It’s All Downtown

by Julie Nichols 

There’s no doubt downtown Lincoln has boomed in recent years. At the western edge of O, Lincoln’s oldest arterial street, it’s still the liveliest part of the city. Less than 15 years ago, railroad tracks ran through Lincoln’s old industrial district, the Haymarket, now fully transformed by office and retail shops, galleries and a wide array of restaurants. Amtrak still operates through the station. Visitors can browse Licorice International, buy Nebraska-made products, indulge in legendary ice cream at Ivanna Cone, a coffee at the Mill, sweets at Rabbit Hole Bakery, browse galleries, or enjoy restaurants and nightlife. 

TADA Theater in the Haymarket reprises popular plays with local players. Lunch or dinner at Screamers Restaurant will make your heart sing—just like the miniature cabarets performed by your waitstaff. The Railyard, an entertainment area, features a mega screen that showcases free summer movies and sporting events from Husker games to World Cup soccer. The outdoor viewing area becomes a family skating rink in winter and hosts holiday activities. The Haymarket is also the long-time home of Lincoln’s first Farmer’s Market, held each Saturday from May to October.  

The silver disc of Pinnacle Bank Arena looms to the north, hosting superstars like Elton John, Garth Brooks, Snoop Dogg, and Pink among many, as well as hosting indoor sporting events. Saltdogs Stadium, a walkable distance north of the arena, hosts Nebraska Huskers baseball and is home to the Lincoln’s minor league baseball team. UNL’s historic Memorial Stadium features Husker football, filling downtown on Saturdays with a sea of red.  

New downtown hotels continue expansion. The Kindler, a 38-room boutique hotel, opened in late 2019 with its restaurant designed by Olympic skater Brian Boitano. A six-story Holiday Inn Express recently opened at 9th and O. The Graduate, with its funky décor and bar is popular among visitors and as a meeting place for locals after work.

Local galleries dot the Haymarket area and just off O Street to the east. Gallery 9, Tugboat Gallery, Kiechel Fine Arts and others are all within walking distance. Further downtown, the Great Plains Art Museum focuses on arts of the Great Plains. First Fridays each month provide gallery-hopping opportunities throughout the city.

Sheldon Museum of Art at 12th and R, a stunning Philip Johnson building in travertine stone, houses Edward Hopper’s famous Room in New York and Georgia O’Keeffe’s New York, Night among its collection of mostly 19th and 20th century art. Admission is free; open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A stroll through Sheldon’s outdoor sculpture garden and throughout UNL’s downtown campus offers outdoor sculptures by Richard Serra, Mark diSuvero, Roxy Paine, Gaston Lachaise, and Claes Oldenburg’s Torn Notebook, across from the Ross Media Arts Center.

Known locally as Morrill Hall, the Nebraska Natural History Museum on North 14th, on campus, provides excellent experiences for the whole family. Morrill Hall tells the history of Nebraska’s rich fossil record, First Peoples, and explores Nebraska’s ecosystems and wildlife through immersive displays. An interactive zone for kids and special exhibits make this museum a crowd-pleaser. Archie, the museum mascot—a life-sized mastodon in bronze—makes the entrance easy to find!

The Nebraska History Museum, always free, has curated rotating themed exhibits relating to Nebraska, and an extensive collection of historical objects and art to draw upon. This small museum, at Centennial Mall and Q Street, has something educational for all ages. 

The Children’s Museum, 14th and P Street, offers three stories of hands-on learning and play! A veterinary office, grocery store, a real fire truck, water science feature, rocket, airplane, building areas, artmaking tables and a stage all spur children’s imaginations. Toddler areas are available for the littlest ones, too. Open Thursday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The Lied Center for Performing Arts, 12th and Q, offers a wide variety of top-notch performances: Broadway shows, world-class dance companies, and classical music. Past seasons have included Yo-Yo Ma, Alvin Ailey, Itzak Perlman, Hamilton, Phantom of the Opera, Tony Bennett and others.

Current blockbusters play at the multiscreen Marcus Grand movie theater nearby. The Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 313 N. 13th Street, screens independent films, vintage revivals, documentaries, foreign films and small festivals, and broadcasts of live opera and Shakespeare. The nearby Rococo Theater intermittently hosts a variety of live entertainment: nationally-known musicians like Lyle Lovett and comedians.

If grittier live music is in order, head to 14th and O for a broad variety of local and touring bands. Known for hosting legendary touring blues artists, the Zoo Bar also showcases rock, jazz, Americana, and comedy. 1867 Bar across the street hosts live music, and around the corner on O, Duffy’s Tavern and Bodega’s Alley, bands play nearly every night. Across the street, the Bourbon Theatre hosts touring artists spanning many genres. Recent acts include The Wailers, Todd Rundgren, and The Hü, a Mongolian metal band. 

The Nebraska State Capitol, designed by notable architect Bertram Goodhue, presents spectacular art deco design, vaulted ceilings, relief carvings, murals, floor and ceiling mosaics portraying Nebraska themes. The Capitol’s limestone tower rises from a four block area on K and 16th; the north entrance’s motto reflects Nebraska’s unique unicameral: “The salvation of the state is in the watchfulness of the citizen” wherein the people serve as the ‘second house’. Banded by lapis-colored mosaic, the Capitol’s gold dome is topped by The Sower, a symbol of both Nebraska’s agriculture and the sowing of justice. The massive base of the building is carved with bas relief scenes and names of each Nebraska county. Do not overlook this complex gem. The building is open seven days a week, free, and offers tours. An elevator to an observation deck offers spectacular views. A visitor’s gallery is available to observe the legislature when in session.

Down O Street to the east, completion of the Antelope Valley Project has ushered in dramatic changes to the edge of downtown, simultaneously eliminating flood plain issues in the area and driving major development in the area. Jane Snyder Trail Center, next to Hub Café, shows the array of Lincoln’s miles of bike and foot trails traversing the city and beyond; a major connection to many trails runs north and south for cyclists and bike commuters, students and pedestrians. The area around Union Plaza offers native plantings, outdoor sculpture, a natural amphitheater, and play structure. Free concerts are scheduled during the summer months.

Spilling off O Street south of Antelope Valley, the new Telegraph District has boomed. Once the home of Lincoln’s public Telegraph and Telephone Company, is now replaced by Allo’s local headquarters, as well as Nelnet’s central operations and the newly-relocated Lincoln Journal Star. Housing and service businesses followed suit: a yoga studio and health club, breweries, a cider house, ax throwing bar, and the Mill coffee house, which hosts free patio concerts in the temperate months.

Enhancing trail use is the city’s bike sharing program, BikeLNK. Bikes and e-bikes are available for rent at downtown designated kiosks and located via a cell phone app. BikeLNK has approximately 15 stations, the majority in downtown but extending to the University’s Innovation Campus and East Campus. ScooterLNK, a similar program, is still in the pilot phase. Both make access to downtown attractions and Lincoln’s trail system quick and convenient.  

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