What I love most about Nebraska is that you can drive for 20 minutes in any given direction and you’ll be in another town. Chances are, it will be a small town. A small town with a small town bar.
If you’re fortunate enough to know about these hidden gems, you’ll be rewarded with delicious food and cheap beer.
Near Lincoln, there are a few favorites. You’ve got your Denton Daily Double, Outlaw Steakhouse in Garland, Round the Bend in Ashland, I’m sure I’m missing a few.
The point is, all these places are great in their own way. But my favorite so far is Lou and Mary Anne’s Bar in Bee. How many of you have been there before?
For those of you who haven’t been, let me set the scene. Bee is a small town about 15 minutes north of Seward. In fact, I’m not sure it would qualify as a town, the village of Bee may be more fitting.
It’s one of those places where you can legally park in the middle of the street. The bar is right across the street from the Post Office. As you walk in to Lou and Mary Anne’s, you might have to stand and wait around for a table to open up especially on a Friday night.You’ll see the orange shag carpet on the walls. You’ll see the wait staff carrying 6 or 7 paper plates stacked on top of each other to feed the eager patrons. Just don’t spend too much time looking up at the ceiling or the floor.
The Friday night special is cod. Every Friday. Not just during Lent. Lou will tell you he caught it himself earlier that day. If you didn’t know any better, you might be inclined to believe him.
Their fish is flavorful, tender, it’s fried just right. Lou told me it’s fried in nonfat oil, which could be one of the reasons why it tastes so good and light. The fish plate comes with 3 or 4 pieces of cod, a handful of fries, coleslaw, and a piece of toast. All that for $8. And if you want a beer, it’s $2. It’s absolutely worth the drive. It’s worth the hour-and-a half wait. My fiancee and I went a couple of weeks ago. We sat up at the bar, because finding a seat for 2 people was impossible. We had a front row seat.
This is a place where sitting with strangers is encouraged. This is a place where if you’re sitting up at the bar, Lou will hand you a beer even if you didn’t ask for it. You just say thank you and you drink it.
Lou is 87 years old, I had the opportunity to talk to him while we sat up at the bar and
enjoyed the atmosphere. It’s fun to watch Lou greet patrons like they’ve known each other for decades. Well, to be honest, that is probably the case.
Lou told me about the history of his bar. You would think Fridays during Lent would be the busiest time for them, but it’s not. He said that Friday nights outside of Lent are even busier.They used to serve more people. People who would be there 2 or 3 nights a week, he said. As those people grew older, they stopped coming.
“I used to make good money doing this,” he said. “I’m still making money, not as much, but that doesn’t matter. Making money isn’t the most important thing.”
His wife, Mary Anne, sat at the table closest to the bar. She has difficulty getting around. But Lou is just as spry and witty as he ever was. His grandson helps him behind the bar, his daughters are the waitresses. It’s the definition of a family business.
I do have one cautionary tale. While we were sitting at the bar, a woman from Lincoln came in to place a to-go order. At this point in the night, orders were taking 30-40 minutes. When she placed her order, Lou’s grandson told her how long it would be. She said, I’ll come back and pick it up. Not sure what there is to do in Bee, Nebraska for 40 minutes, but sure enough she came back. Although, by the time she got home I bet she was disappointed. Unless you’re going to be home in 10-15 minutes, I highly suggest hanging around the bar and eating there. Otherwise, you lose all that flavor and charm.
So, if you’re looking for a change of pace tonight or another Friday night, if you’re wanting to have a new experience at a small town bar, you have to check out Lou and Mary Anne’s.
Make sure to say hi to Lou when you get there, he’ll be glad to see you.