Raising the Bar
Jun 13, 2019 04:08PM
By Niz Proskocil
For many event-goers heading to a concert, play, or other performance downtown, Mercury is a popular pick. The cocktail lounge at the corner of 16th and Harney streets draws pre- and post-show crowds, and it hits all the right notes: top-notch drinks, a proximity to several arts and entertainment venues, and an appealing menu of dishes perfect for sharing.
It’s a comfortable and inviting place, equally suitable for relaxing at the bar with a glass of red, enjoying happy hour with friends, or noshing on late-night snacks available until 2 a.m. Guests can kick back with cocktails on one of the couches or settle in at a table for a casual meal. The latter is the route we took during a recent visit.
Small plates such as steamed mussels and meat-and-cheese boards, sandwiches, salad, and soup are available, along with heartier steak and chicken dishes. The food menu is short, but it’s solid and doesn’t skimp on creativity. Everything my dining partner and I tried was high quality and well prepared.
Earlier this year, Mercury added some new dishes to its seasonally changing menu. Among the new offerings are pan-seared scallops. Elegantly plated, the dish features three big, sweet scallops with a deeply golden crust, served with roasted parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and brown butter vinaigrette. Brown butter also shows up in the honey glazed carrots. Cooked until tender but still bright, sliced carrots are served on a bed of creamy polenta, topped with toasted walnuts for a nice textural contrast, and sprinkled with snipped chives.
Toasted bread dunked in rich, melty beer cheese? Yes, please. Mercury’s beer cheese fondue, served with slices of crusty baguette, is a comforting, decadent dish. The only downside is that, if you linger over it too long, it cools off quite a bit and loses its gooey goodness.
Rigatoni with bolognese is a memorable gem. Made with a blend of ground chicken and pork, the lush, meaty sauce—boosted with Calabrian chili for a little heat—clings to the pasta’s ridges and delivers big-time flavor. A dusting of grated Grana Padano cheese provides a salty-savory finish. A vegetarian version of mushroom bolognese is also available.
Opened in May 2016, Mercury has a laid-back vibe and doesn’t feel cramped, even when it’s busy. There’s a variety of seating formats, including sleek, low-slung couches arranged around coffee tables. Chic light fixtures, bright red chairs, vintage tile, exposed brick, and plenty of plants add to the visual appeal.
The idea behind Mercury, says co-owner Clark Ross, was to create a comfortable atmosphere with quality drinks at affordable prices, the kind of place where he and the other owners would want to hang out. After moving from Baltimore to Omaha in 2011, Ross led the bar program at the Boiler Room Restaurant in the Old Market, followed by a stint at Nite Owl in the Blackstone District before opening Mercury.
Located on the ground floor of the Limelight apartments, the bar occupies the former space of Brodkey’s Jewelers. Mercury owners, including certified sommelier Sara Mellor, converted an old walk-in vault into a wine cellar. Around 100 wines are on hand (a dozen offered by the glass), along with a selection of beers and 350-plus spirits.
From the list of seasonal cocktails, the Fashion Club refreshes with its blend of gin, mulled wine, fresh lemon, and sparkling wine. We also enjoyed the Sadie Hawkins, a variation on the French 75, that combines gin, pomegranate, fresh lime, apple, and prosecco. The bar also excels at the classics, including an elegant and balanced Martinez cocktail made with gin and vermouth.
Even the ice has an artisanal quality. Mercury uses a Clinebell machine, typically used by ice sculptors, to produce 300-pound blocks of pure ice that are broken down with saws and chisels into pristine, crystal-clear cubes. Ice is a key cocktail ingredient, so it’s important to do it right. “We take it seriously,” Ross says.
The bar recently unveiled an outdoor patio—perfect for people-watching, relaxing on a warm day, and fueling up before an event at the Orpheum Theater a few steps across the street. Blocks away are the Holland Performing Arts Center, Bluebarn Theatre, CHI Health Center, Film Streams, Slowdown, and many more venues a short walk away.
Visit mercury-omaha.com for more information.This article was printed in the July/August 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.