Last week, some friends and I went on a biking trip through north-central Nebraska.
We hauled our clothes, our food, our tents, sleeping bags and even a small propane cook stove on our bikes. My brother carefully plotted the route, reserved camping spots, made contingency plans and called several organizational meetings. I practiced riding my bike loaded down with homemade kitty litter bucket saddlebags (we called our trip the Tidy Cat Express) before we embarked on what was to be a 200-mile-plus ride.
And then the week we picked for the trip turned out to be record-breakingly hot.
So we modified our plans.
Basically, this involved swimming in every small-town swimming pool we encountered and visiting as many air-conditioned businesses (read: bars) as possible. (It also involved not bothering to ride on what was to be the last and longest day, but hey. Sometimes you have to be flexible).
Below are two of the best bars we visited, definitely worthy of stops if you find yourself en route to north-central Nebraska for any reason:
Monowi Tavern, Monowi, Neb.: Elsie Eiler is the sole resident of Monowi, way up north in Boyd County. She's the mayor, keeper of the community's 5,000-volume library and owner and bartender at the Monowi Tavern, which is sort of a combination small-town bar and grandma's house. Family photos and house plants are mixed in among beer signs and commemorative koozies and T-shirts for sale. When our group reached the tavern late in the morning on a day when temperatures eventually reached triple-digits, we were glad to see the jars of sun tea on the bar's back stoop and frozen Snickers bars in the cooler.
The Phoenix Lounge, Spencer, Neb.: The same day we stopped in Monowi, we stopped in Lynch for lunch. We didn't visit a bar there, but we did happen upon a fantastic lunch place operated out of a gas station along the highway. The place was packed and our plates of Polish sausage, sauerkraut, homemade mashed potatoes and brownies a la mode were some of the best food we had the whole trip. So when a man who claimed to be a regular at the Lynch cafe leaned over to our table and told us we really had to check out the Phoenix Lounge in Spencer, we trusted his opinion.
The Phoenix Lounge is basically two bars in one. Half of the space is art deco-themed, and booths and tables are decorated with vases of flowers. The other half, “The Man Cave,” is filled with taxidermy, arcade games, a pool table, a shuffleboard table and an enormous attached outdoor smoking lounge. We made friends with some regulars, drank cans of PBR that we bought by the bucket and devoured gigantic plates of delicious bar food, including the largest meatloaf sandwich I have ever seen.
Fun-Plex, 7003 Q St., is no longer offering Park After Dark, when the park was open to those 21 and older on weeknights from 8:30 p.m. to midnight, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 8:30 to 1 a.m.
Fun-Plex owner Dwight Anderson said that noise complaints, combined with difficulties finding staff willing to work so late, spurred the decision to discontinue the nightly event, which also featured live music and DJs. The decision was announced Tuesday on the Fun-Plex Facebook page, and prompted more than 100 comments, mostly from disappointed Park After Dark patrons.
Anderson said he was looking at ways to make the event more sustainable, such as offering Park After Dark just a few nights a week or reducing its hours.
“Hopefully we can figure out a better way to restructure this,” he said.