Elsie’s Oke Doke Bar

April 30th, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized

When I was in my twenties I used to go to a bar on 84th Street called the Oke Doke. The name was technically the Oke Doke Restaurant, but it wasn’t a restaurant, it was a tiny bar with no tables, (that I remember) a jukebox and a shuffle bowl game. Elsie, the owner, wouldn’t open the door for everyone. You’d knock, she looked you over, and maybe she’d let you in.

Sometime after I turned forty, I went back to the Oke Doke with my friend Chris. Elsie was like the Miss Havisham of bar owners, it turned out. I wrote about the visit in my book, Waiting For My Cats to Die. An abridged version:

“The place was practically unchanged. The same singers were on the jukebox: Frank Sinatra, who is the most represented, Al Jolson, Patsy Cline, Bobby Darin, Marion Lanza, The Ink Spots, and Peggy Lee. I recognized the few knick-knacks behind the bar, like a cheap brandy snifter filled with 20 year old, now smell-less pot-pourri, as well as the shuffle bowl game on the way to the bathroom. Nothing has moved in eighteen years, nothing has been spruced up, nothing has been renovated. It was dingier and less cheerful …

“Elsie was smaller than I remembered, and grayer. “I’ve been running this place since 1950,” she tells me. The guys I used to come in here with—who weren’t exactly the nicest guys in the world—still come around, she told me. She clearly adored them. She called them “my boys” and told me what they are all up to.

“The three of us talked about men and children until she buzzed in a group of six young Eastern European men who, recognizing the honor they had been given, thanked her very politely, and took the stools to our right. A little while later she buzzed in a handsome man roughly my age who walked in with a very lovely young woman in her twenties. They sat to my left. “This is my third time in here this week,” he announced to the room. I liked him at once. Elsie pulled out a guestbook. “Someone gave this to me in 1986,” she said. It listed the dates, names, addresses and, best part, it had a space for comments.

“I scanned for familiar names. I found one of Elsie’s boys, someone I used to come here with. “I will always love you … Your Tallboy.” (He was gigantic, I remember.) I found his brother’s name. He’d written, “When will I be known only for my own good deeds?” A touching question …”

I would do anything to read that guestbook now, slowly and carefully. I couldn’t at the time. It’s just the kind of thing I live for whenever I research and write. The comments created such a perfect picture of the place and the people who used to drink there. The Tallboy was a guy named Ray who I’d dated a few times. Ray had, like, a billion brothers, and I don’t remember which one wrote “When will I be known only for my own good deeds?” but I still think it’s a touching question. I wonder if he ever went on to perform any good deeds.

Sometime after, I went back to the Oke Doke, and there was a sign on the door saying that it was closed and Elsie was in a nursing home. I went to visit her. The place wasn’t bad at all, but it was a terrible visit. Elsie was miserable and angry to be there, and she just fumed the whole time, it was awful. She told me her boys visited her and I believed her. Like I said, they weren’t the nicest people I’ve ever known, but as far as I could tell they had genuine affection for Elsie, so I could see them visiting her.

The site of the former Elsie’s Oke Doke, from Google maps. The orange awning is where Elsie’s used to be. I wished I’d taken a picture at the time. I couldn’t find a picture of it online. She ran it for roughly forty years, there must be a picture somewhere.

Update: Scroll down for a picture of Elsie, sent to me by Kevin Connell. Thank you, Kevin!

Elsie Renee at the Oke Doke Bar

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  1. 66 Responses to “Elsie’s Oke Doke Bar”

  2. By Stacy Horn on Mar 6, 2017

    I miss it still! Thanks for sharing your memories!

  3. By charlie on Apr 2, 2017

    She often left her ruby red lipstick on my cheek in the shape of two tiny hearts.
    What a character! “DON’T LEAN ON THAT END OF THE BAR – It will break!” and If you say the “B: word, it’s $5, the “S” word, $10, and the “F” woid, it’s $20 but you only get to say it ONCE! AFTER THAT YOU’RE OUT!!”

    Goldshlager – “with real gold specks” – always did a shot with you if you coaxed her.

  4. By Stacy Horn on Apr 3, 2017

    Charlie, that first sentence of yours! “She often left her ruby red lipstick on my cheek in the shape of two tiny hearts.” Are you a writer? All if it really.

    I’m feeling nostalgic today. If only Elsie and Elsie’s (and so many other things, places and people) were still around. I love the present, and the thrill of the future, but I still have a romance with the past.

  5. By Rex Havoc on May 11, 2017

    Stacy, Thanks for making the effort to document Elsie’s. My then East Village girlfriend took me there in 1987 back when the high point of my week was breezing past the bouncer at the long lines outside The World. Compared to that, getting into Elsie’s felt like I had “arrived”. It made for a nice shelf piece of my own personal mythology.

  6. By Stacy Horn on May 12, 2017

    Thanks for stopping by!

  7. By Rex Havoc on May 12, 2017

    My first time at Elsie’s was around 1988 when my East Village girlfriend took me there. It was at a time when the high point of my week was having the bouncer at The World allow us to skip the long lines outside. Getting into Elsie’s felt even better. Was like being in a scene from a movie.

  8. By Anna on Aug 3, 2017

    Elsie’s was a truly unique spot. I so wish I had taken photos as well. Had some crazy nights there chatting with the five or people in there at any given time and fondly remember the tiny budweiser bottles and Elsie’s affection for Goldschlager and some sort of apple liqueur.
    And her “rules”! Hahaha

  9. By Stacy Horn on Aug 3, 2017

    Sigh. I wish it was still around.

  10. By Tom Shanks on Dec 11, 2017

    I was doing some research online today and somehow thought to look up Elsie’s Okie Dokie Bar & found this… Elsie was indeed a character. I started going there in 1983. I lived on E. 90th st. I only got in the first time because I was with a regular who took me & warned me about her policy of not letting everyone in. I must admit that I pissed her off a few times, but she always forgave me – We had a laugh about my younger days when I visited the bar (and saw her for the last time) several years later. I also remember a young hottie in the early 80’s by the name of Bernadette that was close enough to Elsie to go behind the bar & help out. Speaking of behind the bar – I remember Elsie’s little old off white refrigerator – She kept the little 7oz bottles of Budweiser in there. She referred to them as “Buddies”. Elsie had been buddies in the 1950’s with several of the New York Yankees – I think she may have had a photo of one of them on the wall behind the bar…. I also remember the lady pictured with Elsie – She worked there & she was trippy too. I learned to really dig Patsy Cline through my time spent in that little bar…

  11. By Matt Puccini on Dec 16, 2017

    I live near by Carnegie Hill yet never heard of this place. My good friend Barry Sender on 84th introduced me to Elsie one night after dinner. Elsie and the place was a gem. A great experience. Sad to hear that she was miserable her old age. I can only hope that her 40 years of great memories gave her comfort in her last years. To Elsie!

  12. By Stacy Horn on Dec 18, 2017

    To Elsie!

  13. By peter burke on Dec 26, 2017

    Thank you for posting about Elsie. A friend introduced me to the Oke Doke in the mid-eighties. Ten years later I was in NY again, I walked by the Oke Doke and it was in darkness. I called later that night and Elsie answered the phone. She told me she opened up after she had her supper every evening. I stopped by a few more times after that, one time Elsie was passing around a press packet from a Liam Neeson film. There was an autographed 8×10 of Mr. Neeson. Elsie told us that Mr. Neeson had been to the Oke Doke with is mother and he was a nice fellow! My last time at the Oke Doke I brought a coworker who unfortunately dropped an f-bomb in front of Elsie. I cringed and yes she went after him. I always think of Elsie, I miss her and those like her who made New York what it was.

  14. By Stacy Horn on Jan 6, 2018

    I miss her and the Oke Doke too. I miss the New York I knew, but I imagine everyone says that as they grow older, alas. Everything changes.

  15. By charles on Jan 16, 2018

    She had one of the last “dime” payphones in nYc. She refused to let the Bell telephone guys into the bar and had a key for the coin box. She would hand them a bag of coins each week, alas but relented when they begged her to enter the premises and change the format to “25 cents.”

    The Men’s Room had urinals the size of the Hoover Dam.

    She had a bed and a small quarters in the rear of the bar, separated by a pane glass door (through which you could clearly see living space). In the “Ol’ Days” this was referred to as “Cassa Bottega” (or “House / Store.”

    I can hear the Tokens singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as I type my words.

    Bless her and all of the unique memories she gave us.

  16. By Stacy Horn on Jan 18, 2018

    Thank you so much for those stories, I didn’t know that about the dime phone. I love that she wouldn’t let the Bell tel employees inside!

  17. By Fre on Mar 8, 2018

    My friend Elizabeth… A Holly Golightly protege took us all here in the early 80s.
    Like 54, Mud Club, Area, Bilboquet… a part of New York past never to come again…
    You had to be there… But the great thing was… Most of you weren’t…

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