BAR BUSINESS: Local watering holes hoping for big fall with students back in town

Grant D. Crawford | Daily Press

Ethan Barton pours a beer at Ned's in Tahlequah.

Tahlequah's night life usually begins to pick up around this time of year, but some local bars are seeing more business than others.

With Northeastern State University's falls semester underway, The Branch has noticed an uptick in customers.

"It's been busier than normal, especially at night time at our bar," Justin Kelley said. "We've had bigger crowds and during our lunch we've been getting more people, since we're really close to campus. A lot of the older students will come in for a beer and lunch and then go back."

Like many businesses throughout the area, The Branch has been a little short staffed. But it's still been cranking out tunes several days a week. Live music is held on Tuesdays, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., featuring a singer-songwriter solo act. Open-mic nights are held on Wednesday, allowing musicians, poets, comedians and more a chance to strut their stuff. Jazz nights are on Thursdays on the outdoor stage, and Friday night music goes from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

"On Saturdays, we've actually changed it to where we have music during brunch. So we have music from noon to 2 p.m., and people have kind of liked that. It's a really cool vibe - a morning show kind of thing," Kelley said.

The Branch stops serving food at 9 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. However, the bar remains open until midnight, unless a large group can convince them to keep the lights on. Kelley said the bar is looking forward to cool weather and will start getting in some darker, stout beer, while also work on some signature fall cocktails.

Ned's had a successful summer. The weekends brought in plenty of patrons, and weeknights during the summer time were better than they had been in the past, said co-owner Steve Kirkpatrick. Things have slowed down at the bar recently, though.

"I was surprised," Kirkpatrick said. "The first couple weeks of school there wasn't much difference. I didn't see a huge impact, but it's been OK. In another month or two is usually our best time of the year - the fall and early winter."

While the pandemic put music events on hold at Ned's for some time, the stage has been open for musicians again. The watering hole recently had R.C. & The Ambers perform ahead of the Diamond Stone Music Festival, and the Pumpkin Hollow Band will play Oct. 9.

Ned's also has karaoke every Thursday night, and open-mic nights are held on the first and third Tuesday of every month. Meanwhile, brainy patrons can visit on Mondays to play trivia. Kirkpatrick said if the COVID-19 outlook starts to change for the better, he thinks more people will want to go out for a drink.

"Once that really flattens out, I think we'll see more people that want to go out and not have to have all the restrictions and protocols," he said. "There's a lot of paranoia a lot of people still have. I've been vaccinated, and I think that's really what's going to help us get over this."

The proceeds of one local bar go to area charities and help sustain the group's efforts. The Tahlequah Elks Lodge boasts the cheapest beer in town and welcomes members of the public to visit on Thursdays, Friday and Saturdays. President Isaac Koehn said he hopes to see things pick up at the nonprofit's bar, though.

"It's been really slow over the summer," he said. "We're starting to see our cornhole crowd go back up now that school is back, though. The river has slowed things down and kept people from coming to town, but that's almost over."

The stage at the Elks has been empty for the last few weeks, but Koehn said he hopes to start booking bands again soon. Cornhole tournaments are held on Thursdays, while karaoke is held every Friday night, starting at 8 p.m.

Dewain's Place also has bands perform regularly, but it's one of the few bars in town where someone might catch a comedy night. A comedy night is scheduled for Sept. 30, starting at 8:30 p.m.

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