Have you ever gone out to a bar and felt over stimulated? From venturing out to bars in Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, I've noticed aspects of nightlife that quickly become irritating. Loud, blaring music competes with obnoxious, drunken shout-talk, rancid cigarette smoke lingers on my hair and clothing like a pungent aura, and sometimes, poor lighting design can reveal things that I honestly could live without seeing. You can pretty much hypothesize what you're in for when venturing out to a local watering hole. At 24 years old, I can still handle such stimuli. But for those who desire a more laid-back setting to accompany their brews and cocktails, there are other options.
Club 209, a bar situated at the northeast corner of Boulder and Brady, is a venue with something often ignored at other bars: atmosphere. Dimmed lighting, soft music and the relaxed ease of a lounge contribute to the overall ambience that is integral to the bar's environment. In addition to being a smoke-free, espresso/martini bar, Club 209 also functions as an exhibition space for monthly art shows, and as a venue for local musicians. After displaying my artwork for the month of January, I began to wonder about the history of Club 209.
"Club 209 is a spin-off of another investment that I have in the Brady District," said owner Dr. Greg Gray. "Three years ago, I was wanting to invest in something near the arena."
That other investment is Club Majestic, a larger dance club located east of Club 209. With the success of Club Majestic, why Club 209?
"I'm older, I'm 45. Even though I love the energy of the young 20-something crowd, I saw more and more of my friends stop going out because they were tired of the music being too loud and the smoky atmosphere. They wanted a place where they could go and relax."
When one enters Club 209, its distinct atmosphere is automatically noticeable. Background music, muted colors, soft lighting and art on display never compete with dialogue that may be overheard by patrons sitting around the center island bar. Four small flat-screen monitors hang on the north wall, playing music videos. Gray compared the low-key visual stimulation to wallpaper. It is yet another element to enhance the non-threatening ambience of the bar. At the west end, partially secluded by sheer curtains, there is a stage surrounded by comfy sofas, chaise lounges and tables featuring entertaining board games and periodicals.
"I wanted Club 209 to have a vibe like any of the lounges found at a W Hotel. Anytime you walk into a W, they have a huge lounge with lots of furniture.
And you can sit down right next to a stranger having a martini, someone from 300 miles away, and strike up a conversation and feel relaxed because of the atmosphere created in the hotel lounge.
Gray and his cohorts experimented with various decorating schemes before deciding on a moody black floor and ceiling, warmed up by "native Oklahoma colors" such as maroon, sage and a warm brown. Accent colors include metallic golds and coppers. Gray commented on the serendipitous events such as meeting a local interior designer, to finding the black, torii-gate reminiscent bar stools at Gordman's! Proof that a little bargain shopping can be advantageous. Gray added that Club 209, like any business or residence, is a work in progress. Expect minor changes in interior color schemes, additional furniture, and the expansion of the porch out in front. Gray wants to build up the porch in order to have an outdoor venue for live music during the warmer months.
"The view of downtown Tulsa is spectacular from the bar. Our customers love it, and I think it would be a nice backdrop for the outdoor performances," added Gray.
"Throughout the years, I discovered, bars that only cater to 18-24 year olds have more trouble. Bars that cater to a more diverse crowd, they don't run into those problems. So we purposefully wanted a diverse crowd, mainly 25 years and above. So that is why we offer higher-end coffees and martinis as opposed to just the usual bar drinks," Gray continued.
And how did the art shows come about?
"Art came later. We talked about having art openings before opening the bar, but I had no way of getting in touch with local artists about showing. Well, lo and behold, after about three months of being in business, the artists started showing up. Our first was a professor from OSU Stillwater, a friend of mine. He taught me a lot about the basics of having an art show."
Gray then mused about his sudden relationship with the Tulsa Artists' Coalition, just a short walk east of Club 209.
"They kinda buddied up with us. They gave us many ideas about the business of art. It works out great because TAC has their openings on the first Friday of the month. This coincides with ours and we've been calling it 'First Friday' because so many openings occur that day. Their openings are usually from 7-9pm, whereas Club 209 openings begin at 8pm and end around 11pm. Having bar hours, we don't compete with TAC. What happens is that I send my crowd down to check out the TAC opening. And so we have a great mixed crowd walking up and down Brady Street, and back and forth through the businesses.
"Most recently, we've gotten involved with Sarah, at The Gathering Place. They are always open on 'First Friday,' during the afternoons, so people will start out at the glassblowing, then stop by TAC for their opening, then come on down to 209. And it basically becomes a little bit like an art walk.
"We'd love for other businesses to join in. It's not even about having something to sell. People in Tulsa like to see the artist actually working, and they love craft. TULSA LOVES ART. Tulsa is a pro-art city, and I love it," Gray said.
I agree. Tulsa is on the verge of an artistic revival. Our country hungers for products made and designed by Americans, and I believe the artists will help facilitate some of that revival.
Gray is always looking for new artists to show work at Club 209. He's interested, he said, in mixed media, woodcraft, carvings, sculpture--anything that's art, but not necessarily traditional paint on a canvas.
Club 209, 209 N. Boulder Ave., is open Thursday through Saturday from 5pm-2am, and on Sunday from 5pm-12am. Every other Thursday is reserved for live model painting, with Kessie Noel. Live female and male models alternate, and patrons are welcome to observe or participate in the painting. Friday usually means some sort special event, like a show opening, and Saturdays are host to live local music. For more information about the art bar, visit www.myspace.com/club209tulsa or club209tulsa.com.
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