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Neighborhood haunts


Not ready to take a dive? Some joints offer more than a scruffy exterior.

Luke Atkinson June 8th, 2011

Whether a bar can be classified as a “dive” is somewhat open to interpretation.

Bouncer Dennis Cornelius at Blue Note Lounge
Credits: Mark Hancock

After all, beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder, but when the term comes to mind most think of a dark, smoky atmosphere filled with bluesy-rock music and an often sullen or overly rowdy crowd.

For a frame of reference, some say Moe’s from “The Simpsons” would qualify as a dive bar. And Obi-Wan Kenobi would probably say the same of Mos Eisley Cantina, then add that you wouldn’t find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Don’t judge a bar by its cover.

The bartenders and patrons of certain establishments often swear by their beer that their bar is the most relaxed, inexpensive and friendly place you’ll find in town. Instead of passing these places by, take a different approach: Give in to curiosity and explore. It could lead to a nice surprise.

The Blue Note Lounge, 2408 N.

Robinson, sits quietly on its worn corner. A glance from the street will show clouds of smoke rising from tattooed young men hunched over a pool table in a dimly lit room and a tough-looking bouncer checking the door. Take a step inside and the quiet corner becomes a vibrant setting with plenty to drink and a friendly crowd. Bouncer Dennis Cornelius said the bar look may be the same, but the feel is certainly changing.

above Friendly but tough-looking bouncer Dennis Cornelius at the Blue Note Lounge

“Everyone here is clean, mellow and don’t have attitudes,” Cornelius said. “Here we are moving past the stereotype of a rough and tough bar. This is a really cool place. Everybody knows your name like ‘Cheers.’ A lot of people come here, and I see them every day.”

Cornelius said the amount of trouble caused is next to none.

“Everyone smiles and enjoys themselves,” he said. “I’ve maybe had two or three instances where someone might need to be asked to leave, but that’s not very much.”

Known as one of the oldest bars in Norman, Bill & Dee’s Tavern, 311 E. Main, is another neighborhood taproom that serves a local crowd. The windows are covered except for areas where neon beer signs shine through, and a sign hangs above the door that simply states “Beer.” Ashtrays decorate tabletops and two pool tables are illuminated in the back. A host of regulars wave and nod at those passing by as they come inside.

“I tell my friends it is a hole in the wall,” said bartender Robert Pack.

“First-timers are surprised because everyone here is nice and there aren’t any fights or altercations.”

Pack believes the regulars make the bar seem friendly, and newcomers agree: They’re met with hearty and gregarious greetings. Bar stools and cheap beer — along with pool and shuffleboard — welcome barflies and visitors alike of all legal ages.

But while the bartenders and regulars of these establishments think the mood has changed, there are still some who are wary even after their first visit.

Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder.

As a college student, Dustin Dunnick frequented mainstays like Norman’s The Abner and O’Connell’s. He recently visited Bill & Dee’s for the first time.

“(It) was different than a normal college bar, I can tell you that,” he said.

As intimidating as other taverns off the beaten path may appear, the 22-year-old University of Oklahoma graduate said he may offer them a second chance in the future.

“Some of my discomfort came from the stereotype,” Dunnick said, referring to the idea that dives attract sketchy clientele. “(I thought) if I looked at someone funny and they were drunk, they’d want to fight.”

Some of those stereotypes, however, challenged by his trip to Bill & Dee’s. “I probably would give it a second try,” he said of the bar. “The people were nice, and if I were with friends I’d go again.”

So maybe it might be time to give that old watering hole another shot. It seems to work for the regulars who drink among friends and share the neighborhood bar like it is their own.

On a plus side, it might ensure that your drinking experience will be shared with stuffed wildlife. What’s to lose?

 
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