Ryan knew he had familial ties to Nebraska, he just didn’t realize how deep. When we returned from a recent trip to Grand Island and Kearney, we discovered that Ryan’s great-grandparents had come from Germany to farm outside of Omaha. Eventually, Ryan’s grandma married his grandfather who was also from Nebraska and they moved to Oregon, eventually settling in Colorado.
It’s not a rare story. During our trip, we ran into many Nebraskans with close ties to Colorado, especially Northern Colorado which probably explains why the last RUNZA restaurant in the state is located in Loveland.
We were in Nebraska to see the Sandhill Cranes. I had won a Crane Trust getaway to the area while attending a media event at the Denver Press Club, and I was super excited. After all, I am a bit of a bird nerd and seeing the cranes in Nebraska was on my birding bucket list.
It turns out that Nebraska has a lot to offer beyond Sandhill Cranes and we were determined to discover as much as possible during our two days in Grand Island.
We stayed at the Quality Inn, just a stone’s throw from downtown and only a couple of minutes to the Crane Trust. I wrote about the Crane Trust experience immediately after we returned. The cranes come through starting in late February and migrate farther north at the beginning of April, and this is an experience that any nature lover will want to have during their lifetime.
Eating & Drinking our way through Grand Island, Nebraska
I was overjoyed to discover that Grand Island is home to three breweries and they are all within easy walking distance of one another. As soon as we arrived in town, we went to Prairie Pride Brewing, located in an old feed and grain. Their beer was recommended to us by a Colorado brewer who grew up near Grand Island.
I had a well-balanced red ale. The most Colorado-feeling brewery of the bunch, we enjoyed this place a lot and would definitely go back.
Thunderhead Brewing serves beer at the Chicken Coop, around the corner from Prairie Pride, but we decided to wait and go to Thunderhead in Kearney. We walked the length of downtown Grand Island taking in the historic buildings as we went.
It appears as though Grand Island is undergoing a renaissance of sorts because many of the downtown buildings are undergoing renovations. We discovered our hypothesis was true when we ran into a local the next day. She informed us that Grand Island has indeed been experiencing a revitalization and even drawing young people back to the community.
We ducked into McKinney’s Irish Pub, which feels like it’s been here forever but is only a couple of years old. It’s definitely a local watering hole and a local kids’ baseball team was running a fundraiser: donate and get a free drink. Of course, we donated before bellying up to the bar.
Apparently, on Thursdays, the bars in town run a Facebook competition involving mixed drinks. Locals do a bar crawl and then vote for their favorite. McKinney’s had created Dumplings in the Sand in honor of the Sandhill Cranes. It was a little too sweet a drink for me but a feather was the perfect touch.
We dined at Kinkaider, a downtown brewery that’s known for their delicious food. It has a Western movie set feel with lots of turned wood and balcony dining. One can almost see the dancing girls and hear the player piano. The mac ‘n’ cheese with burnt tips is one of the best bites we had in Nebraska.
The next morning we opted for breakfast at Tommy’s Family Restaurant. You can’t miss the place; it’s located along Locust Street and there’s a huge rooster out front. Our diner breakfast was delicious and affordable. The latter is getting harder and harder to find in Colorado.
After breakfast, we stopped at Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. The main building looks straight out of Eisenhower’s decade, complete with a moat. The rotating exhibit during our visit was Wings over the Platte featuring the work of Jorn Olsen. We were entranced by his work. It displays haunting landscapes as well as bright green vistas depicting Nebraska’s rivers and prairies.
The museum also houses a large historical exhibit that does not rotate. It’s an interesting and organized look at the early days in Nebraska. I enjoyed it and appreciated the concise layout. The phone operator exhibit reminded me of Lily Tomlin’s bit on “Laugh-In.” My Aunt Mary can do a perfect impression. It was determined on this day that I cannot.
We also toured The Fonner Rotunda, a collection of Native American and Old West memorabilia. To me, the most impressive part of the collection is the many different spurs on display.
Lastly, we walked through the Railroad Town which was like a ghost town during our visit because Living History programs do not start until the summer. I’d love to come back when the area is filled with re-enactors recreating the heyday of a pioneer community.
Proving Stereotypes Right
There’s a stereotype that Nebraskans are nice and it’s true. Nebraskans are super nice and not just the people expected to be friendly like bartenders and hotel receptionists.
At the Coney Island Lunchroom, a tradition in Grand Island since 1933, we sat next to Kelli Lepler of Mayhew Signs. Kelli is one of the nicest people I’ve run into during my travels and a great advocate for her town. Every town should have a Kelli.
Coney Island Lunchroom will take you back a few decades. Ryan and I filled up on coney dogs and shared a malt at the counter. “The Grand Island Independent,” wrote a wonderful article about this place and I am linking here so that you can read the entire story.
It’s ideal to wrap up this post about Grand Island at Coney Island Lunchroom. Grand Island is a place where history is all around, but so are modern additions like breweries. In fact, there’s a construction project happening next door to the lunchroom.
A new ad for Nebraska states their state isn’t for everyone, and that’s true. If you want raging nightlife and crowds of people, this isn’t the place for you. However, if you’d like to experience a genuine slice of Americana, Nebraska is the place to go. We found Americana and more in Grand Island.
Next up: Kearney, Nebraska