Wilson & Washburn
Where: 1407 Harney St.
When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
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Remember that crazy cold night we had on Jan. 20? 'Twas a miserable Monday with sleet, wind and single-digit temperatures enough to freeze the soul.
Despite the adverse conditions, downtown's Wilson & Washburn had a warm and lively crowd by the 7 p.m. mark. Folks braved severe cold and street parking just to be here — impressive customer loyalty, especially considering W&W is less than a year old. It makes my nightlife lovin' heart swell with joy to see a thriving new leisure spot.
A solid theme may have started W&W off on the right foot. Drawing inspiration from Omaha's early urban outlaw scene, owners Jeff Luby and Eric Hochstein named the gastropub for notorious local madam Anna “Queen of the Underworld” Wilson and Josie Washburn, a lady on her, eh, staff. Other characters of the day turn up in the names of signature cocktails, and the brothel-chic dťcor unifies the place — lots of boudoir art, flattering chandelier lighting and old-timey artisan woodwork from a time that could never have fathomed our age of Ikea.
The two-story 19th century building boasts a downstairs bar and dining area, with a second bar, lounge area and mezzanine seating upstairs, perfect for keeping an eye on the action below. Private events including beer tastings have constituted most of the upstairs action since the pub opened in August. Luby shared that the setup is perfect for a dual-purpose venue. The sound doesn't carry, so you'd never know that 40 to 50 people were tromping around upstairs. As business grows, the more intimate upstairs space is open to all on Fridays and Saturdays.
A quality adult beverage menu adds to W&W's appeal. The craft beer list includes 24 varieties on tap with the corresponding brewery of origin and alcohol content, so you can gauge your choice according to your needs. Some days merit a stronger drink than others. Barkeeps are all members of the Omaha Craft Bartender's Guild, Luby explained, equipping them with skills far beyond cracking a can of PBR.
Chef Hiomara Van Den Boogaart's made-from-scratch menu is served until midnight, a huge plus for our early bird town. The concise menu offers familiar foods with a gourmet twist; the Reuben is prepared with house-smoked brisket, and the mac and cheese has a dazzling crust of blue cheese, truffle and panko breadcrumbs.
W&W's happy hour runs from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day Sunday, granting food and drink discounts. Luby said he added reverse happy hour Monday through Wednesday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. as a nod to the service industry crowd whose workday runs much later than the 9-to-5 crowd. The pub is great to keep in mind for when you have Wi-Fi needs, and the under-the-bar charging stations are a thoughtful touch for our digital age.
The brothel-themed pub is an ideal setting for a bit of the ol' burlesque, and local troupe Hot Tail Honeys offers occasional performances. To stir up a little passion this Valentine weekend, the ladies are slated for Feb. 16 at 8:30 p.m. There's no cover, and the place fills up quickly; early arrival is encouraged.
Hopefully, the great Madam Wilson is gazing down with pride at her leisure legacy. They say well-behaved women rarely make history, and in this case, the proof is served up with a wink and a smile.