Andrew Rannells Goes Home Again
After two decades in New York, the Tony Award nominee plays tourist in his hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
I’m guessing you may not be looking into direct flights to Omaha, Nebraska. I get it. It might not be at the top of your list of travel destinations. But being from Omaha and still having my entire family reside there, I am very much looking for direct flights to visit for holidays or birthdays or when I’m really hankering for a good steak. Luckily for me, United has a direct flight from New York to Omaha, and I have flown it many times. Countless times, in fact, although I could probably just start adding up holidays and my mother’s birthdays and get you a rough estimate, if you really want.
I moved from Omaha when I was 19. I wanted to flee the Midwest and make a home for myself in the Big Apple. And I did. I love New York. But in the past several years, I’ve found a newfound love and respect for Omaha. They’ve got a lot going on there! New neighborhoods and restaurants and bars— places that simply didn’t exist when I lived there—are now thriving. Look, I’m not working for the tourism board. I like that we’re under the radar and that we’re often considered a “flyover state.” You just want to fly over? More steak for me! But if you are inclined to visit, I’m more than happy to share some of my favorite spots with you.
Usually when I’m home, my family takes up the majority of my time. Dinners, soccer games, movie nights—the usual family-visit activities. But the last time I was home, I decided I wanted to see my hometown as a tourist. I was going to discover some new haunts in my old neighborhood.
I started blocks away from where I grew up, in the Hanscom Park area, at Vis Major, a fun microbrewery started by a cool husband-and-wife duo, Tom and Lindsey Clements, who created a much-needed local hang. (When I was a kid, the building was a convenience store that sold the oldest, dustiest candy in the world.) On any given day, they’ve got 12 beers on tap—a Belgian saison, an apricot ale, a New England IPA. I recommend ... all of them.
Next I headed to The Red Lion Lounge, in the Blackstone District. This was not a thriving neighborhood when I lived in Omaha, but now it’s bustling with all sorts of hip places. (Is it still hip to say hip?) It turns out the Red Lion was a jazz club in the late ’50s—Duke Ellington played there—but it shut down in 1962. It was resurrected in 2017, and now it has a dimly lit speakeasy vibe and serves a damn good Manhattan.
After exploring some new spots, I decided it was time for some old standbys, so I swung by M’s Pub, in The Old Market. My first acting teacher, Pam Carter, took me here in the mid-’90s, and I thought it was the most sophisticated place I had ever been. (It’s one of my mom’s favorite spots too; she’s got great taste.) It suffered a devastating fire a couple of years back, but I’m pleased to say it’s back up and running and better than ever. The bar is perfect for people watching—and snacking on popper dip.
At this point, I needed more than snacks; I needed a meal, and I knew just where to go: Johnny’s Café, a steakhouse in South Omaha. I think I’ve mentioned steak twice already. I love steak (that’s four times), and this place is my favorite for a traditional steak dinner, with all the sides and extras. It’s a real throwback spot, with red leather booths, stockyard-inspired murals, and a great bar that serves Grasshoppers and Pink Squirrels. If you’re never had a Pink Squirrel, you are missing out, my friends.
Once I’d gotten my red-meat fix, I had the gumption to hit one more spot, so I trekked out to the Twisted Vine in Papillion, a southwest suburb. The Twisted Vine is a cozy wine bar that also has a killer list of local beers, not to mention live music and works from local artists for sale. It’s definitely worth the trip. (We’re friends now, so I should be honest: It’s owned by my brother, Dan, and sister-in-law, Kate. But even if they didn’t own it, I would still totally hang out there.)
Are you getting the sense that all I do is eat and drink while I am home? Well, that’s basically true. But I also love going to the Henry Doorly Zoo (one of the best zoos in the world), the Durham Museum (great exhibit on the history of the railroad), and the Joslyn Art Museum (small but dense).
I’m proud of my hometown, and I’m happy to share these spots with you. Who knows? Maybe one day you won’t just be flying over, and you can take some time to check it out. Make sure you tell my brother hello for me.
Andrew Rannells stars in the new Showtime comedy Black Monday. His memoir, Too Much Is Not Enough, is out now.