People in Nebraska pride themselves on being “Nebraska Nice,” and from the welcoming treatment I received in Lincoln, I certainly felt like I was amongst friends. Lincoln may be known for its historic and award-winning collegiate football team, but I’ll always remember it as the town where I had a super fun time – and the best pasta I ever tasted!
I’m a Kansan, and I have never visited Nebraska! I was overdue for a trip and was convinced when I saw that a stylish hotel called Graduate Lincoln was located downtown. To discover Lincoln, you must show up and take it all in — and we did!
The dynamic city, known as Nebraska’s capital and the home of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, completely surprised me. I mistakenly assumed I would find a cool hotel surrounded by a common college town with typical restaurants and bars. Nope! The city I experienced included hospitable people ready to lay out the red carpet. Whether someone is looking to dine on local cuisine or jam out to ’80s music while playing pinball in the Haymarket District, whatever you’re looking to do, Lincoln has it!
I chose to stay at a boutique hotel Graduate Lincoln for the vibes (and it is centrally located in the city’s historic district dotted with restaurants, bars, and retail stores). Also located close to the UNL’s campus, the hotel focuses its design and ambiance entirely around its location — all things collegiate and cool drip from every inch of the hotel’s aesthetic. Everything inside Graduate Lincoln, from the wallpaper to the bedding, is meant to be nostalgic, to remind you of your glory days as your college/younger self.
Another bonus of staying at Graduate Lincoln? They love dogs! Whatever the cost of the room, it was worth not having to board our pup, who was welcomed in all parts of the hotel from the lobby near the Top Golf Suites adjacent to their tiki bar, John J’s.
And you know I did my homework! I knew that John J’s was known for serving great food and the ultimate tiki cocktail meant to be drunk by two people (I mostly drank it – thank you very much!). So, the scene on Sunday early afternoon was set. I sipped on my rum punch to the backdrop of the local cover band Kelly Oh Brian while my dog dined at my feet on bacon provided by the waitress. Everyone was feeling delightful!
Our room was average in size but not in character. The walls were covered in historical maps, hilarious quotes, and references to the Midwest. The cabinet included a small refrigerator and a Keurig® was placed inside our bedside table, which doubled as a hollowed-out vintage TV.
Graduate Lincoln has several amenities on-site, ranging from old-school arcade games in the lobby to an indoor pool and table games. Street parking isn’t much of an option for guests, so I recommend self-parking in the neighboring garage, which costs $15/night or $17 for valet parking. (We purchased the room package that included two breakfast tickets, which totaled around $139 plus taxes.) Pro Tip: Eat breakfast at the hotel’s cafe! I was quite impressed with the quality food and the healthy options on the menu. My avocado toast was covered in layers of gorgeous farm-to-table ingredients.
DINING & DOWNTOWN ENTERTAINMENT
Short on time, we immediately asked locals which Haymarket District restaurants included dog-friendly patios and then we headed out to get a taste of the area! Our first stop led us to Lazlo’s Brewery and Grill where we relaxed on the shaded patio and drank Empyrean Ales best IPAs and seasonal favorites during their happy hour. Pro Tip: Take advantage of beer and drink discounts from 3pm-6pm. $2 off drafts, $2 off appetizers (the beer battered onion rings are to die for).
After returning our dog to the hotel room, we sought another patio to enjoy a drink before dinner. We were pleased with the expansive views and comfy rooftop setting at Barry’s Bar and Grill. Against the backdrop of country music, we people watched and drank cold, domestic beers while seated in Adirondack chairs.
As we grew hungry for dinner, we scoped at a “secret” restaurant, The Other Room, located in a cobblestone alley. Locals informed us that the eatery and craft cocktail bar is like a speakeasy and “if the light above the door is green, they’re open and open to seating guests. Otherwise, come back another time.” Unfortunately, they were not open when we checked it out, but I’ll be sure to revisit the area just to try it out next time.
Instead, we dined at Vincenzio’s Italiano Ristorante, a family-owned authentic restaurant serving Italian entrees. Pro Tip: Always ask the server, “What entree from the menu do you like to eat when not working?” Our server’s answer? “Get the Cavatappi Con Broccolo Al Forno. It’s like crack. Everyone loves it!” It was hands down the BEST pasta dish I’ve ever eaten. The dish was served dripping in cheesy, white sauce and baked with a crust of more cheese and breadcrumbs.
I highly recommend sitting on the patio and enjoying a large bowl of pasta served with warm crusty bread at Vincenzo’s. The menu is affordably priced, and the food is worth every penny.
Soon after dining, we walked the Haymarket District to Versus Arcade Bar. Open to only adults 21+, the basement arcade is stuffed to the gills with all the retro games you remember, from pinball to Frogger to ice ball. Don’t have a roll of quarters? You can buy them from the bartender, who serves up a long list of fancy cocktails and basic beers.
Pro Tip: Check the bathroom to check out the “scenery.”
Not much for the bar scene? The city has several daytime entertainment options. For football fans, there is no better place to watch the game than at the University of Nebraska. Even if you’re not a die-hard Husker fan, you should treat yourself to a self-guided tour of Memorial Stadium, and be sure to check the Game-Day Experience Room that takes fans on a multimedia tour of a Husker game day and tunnel walk. Located indoors near the trophy room, attendees can also view the kiosk to learn about former and current NFL players who were one-time Cornhuskers. Want to tour the stadium? Enter the northeast side of the stadium to enter the stadium and prepare to be amazed.
Lucky for me, it was the weekend which meant one thing…I had to hit the farmers market in the Haymarket Historic District! Wear comfy shoes and be ready to walk in all directions of the downtown area because it’s a BIG market. Local vendors sell everything from beautiful bouquets of flowers to homegrown vegetables. But leave the dog at the hotel because pets are not allowed!
Pro Tip: Park in one of the city-owned parking garages for free for the first hour or pay $1.25/hr afterward. Prefer meter parking? Expect to pay $1.25/hr enforced Monday thru Saturday, 8 am-6 pm.
Something is charming about a town that celebrates its local artists by allowing them to paint murals around the city, and Lincoln is no different.
I promise you’ll love your visit to Lincoln. And because I’m sure you’ll love the people and the city, I will leave you with the ultimate tip for any visitor.
Pro Tip: Make sure to stop at the Lincoln Visitor’s Center (7th and P Street) and ask Betty (or any one of the other amazing employees) your questions about the city. Not only will she give you insider tips, but she’ll even take your photo with the infamous bobblehead “Lincoln” before sending you on your way with brochures in hand.
Perhaps you’ve already visited Lincoln, Nebraska? Leave me your tourism tips in the comments below!