added jazz, stand-up comedy and roots music to its lineup. But the live blues is the best, and the contemporary blues artists who play The Zoo are exceptional. Be sure to check out the club’s mid-summer anniversary party—ZooFest—that takes over the street right outside the front door. Artists on the upcoming schedule include The Jimmys, Mesonjixx, Jackson Stokes, and Josh Hoyer & Soul Collective. Expect the phenomenal music to continue throughout 2023. To find out who is playing and when, see the club’s calendar at the newly revamped www.zoobar.com.
In the heart of downtown, the vintage marquee in front of the Bourbon Theatre at 1415 O St. announces the next bands to play the re-imagined vintage movie theater. Since opening in 2009, it’s arose as a club like none other in Lincoln. Recent and upcoming artists include:
• Sicard Hollow is a four-piece progressive bluegrass band. Heavily influenced by the Grateful Dead and New Grass Revival
• Folk/rock/Americana outfit Them Coulee Boys
• Sammy Rae & The Friends
• Guitarist, Steve Vai
• Drag queen Adore Delano
• They Might Be Giants
The size and acoustics of the venue are great for an intimate acoustic show or a high energy rock fest.
It gives up-and-comers a place to play, too. The venue holds as many as 900 people, often general admission/standing room only, and open two or more nights a week depending upon the time of year. Along with The Zoo Bar, Duffy’s Tavern at 1412 O Street, Bodega’s Alley at 1418 O Street, and 1867 at 101 N. 14th St., Bourbon annually hosts the multi-site Lincoln Calling (fall) and Lincoln Exposed (winter) music festivals that draw large crowds. (See the article about festivals on page 74.) Find out who’s playing now and next at www.bourbontheatre.com.
Many Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll find a band playing or maybe a comedian getting laughs at The Royal Grove, a venue that’s evolved with the decades (since 1933) at 340 W. Cornhusker Hwy. On stage recently at The Grove: Bonnie X Clyde, Dark Oceanz, Boombox Cartel and Stryper. The Grove is only open for ticketed events. See www.theroyalgrove.com for info.
On a recent weekend, Rosie’s Downtown (130 N. 10th St.), Storm Cellar (3233 S. 13th St.), Cappy’s Hotspot (5560 S. 48th St.), Single Barrel (141 N. 9th St.), Brewsky’s Haymarket (201 N. 8th St.), Boombox Social (1630 P St.), Junction Night Club & Shot Bar (1430 O St.), plus the nearby Capital View Winery and James Arthur Vineyards hosted live music, a DJ or karaoke.
For any music entrepreneurs out there here’s something to ponder — what Lincoln is lacking is a great jazz club.
Here are more ideas to help create your evening out:
Lincoln’s burgeoning brewery community has not only cross-pollinated into food, but often supports local music, too. Try Kinkaider Brewing Company in the Haymarket or Schillingbridge Cork & Tap House in the northwest part of the city. Both have great outdoor spaces. In fact, many pubs and nightspots all over the city now offer comfortable outside social spaces, like the roof top at Barry’s Bar & Grill (Haymarket), and Barred Own, the rooftop bar at The Scarlet Hotel.
Das Haus, an LGBTQA+ club, 1640 O St., features drag and cabaret shows and a terrific dance floor.
Acoustic music fans should visit Crescent Moon Coffee in the Haymarket, Mo Java Café in north central Lincoln, Rock-n-Joe Coffee Bar in east Lincoln, Art & Soul’s wine bar and nice patio in south Lincoln (great food, too), or other intimate venues around the city.
Rumology at 7301 S. 27th St. features craft cocktails, live music or comedy most nights of the week in their unique and spacious lounge.
The restored Rococo Theatre at 140 N. 13th St. usually hosts concerts throughout the year. Decibel restrictions in the building make it a perfect setting for comics, world music, jazz or acoustic performers (www.rococotheatre.com).
If nightlife to you is lingering over a lovely dinner and wine, reserve a table at L’s Kitchen, Casa Bovina, Vincenzo’s Ristorante, DISH Restaurant, JTK Cuisine & Cocktails, Billy’s, The Oven, The Green Gateau or Venue Restaurant to name a few (see other ideas elsewhere in this publication).
Cocktails and conversation (and often a great soundtrack in the background)? Try these:
• SARO Cider, 1746 N St., for ciders & cocktails
• Boitano’s Lounge at 216 N. 11th St.
• Tavern 180, 8600 S. 30th St. (great food)
• Barrymore’s, 124 N. 14th St., a former theater backstage turned cool cocktail lounge
• Alchemy Aqua Vitae at 140 N. Eighth St., serving exclusive spirits and handcrafted cocktails. (The Black Walnut Manhattan is a personal favorite.)
• The Copper Kettle, 230 N. 12th St. (their Moscow Mule is fabulous)
• The Hot Mess, 408 S. 11th St.
• The Watering Hole, 132 O St. (great wings)
• Marz Bar, 1140 O St.
• Tavern on the Square, 816 P St.
• The Cellar, 201 N. Eighth St. (beneath The Oven)
• McKinney’s Irish Pub, 151 N. 8th St. (Who doesn’t like an Irish pub?)
• Starlite Lounge, 1960s retro ambiance at 247 N. Eighth St. (lower level)—featuring jazz on Monday nights
For something different, go through the secret door at Boombox Social into the Sideshow Cocktail Lounge. Or, through an unassuming glass door in the alley behind 1332 P St., you’ll find a vintage pay phone that is the gateway to the Lady Luck Lounge. You’ll need to know the pass code, which you can find on Lucky Lady’s Facebook page. The Other Room, a speakeasy at 824 P St., is a must-go.
For something old-school and comfortable, try O’Rourke’s Tavern at 1329 E. O St.,
The Old Pub at 420 S. 11th St, or Cliff’s Martini Lounge, 5310 S. 56th St. Or something adult and risqué, The Night Before Lounge, 1035 M St.
So, when you’re ready to do something different, please support nightlife venues in Lincoln. Have fun!