Edit ModuleShow Tags

An interpretation of Orpha’s

Beer for breakfast in downtown’s purest dive

Orpha’s Lounge, 112 W. 4th St., opens at 8am every day, with drink specials from 9–11am.

Greg Bollinger

Analysts say dreams about snakes and public restrooms can indicate stress and a desire for change in waking life. I figured my dream about folding dress shirts into a backpack while running late for a math test meant it was time for open at Orpha’s. I kissed my snooze button goodbye at 9 a.m. and made my way downtown.

Mentions of its name conjure ophidian, scatological, and stabby images in the minds of many. Orpha’s—located on Fourth Street, between Cheyenne and Boulder avenues—is downtown Tulsa’s oldest bar. It opens at 8 a.m., but its regulars never set alarms. They’ve usually been up all night.

I walked up the wheelchair ramp that morning, past the “smoking permitted sign” on Orpha’s metal security door. A doorbell chimed when I entered, and the few morning drinkers broke their necks on me. But I passed their smell test and the patrons returned to watching “The Price Is Right.”

The bar is shotgun style, with two pool tables swallowing up the bulk of the real estate. The glow from the digital jukebox cut through the plumes of cigarette fog. I ordered Orpha’s signature breakfast item—a $5 pitcher
of low-point Bud Heavy—and a friendly man named Don sat by me with
the same.1

“I work overnights and come straight here,” Don said. “It’s still morning to me!”

He asked if I watch “MASH,” to which I regretfully replied no.

“Well, Hawkeye pours the beer in his cereal and says ‘Snack, crackle, and burp!’”

The morning bartender, Angela, told me she’s worked nearly every day for the last three weeks, and doesn’t understand the bar’s rough reputation.

“Everyone that comes in here takes care of each other and makes sure nothing bad happens,” she said.

Sure enough, a rowdy drinker was soon removed for flipping the bird. His speech was indecipherable other than a few “motherfuckers” in his word salad. Moments before, the man—a regular—was cleaning Orpha’s microwave to repay Angela for a brew she bought him. He was politely asked to leave, and it was understood he would be on better behavior the next morning.

Orpha’s has maintained its Fourth Street location since 1958, holding its two-bucks-a-draft ground while luxury hotels and cocktail bars pop up around it. The BOK Center brings new blood to Orpha’s on show nights, but Orpha’s still knows to care for its own. A free pitcher is offered to customers who cash their paychecks at the bar.

“If you come in here on the first of the month, this place is completely packed out,” Don said.

The man across from me sets up stages overnight at the BOK Center and unwinds afterwards during Orpha’s 9–11 a.m. “happy hour.” Next to him was a bald and bearded man in sunglasses with a glass of red wine. Out of equal parts respect and an unwillingness to bug a Rasputin lookalike, I left him undisturbed.

Conversation topics remained light between Angela and her red-eyed regulars—Rey Mysterio’s high-flying wrestling feats and more idle chatter. When Angela noticed someone stole the coconut she brought back from Hawaii, the bar responded collectively, dismayed and genuine: Nooooo!

Angela sat down next to her regulars and they guessed along to “The Price Is Right,” trying to get close without going over. Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition” played on the jukebox while I finished my pitcher.

1) Current Oklahoma liquor laws state that, “liquor may be served in bars and restaurants between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., any day of the week. Beer (up to 4% alcohol by volume) may be served between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, and between 7:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., Monday through Saturday.”

For more from Mitch, read his article on the street punk festival FYWROK.