All Good Bars Go to Heaven


After more than 50 years on Leavenworth Street, Bud Olson’s Bar has closed its doors for good. The Olson family, who has been synonymous with Omaha’s bar history for 70-plus years, said “last call” for the last time on Halloween night.
“I felt like this was just the right time,” said Kerry Olson, current owner and granddaughter of the original owner, Marvin “Bud” Olson. “It’s a lot of work to run a bar,” she said. “We have had a lot of good people come in and out of our doors. We’ve had a good run.”
Bud Olson’s was one of Omaha’s oldest, and greatest, dive bars. Some could even argue it reigned supreme over all dive bars.
“We have been your average neighborhood dive bar since our beginning with our regulars being salt of the earth kind of people,” Olson said. “Our tagline is, ‘Where good friends meet.’”
For those who never made it to Bud Olson’s, let me give you a quick visual image. The bar was right on the busy street of Leavenworth, which doesn’t allow parking, so guests had to park in the back off the alley. A three-wall mural portraying George Seurat’s famous pointillist work “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” lined the back entrance. FYI, it was painted by an Olson family member and is quite spot on.
The open-ended room led to a 50-foot-long space, which included the bar. The décor was a mishmash of college football and St. Louis Cardinals baseball memorabilia. (Apologies, fellow Cubs fans.) Throw in some random collectibles and an ancient-looking statue of St. Patrick, and you had yourself a uniquely fitted dive bar.
Besides the random bar accessories, which added to the divey feel, the prices were so economical that if Warren Buffet looked at drinking as an investment, he would have considered Bud Olson’s.
PBR draws and Hamm’s cans were $1.25 every day, all day long. The most expensive beer on the Bud Olson’s menu: a glass of Guinness for a whopping $5. I’m telling you, Bud Olson’s was breaking the bank!
Back in its heyday, Bud Olson’s gave out free food on Husker game days and was a major destination for St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
“We would serve corned beef and cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day, and it was one of our busiest days of the year; it was always packed,” Olson said. “Besides on special occasion days and or if there was a big party coming in to celebrate a special event, Bud’s is mostly a place where you come sit down, have cheap drinks. Strong drinks are served … It’s part of our Bud Olson heritage.”
With that heritage, Bud Olson’s Bar can trace its ancestral bar line to Carville’s, which was owned by Kerry Olson’s great-grandfather, and before that to Smitty’s bar, which was also owned by the Olson family. It wasn’t until the late 70s that Kerry Olson’s grandfather, Bud Olson, moved the bar to its final location on 3207 Leavenworth. Kerry Olson’s father, Tom, took over and ran it in the 80s. Two years ago, Kerry Olson stepped in to help take over the bar from her father.
“I ultimately came to the decision to sell the bar for my dad and his livelihood,” Olson said. “My dad got to a point in his life where it was too hard on him to run Bud Olson’s anymore.”
Although Halloween night may have been the last time the Olson family poured a drink for customers, the establishment’s future is still up in the air. “I have a couple of offers and possibly some people that might be interested in continuing the Bud Olson legacy,” Olson said. “But nothing is quite set in stone yet.”
One thing is certain though, Bud Olson’s Bar was a destination for many Omahans and a staple in the bar community. “When I was growing up, and before I even worked at the bar, I always joked I was the legacy of Bud Olson’s,” Olson said. “Then, come to fruition, it turned out I ended up owning a bar.”
Some Olson family members who at one time worked in the bar and now live out of town planned to stop by on Halloween for one last beer with family and friends. Olson was looking forward to the reunion. “It will be good to see everyone and be together to bid farewell to this staple and legacy that has been our family,” Olson said. “I want to thank the patrons, the Leavenworth Neighborhood Association for all the memories.”
Bottom’s Up: Bud Olson’s did not just fit the definition of a dive bar that serves cheap drinks. It stayed true to something much deeper: It was where good friends met.


Category: The Buzz, Top Story

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