Two Rivers Saloon, Hotel and Steakhouse
88841 521st Avenue, Niobrara, NE 68760
GPS coordinates – N 42 º44.999′ W098º01.832′
Hours: Open 7 days/week 10:00 a.m.- midnight, later on weekends. Call if you have questions.
by Kevin Wynn
You’d be perfectly within your rights to ask me what the hell I was doing in Niobrara, Nebraska. I understand completely if you thought I’d lost my mind. There is however, a perfectly reasonable explanation as long as you have fairly liberal definition of “reasonable”.
The fact of the matter is, I’ve fallen in with a bad crowd- bikers. These people aren’t just average bikers, they’re “long distance” bikers. And they, we actually, have this strange pastime of riding 1000 or more miles in 24 hours, just for fun! This year the Minnesota 1000/24 Hour Rally was held in the hometown of Arlene and Danny Liska, the first people to travel by motorcycle from the Artic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, and in 1961. And although Danny passed away a few years ago, Arlene Liska was giving us the privilege of hearing some first hand tales of their adventures together. Arlene traveled with Danny for much of his adventure through North and South America, and again a few years later when Danny rode from Norway to Capetown, South Africa. Now that is long distance riding!
The event headquarters was the Two Rivers Saloon and Hotel in Niobrara, at the confluence of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers. The town is both the third oldest and also the newest in Nebraska, having been moved twice due to the occasionally unforgiving temperament of the Big Muddy. It was moved to its present location in the mid 1970’s and that was when the Two Rivers Saloon was born. Designed to give the feel of the Old West, much of it was finished with materials salvaged from the last time Niobrara was moved. Windows and doors, the bar, much of the woodwork; I imagine it’s nice for towns residents to see pieces of their town history still in regular use.
In 1988, Rayder & Kim Swanson purchased the business. They are two of the all-time greatest people you’ll ever meet and they serve a wonderful menu. No foo-foo, low cal, designer dishes though. Expect choice ribeye and T-bone steaks, thick pork chops and chicken. If you’re interested in seafood they help you out with jumbo shrimp, orange roughy or my favorite- whole, deep-fried catfish. The Saturday night special is prime rib, $12-$22.00, depending on your appetite. During a more recent visit I had a great T-bone steak with the seasoned potato wedges, and rich, meaty chili.
Over the course of the weekend I also tried a steak sandwich ($4.00), seasoned and tasty and later a ? pound hamburger ($2.50) that I’d rate as one of the best. A group of us shared a platter of appetizers including deep fried cheese, onion rings, cauliflower and best of all, gizzards. I was told gizzards are an acquired taste, but I acquired my taste with the first bite. The homemade vegetable-beef soup is yummy. Right, Tammy? If you’re staying the night, there is a full bar but do yourself a favor and try the Fat Tire Amber Ale.
The hotel is a simple, three room affair, and conveniently across the hall from the saloon. Rooms are $26.00/person/night and they fill up fast at certain times of the year, particularly during top hunting and fishing weekends, so call ahead. Alternatively, there are some truly fantastic views at the local campground, and other accommodations are available if the Two Rivers is full.
Also, Danny Liska’s BMW motorcycles and a collection of memorabilia are on display at the museum in town (open 10 am to 3 pm Saturdays, or by appointment). If you’re a history buff, this area is famous for being along the journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The Corps of Discovery camped at the mouth of the Niobrara River on September 4, 1804; you can visit the location. Just look for the brochures at the Two Rivers Saloon. Everywhere I went I thought about what an adventure it must have been and in truth, it doesn’t feel like it’s changed all that much.
While the 370 mile trip from the Twin Cities to Niobrara is only scenic once you get close to Yankton, the roads along the river provide ample entertainment, especially early on a Sunday morning. I’d recommend Highway 12 west of Niobrara for some fast sweepers and elevation changes. If it’s a hot day, find your way to a beach at the Lewis & Clark Lake State Recreation Area. It puts any beach I’ve been to in Minnesota to shame.
There was one item on the menu at the Two Rivers Saloon that I have not had a chance to sample- the Walt’s pizza. It comes highly recommended by my fellow riders. If you get a chance to try it drop me note and tell me how you liked it. That way I’ll have an excuse to go again.
Eat well. Ride well.