Updated: June 24, 2009 at 12:00 am
OMAHA, Neb. • If Omaha is LSU baseball’s home away from home, Starsky’s Bar and Grill is the couch in the basement.
It’s comfy, if a bit threadbare. It’s OK to crash on it if you don’t have a place to go. And nobody will freak out if you spill a beer on it. Chances are, you’ll just be handed another.
Ray and Kristi Todorovich bought Starsky’s almost three years ago after selling their hardwood flooring business. On Wednesday, LSU beat Texas 11-4 to win the college baseball national title and wrap up the 10-day tornado that swirls into Omaha and through the bar during the College World Series. It was made even more intense this year by the fun-loving folks who made the pilgrimage from Cajun Country.
“It’s awesome having the LSU fans,” Ray Todorovich, 37, said.
Starsky’s, which has been open since 1922, looks like a typical dive bar. There’s an old jukebox near the back, glass Busch beer lamp shades, plastic booze banners hanging askew and an outdoor space referred to as a “beer garden” that’s about 99 percent beer and 1 percent garden. The floor is sticky from spilled mixed drinks, there’s one toilet each for men and women and if you want to eat, you better like burgers.
But it’s located on 13th Street, within stumbling distance of Rosenblatt Stadium. And, as is the case with Rosenblatt, Starsky’s is filled with memories, good times and what Kristi Todorovich, 34, described as a “friendly, happy” vibe. That’s way more important during the CWS than plush leather couches, an extensive wine list or five-star food.
Starsky’s is a place where last call is met with boos, where returning LSU fans bring jambalaya mix for the employees and where bartenders throw back shots and hand out wisecracks.
Maybe not everybody knows your name, but more often than not they’ll ask.
“The people who run it are very hospitable,” said Kevin Fayard, a 38-year old LSU fan from River Ridge, La., who keeps in touch with bar employees via phone, e-mail and Facebook. “They give us the red carpet treatment.”
There’s been just a hint of sadness beneath the revelry the past few days. After next year’s tournament, the CWS will move to a state-of-the art park under construction downtown. And while Fayard and other regulars say they’ll keep coming back and take a shuttle bus to the new stadium, Ray and Kristi can’t help but be concerned.
For now, however, business is booming — especially with the Tigers in town.
Bartender Tera Nedolski said Tuesday the bar already had sold twice as much of its infamous Voodoo Punch as it did at last year’s CWS. The obscenely sweet — and dangerous — concoction is poured from a vat at the end of the bar and served in a pail with a straw. Starsky’s recipe: 11 bottles of flavored Cruzen rum (three banana, three pineapple, three mango and two coconut) and one gallon each of orange, cranberry and pineapple juice.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Voodoo Punch was flowing, as was the beer, the Jager Bombs (shots composed of Jagermeister and Red Bull), the blackberry brandy (a south Omaha favorite, according to Ray Todorovich) and the Crown Royal — the apparent drink of choice of LSU fans.
“A lot of Crown,” Ray Todorovich said. “They drink anything, really.”
“Nobody parties like LSU fans,” Fayard added.
Indeed, one bouncer (wearing a T-shirt reading, “Starsky’s — Serving over a million beers in 10 days”) said LSU faithful have outnumbered Texas fans in the bar by a two-to-one ratio, “at least.”
Late Tuesday night, however, after Texas evened the CWS championship series with a 5-1 victory, there was a brief coup d’etat. Longhorn fans played the Texas fight song on the jukebox followed by “God Bless Texas,” by the band Little Texas and “If it Wasn’t for Texas,” by George Strait.
But a third country song about Texas (really, is there an endless supply?) was cut off and replaced by Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” which was followed by the LSU fight song and Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge.”
The music war led to dueling cheers — “L!S!U!” vs. “Texas! Fight!” But despite the combustible combination of alcohol and sports alliances, there were no fights, and most taunts were accompanied by smiles and laughter. Chalk it up to Starsky’s atmosphere.
Fayard had been in town for the opening weekend of the CWS before returning home to Louisiana. But when LSU made the championship series, friends convinced him to return. He got in late Monday, during Game 1. His friends were at the game, and he didn’t have a ticket.
So he went to Starsky’s, dropped his bags in the owners’ office and ordered a drink. And then kicked his feet up on his favorite old couch.