Downtown Oklahoma City 'dive' resurfaces with varied clientele

Larry Jenkins' longtime career as a tavern owner ended abruptly 15 years ago, but he's back in business in downtown Oklahoma City with The Neighborhood Lounge.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: March 5, 2013

When I walked in the door, my senses were first overtaken by the sound of an older gentleman singing a country song with a creative rearrangement of notes and chords. The inside was surprisingly well kept with new carpeting, colorful lighting and the kind of decor you might expect if a fun-loving grandfather decided to open a bar.

In talking with various folks, I learned the influx of younger customers apparently began as a lark: “Hey, let's go see what's going on inside that old dive.” They were surprised by the warm welcome given by the owner. The bar took on a festive atmosphere, with older and younger customers dancing, doing duets on karaoke, and even taking a shot at the limbo bar.

Presiding over the entire transformation is none other than Jenkins, now 70, with a big smile on his face. As the years passed since the closing of the So Fine Club, Jenkins found himself more and more secluded at his home, watching television, not getting out much. He gained weight, suffered some health issues, and came to a conclusion: He had to make yet another change, or simply wait to die.

Jenkins admits he chose to buy a dive. It was his way of getting back to ministering to those most in need of help. He paid $200,000 for the property and then spent another $350,000 on renovations and cleaning up the surrounding properties. He hosts a sermon every Sunday, feeds the least fortunate, and is as surprised as anybody by the transformation that has ensued.

In response to these changes, he banned inside smoking and is planning to build the outside patio this spring to accommodate those who can't go without a cigarette. This week he's also adding a kitchen to expand his operation.

Watching the interaction among the very different clientele, watching the smile on Jenkins' face, it's easy to see where he made one miscalculation when he shut down the So Fine Club. Jenkins is more than a club owner, more than a bar owner. He is the purveyor of happiness, even in the most unlikely of venues. And if that, along with a cheap beer, is what it takes to share the word of God with those who are down and out, Jenkins might just be downtown's finest preaching bar owner.

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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