by Kurt Jacobson
For years the last place I’d expect to find a fun and trendy entertainment district would be in Nebraska. However, under the radar there has been quite a transformation of the old Haymarket and Railyard area on the edge of downtown Lincoln. There’s more to Lincoln than the Cornhuskers.
The Historic Haymarket reminds me of the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon. Both cities have taken old and tired warehouse districts and made them “The Place To Be”! In Lincoln the Pinnacle Bank Arena anchors the Historic Haymarket and is drawing young and old to eat, drink, and be merry. Big name entertainers like Billy Joel are coming to Lincoln to play this modern 15,000 seat funhouse. Before and after shows several restaurants, bars, and shops fill with both tourists and local customers looking to spend their money and have a good time.
Want an Irish pub? Yes, they have two to choose from-across the street from each other. Want a trendy, world-class wine bar? Try The Oven, an Indian restaurant rated by Wine Spectator Magazine for having the best wine list in Lincoln. Want creative doughnuts? Hurts Donut Company will hurt you as you try to choose from several tasty looking treats like Maple Bacon Me Crazy that makes you think Voodoo Donuts came to town. What you won’t find is a bunch of chain restaurants.
Although there are a couple of chains like-Buffalo Wings and Rings, or Which Wich, most of the eateries are mom and pop style, putting the emphasis on local Nebraska culture. There are healthier options also. Try Maggies or Pepe’s where excellent vegetarian dishes are served. Maggie’s most popular sandwich is the Avocado Melt with three cheeses, sunflower seeds, greens, avocado, tomato, and a tangy herb-mustard dressing wrapped in a tortilla. They will even make it vegan or swap the mustard dressing with a roasted red bell pepper dressing if you like. You will find some of the best customer service here and at other local restaurants.
New hotels are opening like the Hyatt Place, just a block from the Pinnacle Bank Arena. This upper mid-level priced hotel is staffed by friendly locals who love calling Lincoln their home. Large suite-sized rooms welcome visitors and many look out over the Railyard where there’s a party going on much of the time. When the Cornhuskers play in Memorial Stadium the Hyatt Place is booked full just like the stadium. And why not stay there? It’s just a 10-15 minute walk to the game and parking is affordable and easy. Pinnacle Bank Arena is where the men’s and women’s University of Nebraska basketball teams play home games. Other sporting and non-sporting events are held there throughout the year.
The Railyard is a popular complex of restaurants, bars, and an outdoor courtyard with a big screen TV (The Cube). On University of Nebraska Cornhusker football or basketball game days, throngs of faithful fans turn out at the Railyard to watch the The Cube and cheer their Cornhuskers on. If the weather is too harsh there’s plenty room inside the Railyard’s sports bars: Longwells, Gate 25, or Buffalo Wings and Rings. On days when there are no sports events, The Cube displays digital art for the public’s enjoyment, and sometimes movies.
Deeper into the Haymarket are shops such as From Nebraska Gift Shop, Licorice International, The Mill coffee shop, and Paint Yourself Silly to name a few. Licorice International has more licorice than most people will ever see in one place. They offer samples of nearly all types of their delicious licorice, my favorite being the Australian. At Nebraska Gift Shop find appropriate clothing to fit in at Cornhusker events, local Nebraska wine, and other tasty treats. One of my favorite new shops was The Rabbit Hole Bakery with tasty sweets and treats. Grab a slice of cake or a brownie and enjoy this Alice and Wonderland themed space where time stands still and even melts a little.
If you find yourself traveling to Lincoln in the future for business, sporting event, or just passing through be sure and visit this vibrant downtown area. With a safe environment full of good clean fun the Haymarket and surrounding area is a winner.