Five Years Leading Up to 1912

The first thing to mention when describing 1912, the new bar/restaurant scheduled to open July 31 at 6201 Maple St., is that rooftop deck. There’s nothing like it in Benson. Strike that, there’s nothing like it in Omaha. 

We’re talking roughly 2,000 square feet of open-air party paradise with views that overlook bustling Maple Street and the surrounding neighborhood. Partially covered by a pergola, the deck seems to stretch on forever. It’s huge. As I strolled across its lumbered flooring Sunday, the space was mostly empty, though owners Joe and Bill Carmichael had brought up pieces of outdoor furniture, preparing for Saturday’s open house in conjunction with Benson Days (no booze will be served, it’s just a chance to look around). 

The concept of this deck was a central selling point for the brothers when they began searching for a location for their bar, which brings us to the next thing that comes to mind when writing about 1912: Why it took so frickin’ long to open. Five years to be exact.

The humor of the situation isn’t lost on them. A few weeks ago, printed screens were placed in the bar’s windows, one showing a vintage portrait of Erastus Benson, the city founder, with the quote: “Work started on this before I founded the town.”

Joe is unapologetic when he explains the five-year project. “Bill and I had talked about wanting to do something together. It’s the type of conversations brothers have over the years,” he said. “We were both employed at the time. We looked at our careers and said, ‘If we’re going to do something, let’s start looking now.’”

Having grown up around 90th and Maple streets, they were always interested in Benson, eventually discovering a “for sale” sign on the building that once housed The Lizard King pet shop, a place so vile that I only stepped foot into it once before it closed. It was a dark cavern of cages filled with reptiles and glass aquariums loaded with live insects used for pet food. In addition to the stench, I remember the ever-present sound of crickets chirping.

All of that was gone — well most of it — when the brothers did their first walk-through. “It was fairly run down and had a unique odor,” Joe said. “But the thing we liked about it was the high ceilings on the main floor and the full basement with 9-foot ceilings.” And, of course, its amazing roof, perfect for their dream deck.

Joe lived in Lincoln the first two years, driving in on nights and weekends to work alongside Bill gutting the place. The bar’s name, 1912, comes from the year the building was constructed. “It was all plaster lattice and drop ceilings and layers and layers of vinyl flooring, tar paper and thousands of nails that all had to be removed.” 

Discoveries included strange copper plumbing that ran through the chimneys “which we assumed was part of the lizard environment,” Joe said. One room downstairs was literally filled with lizard shit. The part-time demo worked took the balance of those two years. When the economy tanked, the recruiting company where Bill worked closed, and the building became his full-time focus. They hired general contractor Guy German, along with an architect and structural engineer. Their first major construction project was the rooftop deck, designed in such a way as to drive all its weight toward installed beams and the outer walls. New supports and footings also were added to the building’s basement. 

Work on the deck and the gorgeous, open 3,800-square-foot interior dining area was done when money was available. “We would go months before we’d bring in an electrician or plumber,” Joe said. “We walked a fine line by keeping costs down and doing as much as we could ourselves.”

And then 18 months ago, the brothers also bought Burke’s Pub. Neither had run a bar or restaurant before. “I do have a background running a business,” Joe said. “I’m oversimplifying, but at the end of the day it’s about controlling costs and providing great service. That means hiring great people.”

As evidence, they hired a general manager, Nick Joerz, who has 20+ years experience running dining establishments. They also brought in a consultant for the restaurant — one of the region’s most renowned chefs with an international reputation who not only crafted 1912’s menu but designed its kitchen and dining service. 

While Carmichael says 1912 is first and foremost a full-service bar with 17 beers on tap, it’s also a full-service family restaurant, offering a variety of gourmet-quality comfort foods including nachos, flatbread, a taco bar, salad bar, along with unique burgers and a “poutinerie” (poutine is a Canadian food consisting of french fries, brown gravy and cheese curds). 

“We’re trying to locally source as many ingredients as possible,” Joe said. “The price point on meals is in the $8 to $10 range.” You’ll have to wait a little while longer to sample that menu, however, as the kitchen won’t open until mid-September. 

Carmichael said 1912’s food offering sets it apart on a street already crowded with bars. “We’re not striving to be a craft beer bar — Krug Park and Jake’s do that. Our unique play is clearly the rooftop. It’s a place to kick back and be part of the outdoors. There’s no space like it in Benson.” 

And, Joe said, there’s no place like Benson anywhere in Omaha. “What makes Benson unique is that it’s a whole bunch of independent business owners, in contrast to the big dollars that went into Midtown Crossing or Aksarben Village,” he said. “As a result, Benson has a strong community. It’s a unique mix of entities coming together. It’s a neighborhood.”

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 08:24 am
on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

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