The Library Bar and Grill takes pride in its Norman history
Originally published at OU Daily – 16 October 2017
On the corner of Boyd and Chautauqua is The Library Bar & Grill, a neighborhood clubhouse, a historic entity and a home.
The Library is surrounded by greenery and an outdoor patio. Inside, there is a dining area and bar. Dark wood panels line the walls, contrasting against the white ceiling.
Booths and square tables fill the dining area where waiters and waitresses dressed in all black serve customers. In the far right corner is the Frank Sinatra table, known as the meeting place for countless musicians and business people according to Jack Hooper, one of the owners of The Library.
Country and blues music reverberates from the speakers. The chatter of customers explodes in the background.
Old pictures of sports teams and groups of students hang on the walls; members of the community who have come and gone are etched on the walls of The Library.
In the left corner, huddled at a long wooden bar, is group of old men laughing and drinking beers. Among the group are George Strunge and Steve Davies, long-time companions, who have been coming here for more than 30 years, far before it became a popular joint.
“That crew are here every day — you can set your watch by it,” said John Howell, one of the owners of The Library.
Weathered by hard work over the years, Davies sits with a beer in his hand as laughter escapes his mouth. His playful smile widens as he tells stories that span over the decades he has spent here. He has been a patron of the location since it was known as Pinks in the '80s. He was a member of the reconstruction crew in 1997, after Jack and Lisa Hooper bought the place, and he has seen it through its transformation over the last 20 years.
When asked why he likes to come to The Library, Davies shrugged nonchalantly and said, “It’s the neighborhood bar.” Strunge agreed. For Davies and Strunge, The Library is simply their epicenter. It’s where they have partaken in community — and where they will continue to do so.
Sitting on a stool with a wide, straw-brimmed hat is Strunge, a sturdy, white-haired man with a knack for storytelling, who has been a patron of the location since the '60s.
The structure has served as a place for misfits through the ages, he said.
“(During the '60s and '70s) this was a place for everyone. If they were gay, if they had hair in weird places or if they were just crazy,” said Strunge.
He points to a small wooden owl resting on a ledge, a relic of old times. At this spot he reminisces about a lifetime of bottled stories.
In 1997, Jack and Lisa Hooper bought The Library, claiming it as part of GL Dining, short for Good Life. Blackbird Gastropub, Blu and The Brewery are also owned by GL Dining.
John Howell started working for Hooper as a bartender to work his way through school, and in 1998 joined the partnership, shortly after the Hoopers bought The Library in 1997.
It took some time to create the culture that GL Dining wanted. At the end of its reign, Pinks had begun to suffer. Hooper put some money into it and began to start with what was already there.
“We’ve just taken it and not tried to change it a ton. We just used what was here that wasn’t doing well at all and we didn’t know how it was going to work,” Jack Hooper said.
The Library became a place that sold international beers at a time when no one else in Norman was.
“You couldn’t give an IPA away, people didn’t know what it was. They wanted their Bud Light!” Howell said.
It took time to nurture their culture, but over the next six months, with classy, good beer, good employees and a clean establishment, the Library took off.
Their customer base came from all over — from people who have been there since the beginning, to folks that live in the neighborhood adjacent, to faculty and students at OU.
“It’s an unofficial clubhouse for so many people. It’s super fun to see people on a date at one table, see a bunch of students at an adjacent table and see some retirees at a table next to that. And it works for all those demographics,” Howell said.
For Howell, it is a place with a blank canvas, where anyone can come and write a new story. From the employees that have put themselves through school by working there, to the patrons who sit on a Sunday night ordering their happy hour pizza, it is a place that encapsulates it’s history, but also the future of those who love it.
The Library helped Nicole Cherry invest in her future, working to put herself through college. The now-assistant manager and bartender of the venue has been working at The Library for eight years.
When she’s not working, she still chooses to spend time at The Library by having a beer over a meal with friends and family.
From its conception, The Library was a house transformed into shop after shop. It’s a place where old and young can gather.
“It feels like home,” Cherry said.
This story was corrected at 8:45 p.m. Oct. 18 to show that The Library has not been the name of the building since the 1920s.