The Rusty Nail Pub, 14201 Pierce Plaza, occupies a weird no-man’s land in terms of how you might define it.
It is in a strip mall, it has been open for more than 30 years, and its name certainly sounds like the name of a hole-in-the-wall — all attributes of a dive bar.
But it has stone interior walls, big, semi-private booths and a very fancy outdoor smokers lounge. It feels a bit like western bar-meets-English pub.
It’s been both a dive and a nicer restaurant, said Bob Cox, who owns the bar with his wife, Teri.
When the bar opened in 1981, it was widely known for its prime rib and barbecue, Cox said. Customers have told him they remember lines a block long for the bar’s weekend specials.
Over the years, though, The Rusty Nail lost its luster.
The vinyl on the booths ripped. Lightbulbs in the hallway leading to the women’s restroom burned out and never were replaced. The smell of grease hung in the air and the restaurant slowly became very, very dirty. On the Omaha bar-rating website Hit That Dive, it scored a one — the worst score in the website’s history.
In 2010, the business came up for sale, and Cox bought it.
It was an easy decision, he said. Cox, a chiropractor, already owned the building. His office is next door. For years, he had stopped at the Rusty Nail occasionally for an after-work drink.
“My opinion was Omaha didn’t need more office space, but we needed a good neighborhood bar,” he said.
The Rusty Nail had potential, he said, but it had a long way to go.
So Cox closed the space for 10 days in October 2010 to renovate, replacing the torn vinyl and carpets, refinishing the woodwork, renovating the restrooms (and replacing the bulbs), adding flat-screen televisions (when I was there on a Monday not long ago, a medium-sized crowd was attentively watching football) and repainting throughout. The bar also boasts the aforementioned enclosed smokers lounge and a beer garden.
Cox hired a good cook and helps out in the kitchen. This winter, he plans to fire up a barbecue cooker “the size of a Suburban” that came with the place. He guesses it hasn’t been used in 20 years.
In the past two years, business has grown more than 200 percent, Cox said. And regulars who gave up on the place years ago have returned.
“The neatest thing about it is to see these people coming back and reminiscing,” he said.
The Rusty Nail Pub is open every day from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., except for Saturdays when it opens at 1 p.m. (or earlier if the Huskers kick off early that day). More information at www.rustynailomaha.com
Have you written something on the bathroom chalkboards at Jake’s Cigars and Spirits this summer? If so, there’s a good chance your (likely drunken) musings have been preserved — and will be on display Friday at the bar, 6202 Maple St.
For the past three months, the staff at Jake’s has photographed the bathroom wall writings, and they’ll be shown Friday night as part of the Benson First Friday Art Walk. And if you get there between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., tap beers are $1 off.
Also, Friday night, Argus Bar & Grill, 10909 M. St., will play only local hip-hop music during an event called O.Ne Love for Omaha.
Harold Monday, co-owner of event sponsor Hard Knocks Productions, said 12 artists will perform one live song each. For the remainder of the night, DJs will play music by more than 40 Omaha artists.
The event begins at 9 p.m., and cover is $3 for musicians and producers and $5 for the general public.