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Dusting off a dive

The ReVue at Thelma’s brings LGBTQ+ nightlife to Kendall Whittier

The ReVue recently relocated to the Kendall Whittier district in a historic space formerly home to Thelma’s dive bar.

Greg Bollinger

A good bar is bigger than the four walls that contain it—it’s the embodiment of a community, the beacon shining at the end of a long work day. A good bar is a place you can count on for cold drinks and familiar faces. 

Deb and Lynn Starnes, owners of the The ReVue, understand this. When they talk about their patrons, they refer to them collectively as a revered community which they serve. In mid-July, Deb and Lynn announced they would be closing the doors of their existing bar and relocating The ReVue to Thelma’s, the historic dive bar in the Kendall Whittier district—a move they hope will bring them even closer to their community. 

Though the move may seem sudden, Lynn says it was their intention to locate The ReVue in a historic district from the beginning. When the perfect location eluded them, they settled for a site of historic significance for Tulsa’s LGBTQ+ community—the location that had housed Maverick’s for so many years. 

“While 822 (S. Sheridan Rd.) was good to the community and to Maverick, those who have been with us understand that the neighborhood has changed,” they explained on their Facebook page. “Tulsa has changed as well. Historic districts and downtown rule these days. We have an incredible opportunity to be part of that movement.” 

The new location on Admiral Boulevard between Utica and Lewis avenues will position them along historic Route 66 and within the vibrant and growing district of Kendall Whittier.

“We’re really excited to have them move in and add to the nightlife that we already have going on,“ says Jessica Jackson, executive director of Kendall Whittier Main Street. “‘I think they’re going to be a great anchor for that west side.” 

While the neighborhood has come a long way, the bar itself needed some love. Built in the 1950s, Thelma’s has always been Thelma’s. Legend has it Thelma herself was a feisty woman who worked as an accountant by day and ran the bar by night. The bar has closed and re-opened with new management over the years, accumulating grit that has only added to its allure as a true dive bar. Long, smoke-filled, alcohol-fueled days (the most recent operator opened the doors as early as 6:30 a.m.) left a patina that was hard to polish. 

As Lynn and Deb began tidying up for their move, they discovered the bar top, worn-down and brown in color, was still the original teal tufted leather. Wanting to honor the history of the space, they didn’t subject Thelma’s to a major renovation. They cleaned the bar, painted and updated some fixtures. The vibe has been described as a steampunk speakeasy. 

It will now be a non-smoking bar, but they have been approved for two patios, one of which will be for smokers. The drink menu will center around martinis. 

But what of Thelma’s iconic neon sign? It will be restored so the neon glows but the well-earned patina still marks the passage of time. Henceforth, Thelma’s and The ReVue will merge together in temporal space and in name: It will be called The ReVue at Thelma’s. 

The new space is nearly half the size of the original ReVue but owners and patrons alike view the change as a good thing. “It’s going to be a much more intimate-type bar where the bartender knows you by name, knows your favorite drink,” says Jan Rogers, a ReVue regular.

The stage, a centerpiece of the former location, will be a much smaller floor stage. The design will lend itself to laid back happy hours and when entertainers can work the room and interact with the audience with ease. “Deb and Lynn are really good at making their audience comfortable,” says Vicki Williams, another loyal patron. 

The Starneses expect that the community will follow them to the new location while attracting a new audience. With a regular line-up of entertainment from burlesque to karaoke, drag shows and country nights, they hope the bar has something for everyone. 

“I think the future holds a more diverse crowd,” says Williams. “But it’s important for the gay community to know this is a bar they can be comfortable in.”

“Everyone is welcome,” the ReVue staff likes to say. “Unless you’re an asshole.”