Shh...a New Downtown Lincoln Lounge Requires a Password to Enter
Alleyway telephone booth on the outside, Vegas glitz on the inside: welcome to the Lady Luck Lounge.
By Madeline Christensen
An inconspicuous phone booth sits in the alleyway at 13th and P, right behind Stogies Bar and Raising Cane’s.
Step inside, pick up the phone, whisper a secret message, and you’re in. You’ve just discovered a little bit of Vegas in downtown Lincoln: the Lady Luck Lounge.
Inspired by prohibition-era speakeasies and underground casinos, Misty’s Steakhouse and Stogies Bar owner Chad Carlson had big plans for the back room behind Stogies when be bought the space. It had previously been occupied by Ink Alley screenprinting.
In January 2019, Janell Folkerts came on as a marketing manager for Misty’s and Stogies. Before she knew it, she was working with Carlson to bring his vision for the Lady Luck Lounge to life as its operations, marketing, and human relations manager.
The telephone booth entrance is located in the alley behind Stogies Bar and Raising Cane's
Transforming the former screenprinting shop into a glitzy, 50s-era casino lounge chock-full of Rat Pack nostalgia took some time. Folkerts and Carlson took inspiration from other speakeasy-style lounges they’d been to, but a lot of the decor is just things they liked and thought Lincoln might like, too, Folkerts said.
Lady Luck Lounge officially opened to the public in late September.
With just a 30-seat capacity, guests are only allowed in if there’s room—and if they know the secret password (hint: it’s posted monthly on the Lady Luck Lounge Facebook page.)
“Really, we took a chance opening this,” Folkerts said. “We really didn't know. Is this going to be popular? Is this going to be a business that people want to frequent in Lincoln? So far the response has been really good.”
Advertising the new bar while still trying to keep up its “secret” allure is a bit of a catch-22, Folkerts said.
Relying heavily on word-of-mouth and social media, the Lady Luck Lounge has stayed away from more traditional forms of advertising in order to keep its clandestine style.
“A lot of what we've done to promote is really just walking around to local businesses and letting them know that we're here,” Folkerts said. “And going to the hotels and getting to know the front desk staff and the valets, and letting them know when people are coming into town and looking for something fun to do, we'd love if they recommend our lounge.”
Little by little, word is continuing to get out, she said.
“We're really excited that we have some regulars now,” Folkerts said. “It seems like every time we have one of our regulars come in, they bring someone new with them. Once people come in, they love it. So we are relying heavily on just networking in the community.”
One of the lounge’s biggest draws is the drink menu.
With many years of bartending and hospitality experience between Carlson and Folkerts, creating a drink menu to fit their unique atmosphere was a fun experience.
“We first started with what were popular drinks in the 50s and 60s, and also sticking with our ‘Rat Pack’ theme,” Folkerts said. “So a lot of our drinks were popular with Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. And then beyond that, we just wanted to have a good selection of rum, vodka, gin and bourbon drinks.”
They also thought "over-the-top."
“Again, we're a Vegas theme, so we want all of our drinks to be that next step up that makes them unique,” she said. “So a lot of it was just us making drinks, and having a vision and seeing if we can make it work or not.”
One half of the menu is divided into bourbon and scotch drinks, and then another section is more fruity, gin and vodka-based drinks. The bartending staff has also been creating special, seasonal drinks on the side, like the Candy Cane Martini. Each signature cocktail comes in a unique, decorative glass, and usually a special garnish.
“We want our drinks to feel like a presentation,” she said.
Folkerts and her staff are focused on the entire experience of the lounge, from the time you enter the phone booth until you leave.
“I try to remind people we're just a spinoff of a speakeasy,” Folkerts said. “A lot of times when people hear ‘speakeasy,’ they think you have to be really quiet and that you can’t take any pictures. But we're really kind of the opposite of that. I try to let people know that yes, you have to have the password to get in, and our location is kind of secret and hidden. But once you're in, we're more Vegas than we are speakeasy. We want you to have fun and we want you to take pictures.”
But you won’t find any real gambling at the Lady Luck Lounge, either.
“That’s always the big question we get,” Folkerts said. “Technically, that's illegal. Everything is just the feel and look of a casino, without there actually being any gambling. We do have a slot machine, and every customer gets one pull before they leave. If they hit the jackpot, they win a free trip to Vegas. So we do have that one element. But when people ask about the gambling, we'll joke with them and say, ‘Why, are you a cop?’”