South Omaha has long been the melting pot of the area, with immigrants settling in Omaha, Neb., from eastern Europe, Ireland, Germany, and Latin America, in addition to others. In the mid-1880s, Czech immigrants coming to Omaha eventually created a community along 13th Street that became known as Little Bohemia.
Businesses, restaurants, and bars sprouted in the area that runs from Pierce Street to the north and Martha Street on the southern edge. The eastern boundary was 10th Street and the west border was 16th Street. Workers often found jobs at factories and packing houses, where English wasn’t a requirement for employment. Places such as Armor, American Smelting and Refining Company, and Union Pacific were among the factories hiring the new Omahans.
Breweries, such as Storz, Krug, and Willow Springs either operated their factory in Little Bohemia or had a taproom. Some of the breweries were known for social clubs along 13th Street that were popular with immigrants.
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It’s fun to explore the old days of Little Bohemia on self-guided tours or as part of a small group led by History Walks, which offers a one-hour guided tour.
Here are some things to know for your history tour of Little Bohemia, which was added to the National Register of Historical Places in mid-2020.
Historical Buildings in Little Bohemia
Where: 1402 S. 13th St., Omaha
Located at the intersection of 13th and William Streets, the Prague Hotel, built in 1898, is located in the heart of Little Bohemia. Once owned by Gottlieb Storz as a 25-room hotel, where new Czech arrivals knew they had a place to stay upon their arrival. The hotel also had a taproom where Storz beer was served.
Today, the building is an apartment building.
Where: 1406 S. 13th St., Omaha
A longtime restaurant, built in 1924, Bohemian Café was popular not only with Czechs, but lots of Omahans, who loved the handmade dumplings it served. The story of the Bohemian Café is included in my book, “Lost Restaurants of Omaha.”
With a décor that reminded you of Europe, waitstaff in authentic Czech clothing, and a menu that brought back memories of the homeland, Bohemian Café was open for 92 years, closing in 2016.
Bohemian Presbyterian Church
Where: 1474 Hickory St., Omaha
Once the site of sermons spoken in the Czech language, the Bohemian Presbyterian Church was a popular spot for families in Little Bohemia.
Today, the church is now known as Templo Victoria with services conducted in Spanish.
Where: 2234 S. 13th St., Omaha
Sokol Auditorium originally developed locals interested in gymnastics. Founded by Dr. Miroslav Tyrs, Sokol sought to develop mentally- and physically-strong children. Sokol Auditorium was home to Sokol Gymnastics for several years, even producing future University of Nebraska stars and Olympians Phil Cahoy and Jim Hartung.
Today, Sokol remains a major player in Little Bohemia, hosting concerts, wrestling matches, conventions, and more.
Today’s Little Bohemia in Omaha
Following Bohemian Café’s closing, business leaders and investors sought to develop the 13th corridor near the intersection of 13th and William streets. With new bars, a coffee house, and shops popping up, Little Bohemia is seeing a rebirth that should take it well into the 21st century.
Infusion Little Bohemia Beer Hall
Where: 1406 S. 13th St., Omaha
Located in the former Bohemian Café building, Infusion Brewery’s Little Bohemia Beer Hall honors the history of the former restaurant, with its Czech-inspired exterior. The beer house is reminiscent of a beer hall you may find in Europe.
The beerhouse features Czech-inspired bands to help celebrate the culture. The Little Bohemia Beer House is also the only place you’ll find Infusion’s Czech pilsner on tap.
Where: 1423 S. 13th St., Omaha
Following in the footsteps of its big brother, Benson’s Beercade, Beercade 2 in Little Bohemia offers the same type of fun – arcade games and beer. With vintage arcade games, such as skeeball and shuffleboard, and nearly 30 beers on tap, many of them are local brews.
New Wave Clothing
Where: 1406 S. 13th St., Omaha
Open noon to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, you may think you’re entering a speakeasy instead of a vintage clothing, accessories, and home décor store. Unmarked – the pink door is a giveaway – New Wave Clothing is located next to Infusion Little Bohemia Hall.
While you won’t need a password, you will need to climb a set of stairs to the second floor of the former Bohemian Café building.
Fizzy’s Fountain & Liquors
Where: 1408 S. 13th St., Omaha
Fizzy’s stands out among the Omaha bar scene, with its retro interior and popular boozy ice cream shakes. You can order food there, again going retro with options like a TV dinner special, fried bologna sandwich, deviled eggs, or a pimento cheese frenchee.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to order your meal and drinks by telephone there.
Ethnic Sandwich Shop
Where: 1438 S. 13th St., Omaha
A former Dairy Queen, Fred Orsi ventured out from the Orsi Bakery clan to start his own restaurant. Sitting in the middle of Little Bohemia, and not far from Little Italy, Orsi decided to name his takeout eatery Ethnic Sandwich Shop, because its menu celebrated South Omaha’s immigrant history.
Strong on Italian dishes, such as meatballs and spaghetti, and Italian sausage sandwich, as well as other delicious items, including roast beef with au jus and Irish corned beef, eating at Ethnic Sandwich Shop is like taking a trip around the world.
Now on its third set of owners in its nearly 45-year history, the restaurant remains a favorite for lunches or a quick dinner Monday through Friday.
Where: 1419 S. 13th St., Omaha
A sequel to the Blackstone District location, Archetype Coffee in Little Bohemia offers an open concept, where it’s easy to enjoy a cup of handcrafted coffee as you visit with friends or hold business meetings. Working with coffee brokers promoting Ethiopian coffee, Archetype creates amazing, handcrafted coffees – hot and cold – that rival any of the bigger coffeehouses.
While Little Bohemia continues to develop as a business and entertainment district, it maintains its connection to the immigrant past. For a fun outing, combine a tour of its history with stops at the new Little Bohemia. As you explore Little Bohemia, as the Czechs might say, “Bavte se” (have fun).