The Reverb Lounge was hopping Sunday night. The evening marked the grand opening of Benson’s newest bar and music venue, owned and operated by the fine folks behind One Percent Productions, arguably the most important music promotion company in our fair city for more than a decade.
After bracing my way though sidewalk smokers and being carded (I could tell by the stern look on the bespeckled door lady’s face that she thought I was a cop), I strolled through the glass door of 6121 Military Ave to a party in progress. It was a cacophony of laughter and noise and good times, a merry blend of middle-aged music fans, bearded hipsters, grungy garage rockers and Benson regulars, each holding a glass of something in their paws. Pints of beer. Tumblers of light brown bourbon and ice. Ceramic tiki mugs with green sprigs peeking over the rims.
There was no place to sit — every plush leather half-booth already was loaded with revelers leaning back in the shiny upholstered cushions or leaning forward on small round tables crowded with half-empty drinks. There is a subtle elegance to their surroundings — exposed brick meets poured concrete floors that surround a darkly stained natural wood horseshoe bar still new and unblemished, just like the rest of the bar, for now.
The room glowed warm by the Mid Century-designed overhead lamps casting light through pinholes on vintage electric guitars hung framed over the booths like captured wildlife.
Just a few feet away, through a metal sound door, was Reverb’s hidden jewel — an entirely separate room designed for one thing only — to host concerts. Walking inside is like walking into a sound stage, albeit a tiny one. It is, in essence, a gray box with a stage raised about four feet off the ground built into the wall.
With its poured concrete floors, gray paint, no windows and exposed ceiling, the room is austere. The only decoration — a series of black-and-white concert photos that line the walls at eye level, further accentuating the high ceiling. Then there is the stage itself — small, back-curtained with LED spotlight racks mounted on the ceiling in front of and behind the band. Simple. The room’s only outcrop is the sound board in the back directly facing the stage.
There you have Reverb in a nutshell — a classy Mid-Century-designed lounge that serves a variety of specialized drinks (concocted by Reverb manager Allie Schrader) combined with a state-of-the-art concert venue.
“It’s my dream bar,” said Reverb proprietor and mastermind Jim Johnson, who opened the place with partner Marc Leibowitz. “It fills a niche that needed filling.”
Johnson and Leibowitz have owned the building that houses Reverb since 2008, along with rest of the block. The space was formerly occupied by a heating and cooling shop and ad hoc recording studio. After the tenant moved out, Johnson began remodeling the building only this past July.
The duo already own two bars along Maple Street. The Waiting Room is one of the city’s premiere concert spaces, with a massive stage, sound system and room for well over 400. Across the street is Krug Park, an intimate lounge specializing in craft beers that would fit right in on the streets of Soho.
So why open another bar?
“We needed a place to do small shows that looked really stupid in The Waiting Room,” Johnson said, explaining how that club looks empty during concerts that draw only 50 people. “I love singer/songwriter and alt-country acts. I want to book that stuff along with up-and-coming indie rock shows and local acts that don’t draw enough to fill The Waiting Room.”
So is Reverb primarily a day-to-day bar with a music room or a rock bar with a lounge? “I want it to be a day-to-day bar with a great music room,” Johnson said. “It’s a place people can hang out and have a good time whether we’re hosting an event or not. It’s different than any other bar in Omaha.”
Though the lounge hosted a quiet opening a few days earlier, where local band John Klemmensen and the Party kicked the tires, Sunday night was the stage’s real debut featuring seminal ’90s band Sebadoh. A crowd of 115 comfortably filled the concert space for what ended up being a bumpy ride, as technical problems marred the performances. Afterward, Johnson chocked it up as a learning experience.
“We’re still figuring out how to use this sound system, and it’s a hard room to mix,” he said. “We’re making some adjustments.” As Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow said that night from stage, give it time, it’s going to be a great venue.
I foresee that I’ll be spending a lot of time at Reverb. The club is yet another jewel in Benson’s string of first-class bars and music venues, and another step forward in an area revitalization that began when The Waiting Room opened in 2007.
“We’re invested in the area,” Johnson said of Benson. “We like it or we wouldn’t do stuff up there. We’ve made it our home.”
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at email@example.com.