In Omaha, I searched for Warren Buffett and found him. I bumped into a cardboard cutout of the billionaire businessman at Gorat’s steakhouse and counted several rubber duckies wearing his signature spectacles at Hollywood Candy. He appeared on T-shirts at True Blue Goods and Gifts and in a glass exhibit case at the Durham Museum. Surveillance cameras probably caught my U-turn outside his house. To my delight, Nebraska’s largest city indulged my fan-girl tendencies, which extend beyond the Oracle of Omaha. Several local musicians — Conor Oberst, Josh Soto, Phil Schaffart — appear on my list of People I’d Like to Get Locked in a DJ Booth With. In the food world, I have long gushed over vegan darling Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who runs Modern Love, but after a visit to the Grey Plume, I made room on my plate for its Nebraska-centric chef, Clayton Chapman. For every Jun Kaneko, the Omaha-based Japanese ceramics artist, I discovered a Celeste Butler, a self-proclaimed “quiltapreneur.” Even a bridge named Bob earned my affections; you can see my valentine on his Instagram account. By trip’s end, I realized that I wasn’t just crushing on the people of Omaha but on the place, too.
You’re going where?
Immerse yourself in all forms of creative expression — care to sculpture dance? — at 1the Union for Contemporary Art 1The Union for Contemporary Art Google Map: 2423 N. 24th St. Website: www.u-ca.org 402-933-3161 . The community-spirited center holds exhibits (“Where We Land” opens June 16), workshops and special events, such as potluck-dinner discussions with artists. During a tour of the studio spaces, meet the co-op creators and ask away. Butler, for one, is happy to explain her quilting techniques, which incorporate thread painting, washed denim and snow. Afterward, graze the Abundance Garden, an urban U-pick.
The league players at 2O’Leaver’s Pub Sand Volleyball 2O’Leaver's Pub Sand Volleyball Google Map: 1322 S. Saddle Creek Rd. Website: www.facebook.com/oleavers 402-556-1238 are a hearty bunch. During a heavy rainstorm, one member hopped around the wet sand in pink rainboots. Spectators were better protected under the cantilevered roof of the bar; you can’t have water diluting your Pabst Blue Ribbon. Five years ago, the bandmates of Cursive took over the establishment, which also includes an indoor bar and stage. They kept the divey punk aesthetic but added a beer garden with strings of bare bulbs and long wooden tables. For Sunday Social, held during the warmer months, pay $5 for barbecue and bands. Maybe the new owners will show up and do more than just eat and drink.
Look up, look down, look all around the 3Durham Museum 3Durham Museum Google Map: 801 S. 10th St. Website: durhammuseum.org 402-444-5071 and marvel at the 13-foot-tall chandeliers, patterned terrazzo floor and soda fountain that still sells malts and phosphates decades after the historic Union Station that it occupies halted rail service. Downstairs, explore vintage trains and an encyclopedic collection spanning from the Omaha Indians and Lewis and Clark to the first African American pro quarterback and the invention of the Swanson TV Dinner. Note: The “Tornado Shelter” sign is not part of an exhibit.
The 4Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge 4Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Google Map: 705 Riverfront Dr. Website: www.visitomaha.com/bob 402-444-5900 doesn’t go by formalities: You can call it Bob. The 3,000-foot-long walkway, which soars and sometimes sways over the Missouri River, crosses the state line into Iowa. After you complete the .9K Bob marathon, snap a selfie and go collect your prize — a bumper sticker — at the Omaha Visitors Center (1001 Farnam St.).
5Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater, 5Film Streams at the Ruth Sokolof Theater Google Map: 1340 Mike Fahey St. Website: www.filmstreams.org 402-933-0259 a two-screen venue in the Saddle Creek Records complex, shines a klieg light on foreign and independent films, documentaries, retrospectives and other non-kapow! fare. Starting in July, the theater will celebrate its 10th anniversary with “Top 10 for 10,” picks from its staff. Pair a screening with such Nebraska movie snacks as Omaha Steaks jerky, Two Birds Bakery cookies or a Hopluia ale. Later this year, the organization plans to revive the Dundee Theater, a historic venue (est. 1925) with a Hollywood ending.
At 6The Grey Plume 6The Grey Plume Google Map: 220 S. 31st Ave. Website: thegreyplume.com 402-763-4447 , Clayton Chapman is fidgeting at the farm-to-table restaurant. The chef/owner wants to make his menu more Nebraska and less every place else. To reduce imports, and waste, the staff creates its own herbal liquors, colas and tonics as well as condiments, jams, bitters and charcuterie. Single ingredients, such as celery, will live nine lives as, say, a puree, pickled root, shaved ribbons, garnish and aioli. “The constraints can really drive creativity,” Megan Malone, the marketing director, said over a glass of house chartreuse and heirloom popcorn served in a bowl made of Missouri River clay. However, “constraint” does not translate to simple and spare. Case in point, the duck-fat doughnuts.
Stash your cookbooks by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and — role-reversal time — let the famed vegan chef cook for you. Moskowitz opened 7Modern Love 7Modern Love Google Map: 1319 S 50th St. Website: www.modernloveomaha.com 402-614-6481 in 2014, two years before her Brooklyn outpost. The plant-based dishes skew toward comfort: Wrap your taste buds around the Modern Cheeseburger, the Mac and Shews or the Fully Loaded Noochos. Meat-eaters can distract their inner carnivore with Seitan Wings or Surf and Turf, which the staff updates seasonally. For dessert, no udders were harmed for the ice cream sandwiches.
“There’s Warren,” said a diner, pointing to a cutout of the famous investor. “He’s right there.” At least once a week, the real Warren shows up at 8Gorat’s 8Gorat's Google Map: 4917 Center St. Website: goratsomaha.com 402-551-3733 to dine on a 22-ounce T-bone at his preferred table, in a former cloak room. Gorat’s isn’t just a celeb magnet, however; it’s also a survivor. Of the about 50 Italian family-run steakhouses established in the city, only three survive. When Gene Dunn took over in 2012, he restored the interior to its 1940s glory and updated the menu with salads and sandwiches. But the slabs of meat stayed. “The main fare is steaks,” he said, “from Omaha Steaks.”
For nearly a decade, 9Stella’s Bar & Grill 9Stella’s Bar & Grill Google Map: 106 S. Galvin Rd., Bellevue Website: www.stellasbarandgrill.com 402-291-6088 ,which turned 81 this year, has dared diners to vanquish the Stellanator. Only 30 have succeeded; nearly 600 have failed. Guests have 45 minutes (plus 10 minutes to digest) to python-mouth six patties, fried eggs and cheese slices, 12 bacon strips, lettuce, tomato, fried onions, pickles, jalapenos and peanut butter on a bun — with an order of fries. The victor wins a T-shirt, a place on the Wall of Fame and a free meal; the loser earns a spot on the Wall of Shame and a bill for $35. For less-adventurous appetites, try Stella’s Staple Burger, which comes with cheese, bacon and a fried egg. Add toppings at your own risk.
The staff goes on “guitar safaris” to hunt down the uncommon instruments sold at 10Ground Floor Guitar 10Ground Floor Guitar Google Map: 3909 Farnam St. Website: www.groundfloorguitar.com 402-614-6888 . Some recent finds: a 1990s Peavey, a Paul Reed Smith model with a Brazilian rosewood neck (note: you’ll need proper documentation, because the wood is protected) and a white Airline, the twin of a guitar beloved by David Bowie. Musicians can practice in the rehearsal room (free for first-timers), though some visitors grab a guitar off the wall, pull up a chair and start jamming in the main “concert hall.”
11True Blue Goods and Gifts 11True Blue Goods and Gifts Google Map: 1320 Mike Fahey St. Website: www.truebluegoodsandgifts.com 402-933-0986 , a mash-up gallery and retail store, puts more than two dozen Nebraska artists on pedestals. “Meet Your Maker” bio cards accompany the individual mini-displays. For example, get to know Mr. Enginerd, who geeks out on laser-cut earrings, and Josh Knutson, who carves spoons and bowls out of wood collected from local neighborhoods and forests. For $5, pull the old cigarette machine handle and see what masterpiece drops out of the Art-O-Mat.
The next time someone asks, “Who are you wearing — and washing with?” surprise them with an up-and-coming label from 12Hello Holiday 12Hello Holiday Google Map: 5008 Underwood Ave. Website: helloholiday.com 402-492-2820 . The lifestyle boutique champions independent designers, such as Tuesday Bassen, an illustrator who creates cheeky lettered pins, patches and bomber jackets; and Benson Soap Mill, where its bars smell like a dessert or a tea ceremony. One of the store’s top-selling pieces is a unisex T-shirt that proclaims, “Girls Support Girls.”
13Borsheims 13Borsheims Google Map: 120 Regency Pkwy. Website: www.borsheims.com 402-391-0400 was once touted as the country’s largest independent jewelry store; today, it is better known as a Berkshire Hathaway company. The glittery store, which features such gilded names as Cartier, Marco Bicego and Roberto Coin, emphasizes (don’t snicker) value. “We don’t get a lot of rap stars or athletes,” said Sean Moore, director of sales, “but numerous important people have shopped here.” Even if you are only an IP in your mother’s eyes, you can still try on some finger candy, such as a 5.71-carat diamond ring that sells for $235,000. The home-decor section stocks several local designers as well as Cat Studio embroidered pillows, which come in such flavors as Nebraska, Washington D.C. and Berkshire Hathaway.
At 14Hollywood Candy 14Hollywood Candy Google Map: 1209 Jackson St. Website: www.hollywoodcandy.com 402-346-9746 , inhale deeply. One scent du jour was Bavarian-glazed nuts, though on another day, the fragrance might be Fruity Pebbles bark, chocolate-dipped bacon or PB Surprise, an in-house concoction made of peanut butter, butterscotch and milk chocolate. In addition to the sweet-tooth kitchen, the shop lines its shelves with the candy of our ancestors, such as Squirrel Nut Zippers, Nik-L-Nip Wax Bottles and Big Hunk. For a sugar break, wander into the adjoining antique mall. Most of the items are for sale, with a few exceptions: the owner’s Pez collection, for one, and the piano Lady Gaga borrowed for her “You and I” video.
Sid Vicious flamed out long ago, but punk rock is still thrashing at 15Drastic Plastic Underground 15Drastic Plastic Underground Google Map: 1118B Howard St. Website: www.drasticplasticonline.com 402-346-8843 , a music store that pays tribute to the spiky British music scene. “We do love our iconic punk bands like the Damned and Joy Division,” said manager Jeff Runnings, “but we also take a really big interest in post-punk.” In 2010, the owners formed a record label that rereleases overlooked or out-of-print vinyl; the rescue service recently widened its net to include glam rock (Mott the Hoople), industrial (Nurse with Wound) and Motorhead. Across the street, its sister boutique specializes in screenprinted T-shirts of legendary bands and musicians that you’ll want to wear over your hoodie.
Loitering in the lobby of 16Hotel Deco XV 16Hotel Deco XV Google Map: 1504 Harney St. Website: www.hoteldecoomaha.com 402-991-4981 is encouraged. “Aren’t those elevator doors beautiful?” a front desk employee asked me as we gazed at the etched detailing. The 89-room hotel occupies the former Redick Tower, an office building constructed in 1930 that housed dentists, doctors, go-go girls and a parking garage full of Model T’s. The hotel, which is adding a new restaurant by Patrick Micheels, serves breakfast in the recently renovated lounge, which has a modernist flair. Next door, the Looking Glass Cigars and Spirits shop harbors a hidden bar called the Wicked Rabbit. Guests can experience the underworld in their bunny slippers: The minibars are stocked with cocktails from the speakeasy.
Aquila Cook greets all incoming guests at the 17Magnolia Hotel Omaha 17Magnolia Hotel Omaha Google Map: 1615 Howard St. Website: www.magnoliahotels.com/omaha/magnolia-hotel-omaha.php 402-341-2500 , his stony face peering out from the 1920s facade. Chester Cook, ever the good grandson, named the original structure, the Aquila Court Building, after his grandfather and modeled the design after the Bargello, an Italian palace in Florence. The rib-vaulted ceilings and carved stone medallions cast an Old World spell on the 145-room property. In the evening, the free milk and cookies shifts the mood to “Goodnight Moon.” The best room in the house is the Winter Garden Courtyard, a popular wedding site that hoi polloi can reclaim after saying “I Do.”
When residents talk about the 18Blackstone District 18Blackstone District Google Map: 36th to 42nd streets along Farnam Street Website: www.blackstonedistrict.com , they seem to blink their eyes hard, as if they can’t believe what they are seeing. Less than five years ago, the stretch along Farnam Street was dismal and desolate. “It was a street with nothing on it,” one Omahan told me. Now, it’s a street with a little bit of everything on it: a brewery (Scriptown), a creamery (Coneflower), a paperie (Pulp), a roastery (Archetype) and a meatballery with live music on the weekends (Blackstone Meatball). You can also get a beard trim at Surly Chap Barbers, tat-chos (amped-up tators) at Nite Owl and a Reuben at Crescent Moon, a pickle’s throw from the sandwich’s birthplace at the Blackstone Hotel. And more is on the way. An employee at Corkscrew Wine & Cheese pointed to a new development across the street, blinking at the unbelievable sight.
When the hammer hits the bell on Saturday mornings, the farmers market is officially open. Not sooner, not later, but at 8 on the dot. Shoppers swarm tables piled high with radishes, lettuces, turnips and asparagus, a scene that harks back to the 19Old Market 19Old Market Google Map: Bounded by Harney, Jackson,10th and 13th streets Website: oldmarket.com 402-916-1796 ’s earlier self as Omaha’s main warehouse district. Though fading, the names of the earlier businesses still appear on the brick buildings, and the roads are made of cobblestone, catching modern-day heels. To restore your balance, choose from more than 30 restaurants, plus boutiques, bars and art galleries, including Kaneko, which has some of the most avant-garde chill spaces in the historic area.