Winter Is ComingDec 02, 2013 09:00AM ● By Chris Wolfgang
“At lunch, he was downing the margaritas,” Kim recalls. “I was like, what is going on?” The nerves didn’t go away. It took several laps around the crowded rink and Kim wanting to stop due to bruised ankles from the skates before Matt coaxed her to the center of the ice. With their friends surrounding them, he got down on one knee and said, “I couldn’t think of a better place to do this than on our eight-year anniversary with people who love us.” Laughing, Kim asked a couple times if he was serious, then answered, “Yeah, okay!”
Of course, it’s not strictly necessary to be prepared with that level of commitment before enjoying the ConAgra Foods Ice Skating Rink, and you don’t have to plan for three years. As of Sat., Dec. 14, all that’s really required is a five-dollar bill for admission and skates, because who has those? On the weekends, night owls and lovebirds alike can skate till midnight. Wear an elf hat and feel good about yourself, because 100 percent of proceeds go to Food Bank for the Heartland. The donations translated into 1.3 million meals last year, according to event manager Vic Gutman of Vic Gutman & Associates.
Still, the rink’s varying hours can get a little tricky to keep in mind. If you just want to soak up some holiday cheer already, Downtown’s Holiday Lights Festival is in full swing from Thanksgiving evening until about a week after the New Year. What that means in English is the trees along the Gene Leahy Mall are lit by more than a million fairy lights every night. As are six blocks of 24th Street in North Omaha. And six blocks of 24th Street in South Omaha. Soak up even more nostalgia and stop by the Mall around 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Choral groups, ranging from youth to professional, will regale passersby with holiday tunes for an hour.
But sometimes standing around admiring sparkling lights isn’t that appealing because, you know, winter. It’s cold. Get thee to Beer Corner USA on 36th and Farnam streets for Holiday Beerfest. This is a one-time deal on Sat., Dec. 7, and it’s from 1–5 p.m. (drinking in the afternoon? Psh, it’s the holidays. Also, good prep for long-planned proposals, apparently). The seasonal-brew-sampling fest has been going on for the past seven years, so get your tickets early ($22 in advance, $27 at the door) and drink your way through 100 or so winter brews and three separate bars: Crescent Moon, Huber-Haus, and Max and Joe’s. “Winter beers,” explains Michael Perdue, manager of the attached bottle shop, Beertopia, “are darker, use more roasted malt, and there might be some spice as well—cinnamon, cardamom. We’ll have a lot of porters, stouts, some strong English ales, too.”
What is beer without a little snack? The Old Market Candy Shop officially has its annual offering of pumpkin pie fudge. Owner Jeff Jorgensen promises that egg nog fudge is not far behind. Sometimes they have ribbon candy too, but don’t hold your breath. It may or may not be available when you go. Of course, right next door to the Candy Shop is Downtown’s permanent homage to Christmas, Tannenbaum Christmas Shop, also owned by Jorgensen.
Consider working off the chocolate with an amble along Farnam Street near 33rd. The shop windows at Midtown Crossing are decorated once again for Miracle on Farnam, a series of intricate holiday displays. More than 20 sponsors have designed these nostalgia-inducing, shadow-box-like tableaus. The windows housing animated pieces in particular call to mind postcards of old-fashioned toy shop windows decked out for the season.
It makes for quite a romantic stroll in the evening, by the way. No ice skates required. And let’s be real, you don’t want to be that guy who stole someone else’s proposal technique anyway.