It sounded like one of those stories you just want to believe: scrappy group of employees saves neighborhood bar by buying it and becoming owners. As clickbait, it’s nearly perfect, which has taught us to be cautious. It’s equal parts American Dream and “Cheers” for a new audience, with a pinch of giving the finger to “the man.” What’s not to love?
What if it’s a true story, though? What if they bought the bar, and then made great food for vegans and omnivores—a metaphorical lions and lambs dining together trope? Throw in a cool patio, a solid bar program, and a super cute space, and there’s simply no way this really happened. But it did.
“This was our neighborhood bar,” said Meg Boatright. She’s the co-owner (with Wes Addison) of The Blok in Deep Deuce. The space used to be Anchor Down, and Boatright said the partners were scheduled to start taking over in December 2019. Cue and skip COVID story. “We got to July 2020, and Wes and I were like, ‘Let’s do this!’ We loved this bar; we loved our regulars. We didn’t want to lose it.”
By Halloween 2020, The Blok was open, and it had managed to retain most of the Anchor Down staff, a critical success when trying to keep regular clientele during a transition period. The regulars were free with their input; it was a new space, after all.
“Wes and I did the renovation,” Boatright said. “We made the changes the regulars wanted. The name was easy. We were a bar inside stacked blocks, and we were a neighborhood bar, as in ‘on the block.’”
They started small—a tight, smart menu that appealed to their own eating habits and the preferences of their regulars. Boatright calls it “empathetic food,” and she does so in a way that indicates she hasn’t yet been told by a restaurant consultant exactly how genius the menu is, or by a drunk rando who eats meat three times a day why it’ll never work.
Taken as a percentage of the state’s total population, vegetarians and vegans are in the small single digits. If your tendency is to want to argue this, you probably live closer to downtown than you do to Poteau or Sayre or even Mustang. As a percentage of residents of the urban core, however, the number goes up sharply, but still not enough to make a vegetarian/vegan bar make solid economic sense. Sure it can be done, but why work that hard? Restaurant margins are already terrible.
Boatright and Addision started with what they could do well, and then they started converting. Not adding, converting.
“We made the non-vegan items first, even though I’ve been a vegan for a few years now,” Boatright said, “and then we made everything vegan. Technically, it doubles the size of our menu without doubling the size of our menu.”
It’s simple enough that it’s easy to overlook how smart and difficult it is. Anyone can talk about offering a vegan and omnivore option as the same dish, but the skill to pull off both styles of cooking isn’t so common as to make it, well, simple. This is the main reason The Blok stands out. Pick a dish, any dish, and then try it both ways: The food is good either way. The burger is stellar. The vegan burger uses local “vegan butcher” Plantdad’s Kitchen, and if you haven’t tried his food, it’ll help change your mind on how good vegan can taste.
Boatright said they use as much local product as they can on the menu, including Plantdad’s Kitchen and Casso’s Chick’n for the chicken substitute. Vegan bacon is made in-house.
“We want everyone to be able to eat here,” Boatright said. “That’s the idea behind empathetic bar food. We’re a neighborhood bar, and we want everyone to feel welcome. You might not be a vegan, but someone you love is, one of your friend group is. We want to serve everyone, so we have animal proteins, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.”
Talking about The Blok, Boatright consistently calls it “a bar,” rather than a restaurant. It’s an interesting emphasis, given how good the food is. But it does feel like a bar. It’s dark enough that drinking in the early afternoon induces no sense of guilt. The patio out front (north side) is perfect for al fresco dining or drinking. Much of the food is shareable, including the very popular dips, a dish that allows you to choose three from among white queso, guacamole, salsa, pico de gallo, marinara, garlic parmesan, garlic aioli, and of course, ranch. Tater tots—nature’s perfect food—are an option on all mains, and it gets extra points for that addition.
The bar program is solid. Both Boatright and Addison are career bartenders, so she appropriately calls the bar transition “the easy part.” Cocktails are simple but done well, and Boatright said the goal is to serve them quickly without sacrificing quality. They are achieving that goal. Local beers are front and center, too, because a neighborhood bar is part of a larger community, and everything about The Blok is designed to embrace the block on which it sits, and the larger community of which it’s a part.