Back when Omaha was still brand new, an idea fostered over a game of cards evolved into one of the longest running clubs in local history. Boasting some of the best journalists in the country as members, the Omaha Press Club has been dedicated to promoting and celebrating the world of local media for over 45 years.
History proved to test the strength of this idea for a writer’s haven, as events like Prohibition and World War II changed priorities for men nationwide. In 1937, The Omaha World Herald was the sole source of daily news for most of Omaha. As the war raged on in Europe and tore at the fabric in American society, it was an exciting time to be a journalist. Local writers in Omaha began to think more seriously about creating a place for collaboration.
In the beginning
Founded in 1955, the Omaha Press Club was a place where the local media members could connect. During this colorful time in American history, the Omaha Press Club was to serve as a place of serious discussion and journalistic excellence. A scholarship fund was begun in 1957 with just $50, and has since grown large enough to provide funds for many up and coming local journalists. Awards and honors are a big way the Omaha Press Club recognizes the work of local media members.
One of the ways the Press Club has withstood the economic ups and downs over the last 45 years is through accessible rates. Low membership fees and impressive perks keep the Omaha Press Club healthy and vibrant. “When the economy crashed, rooftop restaurants were the first to close before the private clubs,” said Steve Villamonte, Executive Director and Chef of the Omaha Press Club. “There used to be four rooftop restaurants in downtown Omaha, now we are the only one left.” Press Club members not only find themselves amongst the greatest professionals in the media; they also have a world-class menu at their fingertips.
“The way the restaurant came to be is actually a funny story,” said Villamonte. “Back in the 50s and 60s, the Press Club used to gather in one of the members backyard, which happened to have an old caboose. The members would meet inside the train car, and it had a keg. Each member held a key and they all kept it stocked.” After moving for a while to various places, a permanent meeting place was established thanks to the connection of one of the members. “This guy happened to know the builder at the First National Building,” said Villamonte. “This member asked for a restaurant to be put in the plan, and the builder said ‘You bring me 1000 members, and I will build it.’ In an effort led by John Godfrey, they came up with the number, and the restaurant was built in 1971.”
Today, the Omaha Press Club hosts a number of events, including noon forums, professional development seminars, and the popular Face on the Barroom Floor dinner. Perched atop the First National building, the Omaha Press Club offers spectacular views as well as cuisine for its members.
Executive Chef Villamonte has over 48 years in the restaurant business, and believes the classics should be given just as much attention as innovative dishes. “We are known for four dishes: the Thunderbird salad, our French Onion soup, the Reuben, and Prime Rib,” said Villamonte. “These items will stay on our menu for the next 20 years.” Facing stiff competition from local restaurants, the Press Club kitchen has stayed competitive by boasting incredible meals along with one of a kind ambiance. “Back in the day, private clubs always had the best chefs because they were the only places that could afford them,” said Villamonte. “Now, we have to compete with many different places. We focus on the things we do well, and they work. The ambiance is unbeatable.”
The best view in town
Knee to ceiling windows offer stunning views of downtown Omaha from all sides. Warm, rich colors keep the dining room cozy, and a fireplace is lit from late fall till spring. “The Press Club is a great place for events, particularly weddings,” said Villamonte. “One great perk of membership is we don’t charge a rental fee for the space (though non-members do pay a fee).”
When you walk into the Omaha Press Club, you are stepping into legendary footprints. An incredible kitchen, one of a kind service, and exciting events make it easy to see why the Omaha Press Club has only grown stronger over the years. With the inspiration from the men and women lining the Press Club walls, it serves as a reminder that it is still an exciting time to be a journalist in Omaha.
The Omaha Press Club
1620 Dodge St. #2200
Omaha, NE 68102