Saturday, January 30, 2016

We walk into a bar in Oklahoma

Ned's, Tahlequah
Ned's sign at night

Looking at online reviews of Ned's Bar (possibly named after Oklahoma Cherokee outlaw Ned Christie) in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, I came across a review from the New Zealand Herald (because, of course, New Zealand) that people feel "like an ashtray when they leave, yes this is typical of a bar BUT it is BAD in there," so we had a bit of trepidation heading out, not wanting to offend our hosts with our stinkiness upon our return, but before we entered Ned's we saw a "No Smoking" sign on the door.

Dean notices the no smoking sign on Ned's door
Shortly before leaving at the end of the evening, we went to the enclosed back patio and talked with a couple of guys who had stepped out to smoke. They both seemed to think the change in smoking policy was a great idea. It kept them from smoking as much and stinking so much when they left. The change in policy wasn't caused by a change in law or ordinances, but rather what the owners perceived as a change in attitudes. The influence of students from the local university may well have played a part in the decision.

Ned's from the street by day
That smoking thing was the one big negative we saw in the reviews. Otherwise, there was much praise for the place which was echoed when we talked to people in the bar. I myself appreciated that there were a number of pool tables, even though I didn't get a chance to play. There is a little neon on the outside of the building, but more inside, providing much of the light.

Ned's drink list
There were some drink specials listed on the wall, chiefly beers and shots. One of the bartenders, Swain, offered us a menu. Mindy choose a Tom Collins without the cherry because she remembered liking them when she was younger (she doesn't particularly like the cherry). I went with a Gilligan's Island because those scrappy castaways never gave up in spite of their many setbacks.

Mindy's Tom Collins at Ned's
We sat next to Armando, who had been chatting with Swain. He said he'd been coming to Ned's since he first came to Tahlequah back in 1995. Not surprisingly, when I asked him what made for a good bar, he said "Tradition." Armando works in hospice and has found that after a tough day, this was a soothing place to be. He likes the atmosphere and the music "when it's playing." (No music was playing just then. It did kick in later. One of the selections was "Take Me to Church" which, if you don't know, is not actually pro-church.)

Dean's Gilligan's Island at Ned's
Since he's always on call, Armando generally orders just one shot and one beer. He said he was good friends with people who came to Ned's, especially the bartenders. It was a place he felt safe, he didn't need to worry about getting shot or stabbed there.

I asked Armando what makes for a good church, and he said he looks for a small church where people are sincere about their faith.  He likes good preaching and he said he "had to feel it".  He was raised in a small, "homegrown" Baptist church. He said his faith had grown through his work in hospice, and he'd met many people of great faith. But his job did keep him from going to church many Sundays.

I asked Swain the bartender what he thought makes for a good bar and he quickly said, "Good customers. This is the only bar in town so people have to behave themselves. If they don't, they can be banned, and there's nowhere else to go."  The answer to what makes for a good church wasn't nearly as quick in coming. "Openness for sure," he said. "I kind of gave up on church years ago. I felt judged. I can be a good person and make good choices without it."

view from the door at Ned's around 8:30
When we arrived a group of three women were chatting near the middle of the bar, so we approached them and told them about our bar and church in every state project. They happily agreed to talk to us. When we asked what made for a good bar, Kathlene, Cindy and J said, in unison, "Family!"

Kathlene hadn't been much of a bar person before, and Ned's was her first bar in Tahlequah. It became her place. She said that when her daughter turned 21, she wanted to go with her mom to Ned's. 

Behind Ned's bar
J said, "When I moved back here [after 23 years away], this is where I came. Ed's son Gary was still here, and he recognized me when I came in, and it was great. It's been going on seven years back. It's a good hometown bar."

Ned's 30th anniversary shirts
As for the church question, Cindy says she wants a welcoming atmosphere. J agreed. All three women grew up attending church. Cindy said she grew up in the Methodist Church so she went to the Methodist Church in town when she moved there. The first week no one spoke to her. She went back for a few weeks but still wasn't made to feel welcome.

Pool room at Ned's
Kathlene grew up going to Indian churches as her father is full blood Cherokee. In Southern California they went to the only Indian church they could find -- in the heart of Compton. When she moved back to Tahlequah, she felt judged by church people. She was a waitress and was told by some church folks, as she served them their after-church dinner, that it was wrong for her to work on a Sunday. She believes there is a definite divide between church goers and non-church goers in town. She still attends church with family on the holidays, but quite obviously feels more comfortable in Ned's than any church in town. We understood that feeling of comfort, leaving Ned's feeling like we'd made new friends.

Ned's well-worn bar stools
Total time spent in bar: 1 hour 45 minutes (arrived at 7:30 pm on Thursday)
Our rough count: 15
 Music: jukebox
Snacks: little bags of chips for sale
Visitor Treatment: Swain the bartender was very friendly, rounding up a couple of menus for us when Mindy was uncertain about her order; once we'd started talking with people, others joined the conversation.
smokers get disco lights in Ned's back patio


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