Saturday afternoon, I found myself leaning against a shuffleboard table, shoving my mouth full of cheese balls and looking at a cell phone photo of the grossest tattoo I have ever seen.
The tattoo involved a naked woman, and the artist incorporated the tattoo owner's belly button into the design. The tattooed man was sitting just a few feet away from me at the end of the bar in Piccolo's, 13328 Millard Ave., a narrow dive decorated with New York Yankees memorabilia.
Piccolo's was the second stop on the second annual Spring Stumble (the first stop was the Millard Roadhouse, just across the street), a meet-up bar crawl for readers of Hit That Dive, on which a blogger who calls himself Scuba Steve reviews hole-in-the-wall establishments around Omaha.
Steve Gates grew up in Irwin, Pa, and worked for several years on Capitol Hill as a press secretary. Eight years ago, he moved to Omaha to take a job at Union Pacific, where he worked for a year before taking over as a spokesman for American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
He grew up in dive bars and he loves them still. On his blog, started in 2010, he rates them on a number of factors — first impressions, crowd and quality of standard dive bar entertainment such as pool tables or a good jukebox.
The first Spring Stumble took place last April on Leavenworth Street. It was fun, so he planned another, in the Millard area, a part of town he doesn't get to as often.
Steve had previously visited all but two of the six planned stops. Piccolo's, of the cheese balls and the horrible tattoo, was one of unknowns.
So what kind of first impression did Piccolo's make?
“I would walk in here and think, ‘This is so far great,'” he said.
He pointed out it was a no-frills place (I thought the Christmas garland around the mirrored back bar was a nice touch), one that seemed to have fun regulars, one where the Styrofoam bowls of pretzels and cheese balls never were empty.
“It's more about how it feels than how it looks,” he said.
Third stop on the list was Joe's Duck Inn, which Steve scored at 7 (out of a possible 10) on the dive-o-meter when he reviewed the place in December. Joe's Duck Inn has pool and shuffleboard, and also a working phone booth, in which the stumblers took turns posing for photographs.
The stumblers were a blend of blog readers, the owners of one of Steve's favorite bars, the Brass Monkey, some Brass Monkey regulars and the other anonymous Hit This Dive reviewer, a tattooed accountant who reviews under the name Binge-Drinking Ben.
We arrived at Joe's “basically right after the beer kicked in but before the shots had their time to really kick in,” as Steve put it. Thus, this is where things started to get fun. At Joe's, my friend Kendra played pool with a stumbler named Jody who — for much of the night — wore a felt mustache she'd bought out of a vending machine. I talked to a Joe's regular dressed completely in black — down to his nail polish and a calf-length leather duster — who asked that I call him Joey Rockit (we ended up having a lengthy conversation about terriers). Someone put money in the jukebox, and when Abba's “Dancing Queen,” came on, almost everyone in the bar began to dance. A little after 7, three hours into the stumble, it was time to head to Blind Dave's, 5082 S. 136th St.
Blind Dave's was darker and more crowded than Joe's, but the stumblers were still in high spirits, and the blend of music — Notorious B.I.G. followed by Big & Rich — was interesting. The conversation turned to motorcycles, then to South Omaha, where many of the stumblers grew up and still live, and we all ate snack mix out of the same big plastic tub.
Three hours at four dive bars was enough for me, so Blind Dave's was my last stop. Steve and his stumblers visited the VFW across the street, then the One-N-Go Saloon, 4917 S. 136th St.
Steve assured me they were good and divey, too.