Oklahoma for the Holidays
Moving away from Oklahoma City is generally prompted by a change in education, career, or a relationship. Some people are drawn away by a wayfaring spirit that prohibits them from staying too long in any one place. Regardless of why, those who have left almost always return, even if just for a visit. Once familiar streets might feel a little foreign to them, as Classen Boulevard or NW 23rd street are still easy to find, but look and operate much differently.
A great number of those visits, especially for people with relatives remaining here, take place over the holidays. After enjoying a home-cooked dinner with the family, sometimes the urge to escape into the cold night comes on strong. Hanging out and watching television in the old living room can be fine at first, but maybe starts to feel more confining when the conversation turns a little too political or the photo album bearing aged Kodak prints of elementary school Thanksgiving pageants starts to get passed around...again.
With every trip to Oklahoma City these days, visitors bear witness to a continually changing urban environment. Seemingly every other month, a new hip district or neighborhood pops up, bringing with it a deluge of different bar and restaurant options. It’s overwhelming enough for the locals to stay up-to-date, so for Okie expats, it can be nearly impossible to decide where to head for a night out on the town.
Most go the tried and true route and visit old haunts. With the ever-changing landscape, it’s fortunate when that old neighborhood bar is still the same. For hundreds of people, both the local townies and the returning Oklahomans, the HiLo Club has served as a never-changing cozy watering hole, and around the holidays, as a much needed respite from stuffy family gatherings.
Since 1956, the HiLo has been a friendly place for people of all walks of life to enjoy a stiff drink, play favorite songs on the jukebox, and perhaps enjoy live music or a rowdy drag show. Its charm is not manufactured or prefabricated. This is no new bar trying desperately to appear like an established dive. Even if you only visit once a year, you’re bound to run into some familiar faces from the past.
“I get a few people that will come in and mention how long ago they used to hang out in our bar,” says HiLo bartender Dave DeLeon. “Sometimes they ask about some of our regulars. Maybe that is something they are looking for when they go out, a chance to reunite with an old acquaintance.”
A newer bar that has already turned itself into a home away from home for the metro is R&J’s Supper Club. The Midtown cocktail lounge has a timeless appeal that, even if it’s your first time visiting, still feels familiar. It’s dark and intimate, perfect for catching up with an old friend.
R&J’s is also a comfortable spot to reunite with the whole gang of pals from high school or college. Maybe you want to sit around and reminisce about being stuck in the house for days with nothing but a bottle of Jameson during the 2009 Christmas Eve blizzard.
“One thing that R&J's offers specifically for moments like that is our Den, which is available for reservations. Bookings fill up pretty quickly around the holidays,” explains Chef Brad Ackerman. “It's private and extremely comfortable; it’s set up for eating, drinking, playing card games, watching TV, or playing the jukebox. And looks just like your memories of Uncle Frank's den with the shag carpet and old Barcalounger, but with less smoke and yelling at the kids to shut up.”
The holidays are all about relaxation and rituals, and people tend to drink a little differently than during the rest of the year. Instead of settling for a simple draft lager, you’ll maybe want to switch to something more seasonal. R&J’s accommodates these desires with their beverage selection.
“For the winter holidays, you can't go wrong with heat and spice,” Chef Ackerman remarks. “Scent memory is a powerful thing, especially in relation to Christmas and Thanksgiving, so ingredients like cranberry, rosemary, sage, and cinnamon usually find their way into some of our winter cocktails. And hot toddies. Sipping a hot cocktail on the patio in winter, next to the fireplace, is a little bit of sensory heaven.”
Whether you’re coming in from out of town or you live right up the road, you can’t go wrong with a visit to either the HiLo or R&J’s Supper Club. If you are a visitor, thanks for turning to us as a guide. We’re especially glad you’re here in OKC this holiday season, and we hope you like what we’ve done with the place.