Rob Rutar runs Jerry's Bar at 6301 Military Ave.
He's the owner, the bartender, the guy you ask for a phone to order a sandwich (I actually saw this happen). He's also the interior decorator though it looks like the Old Style chandeliers hanging above the bar have been there forever, they're actually a fairly new addition) and DJ.
Sometimes people call him Jerry, though the Jerry of Jerry's Bar — the establishment's second and longest-standing owner — hasn't owned the place for years.
“I live for this,” said Rutar, 42. “I am never happier than when a bar is full and people are having a good time and I'm behind the bar. I'm the captain of the ship.”
Rutar bought the establishment — a north Benson fixture since the 1950s — last March, and opened, after five days of deep cleaning, just in time for St. Patrick's Day. He added 15 tap handles, expanded the selection of bottled beer, and added craft brews to the traditional domestic beers (Bud Lite, Miller High Life, etc.) that made up the majority of the beer menu prior to Rutar's acquisition.
In a short time, he said, he's begun to bridge the gap between north Benson and Benson proper, luring some of the craft beer crowd to a throwback strip-mall establishment previously frequented mostly by regulars who had been drinking there for decades.
Whatever he did seems to have worked. The bar draws steady business (it was packed on a recent Tuesday night, in part because of the tallboys on special). Hit That Dive, a website dedicated to rating the dive bars of Omaha and the surrounding area, named Jerry's Bar its Dive of the Year for 2012.
Jerry's is the first bar Rutar has owned, but it's far from the first he's worked at. When he was a kid growing up in Benson, he'd often accompany his parents to a now-defunct place called Snuffy's, where he sometimes helped the bartenders with tasks like cleaning ashtrays.
“When I was eight, I was behind the bar because it was fun,” he said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, he became a career bartender, working around Omaha for a while, then leaving for Prague, Czech Republic, where he worked in bars and visited family still living there. From there he tended bar in Croatia, then again in Prague, and then in New Orleans, at the famous Napoleon House.
In 2009, he returned to Omaha — his parents were about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, and Rutar, an only child, wanted to plan the party. He tended bar at the Havana Garage and the Leavenworth Bar, while keeping an eye out for a place to buy. Jerry's — a bar he'd visited only a handful of times, including on Sept. 11, 2001, where he watched news coverage all day — caught his eye.
“I just have always been a Benson boy,” he said.
He decorated the bar with kitschy beer stuff — the aforementioned Old Style chandeliers, a Miller High Life clock, a vintage Hamm's beer sign with an animated waterfall — taking care to keep Jerry's neighborhood bar feel while cleaning it up a little bit. It has appropriately kitschy entertainment: darts, a pinball machine, a vintage arcade game (the table kind, which used to be ubiquitous at Pizza Huts), and televisions that were tuned on a recent Monday night to “The Biggest Loser” and professional wrestling. He expanded the beer menu and lowered the prices.
“It needed a coat of paint and a shot in the arm,” he said.
And a few months after he bought it, he learned that his dad had installed the original green-and-white tile floor when he was an apprentice with a flooring company. It's still in pretty good shape.
That felt like a sign.
“Without spending a lot of time in this place I had a weird connection to it,” he said.
Jerry's Bar is open seven days a week from noon until midnight.