Fifteen years have passed since Larry Jenkins, a successful longtime nightclub operator, committed his life to God and attracted national headlines by destroying $5,000 in liquor and converting his So Fine Club into a church.
Jenkins self-published a book about the tragedies and unhappiness that led him to end his 27-year-old business — one known throughout the metro for its celebration of old-time rock 'n' roll. And then, he faded from public notice.
If the So Fine Club at 8200 SW 3 was one of city's livelier night clubs, the opposite could be said about another longtime venue, The Neighborhood Lounge, 733 NW 4.
According to county records, the 2,600-square-foot bar dates to 1930. I recall visiting the bar just once, about 20 years ago, when I was The Oklahoman's crime reporter, to interview a down-on-luck person helping me on a story.
The bar, located across from the Oklahoma County jail and surrounded by dilapidated century-old flop houses, was dark, gloomy and filled with the scent of cigarettes, cheap beer and despair.
The Neighborhood Lounge was a destination for aging inmates released from jail — a place where they could drink and smoke until they died.
A couple of years ago, however, I noticed changes at the corner of NW 4 and Shartel. The Neighborhood Lounge got a new paint job, with a mural of a cheery couple dancing next to a sign declaring “Cocktails and Dancing.” Banners sometimes advertised karaoke nights. And then the gloomy, dilapidated flop houses were torn down and outside lights were added around the bar.
For someone who has seen change of all sorts downtown the past 20 years, this was one of the oddest transformations to date. Then, last fall, I noticed that several popular downtown young professionals with big social media followings began posting about their adventures at The Neighborhood Lounge.
The bar established Facebook and Twitter accounts. When I saw an application filed with Downtown Design Review for addition of an outdoor patio, I noted on my blog, OKC Central, that I had seen everything.
Or so I thought.
Warm welcome key to revival
By most definitions, The Neighborhood Lounge still qualifies as a “dive.” Those who live on the street, folks who have endured tough times, still gather at The Neighborhood Lounge. But now, increasing numbers of young professionals are joining them. A couple weeks ago I finally took up a challenge to see what's going on with my own eyes.