Cars speed up and down 13th Street as the lights from surrounding businesses flash neon colors. Behind a brick wall and metal door on the main strip, something unknown awaits. On Saturday, July 17, curious Omahans finally got to crack it open and see what lay hidden behind the brick façade.
“What we wanted to do the entire time was bring people in here, because everybody’s always wondering what was behind that wall,” owner Jeff Pappas said.
The Bohemian Gardens is a new event venue located at 1424 S. 13th Street. The 5,000-square-foot space consists of a main house and a guest house that can sleep more than 15 people, with a deck and lush courtyard in between. On July 17th, from 6-10 p.m., the event space hosted an open house to showcase the completed grounds and provide space for community building, presenting a variety of pop-up shops from neighborhood businesses such as NOA Brides, Scout Dry Goods & Trade, and Nice Rollz. Guests wandered through the decorated bedrooms and common areas of the houses and mingled in the courtyard under cafe lights.
While The Bohemian Gardens is new, the property itself dates back to 1895, starting as a Czechoslovakian dance hall and transitioning to restaurant and personal home. Pappas purchased the property on March 15, 2021 and spent two months completing minor touch ups of the buildings and manicuring the gardens. However, Pappas’ turnaround was quick, as his first visitors were a group of Olympic Swim Trial employees that arrived May 14. The open house was The Bohemian Gardens’ first event. As Pappas flitted around to various groups of attendees and shop owners, it felt like the dream he’d had for the space was being realized.
“The people here are incredible. The synergy of this neighborhood is insane. …There’s this standard down here, like everything’s top shelf, and we want to be a part of that,” Pappas said.
Recent developments and new store fronts continue to fill the growing Little Bohemia business district along 13th Street. Though attendees say the area has maintained a charm that sets it apart from other popular Omaha districts such as Blackstone and Benson. The laid back energy of the neighborhood impressed open house attendees Beth Samson and Nick Baker, who now look forward to returning to Little Bohemia for nights out with friends as pandemic restrictions fade.
“Everything feels like it’s coming up kind of naturally, like it’s not being forced, like they’re kind of figuring out what this neighborhood looks like,” Samson said. “And I feel like everything that’s added is kind of a cool new thing that feels like it’s helping to diversify what’s offered, what’s available in the neighborhood.”
Social media plays an important role in the growth and business community of the area. Samson and Baker first heard about the open house through accounts of neighborhood businesses promoting the event. Similarly, a group of soon-to-be high school seniors from Council Bluffs trekked across the Missouri River after hearing about the open house through New Wave Clothing, a store they discovered on Instagram. Maddy Nuzum, mentioned the immense photo opportunities in the historic neighborhood, calling it a “hidden gem”.
The open house also showcased the collaborative and supportive nature of the 13th Street business community. Kelli Bello is the owner and curator of Spearmint Vintage, a retro clothing shop that sells online and in different shops around Omaha, notably at the NOA Brides’ storefront on 1419 S. 13th Street. Bello sees The Bohemian Gardens as an opportunity for more business to stay within the neighborhood.
“Say you buy your dress from NOA Brides, you have your reception here, maybe grab drinks at Tiny House [Bar], then you have coffee at Archetype in the morning,” Bello said. “It feels like a home base for a fantastic, memory-making weekend.”
Yet, there are concerns for respecting the historical significance and residents of the Little Bohemia neighborhood. Stephanie Finklea is a grower for the Omaha Sunflower Cooperative, an organization focused on feeding and empowering their local community with “pay what you can” plant pop ups.
“I have mixed feelings about it. It’s very fun and trendy and cool. I am concerned about the people already living in the neighborhood space,” Finklea said. “But I do think that the Bohemian Gardens team has made an effort to make it a neighborhood space. …[property manager] Kristina [Lee] is intentional about building community.”
While the sun dipped behind the trees, the magic of The Bohemian Gardens lingered as Omahans were able to appreciate the hidden beauty behind the brick wall. For some, The Bohemian Gardens represents what greater, meaningful enhancement looks like for Omaha as a whole.
“I think this area, and Omaha in general, it’s been a total transformation from the ‘90s til now,” Baker said. “When you have people like at the College World Series, where fans from other states come up to you and say ‘We genuinely like Omaha’ and you look around, it’s something to be proud of.”
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