For some reason we were having dinner early. The pool was packed and the restaurant was empty. Just as our food was being served some scrawny and sopping wet guy was clumsily stumbling right outside the grand viewing windows. He leaned over and proceeded to vomit all over the place.
My date and I sat there stunned and disgusted. Just then a half-painted wigless drag queen came running through the restaurant laughing at the spectacle while shouting “SOMEBODY BUY HER A COCKTAIL!”
I grew up 100 miles away in Tulsa and remember being sixteen and hearing the older queens telling wild tales about Oklahoma City. Guys from hundreds of miles around would drive there every weekend from the surrounding states. They’d check in at the Habana and really cut loose.
One weekend my friend Donald and I decided to see what the fuss was about. I told my mom I was staying with him and he told his parents he was staying with me and off we went. It became a frequent event. His mom was clued in pretty quickly and when we’d pack up on Friday she’d watch us over her cigarette and with her Oklahoma drawl would say “There you boys go on another wild goose chase!”
The wild geese are still chased through the labyrinth Habana Inn complex every weekend. Near the junction of the nation’s main interstates, many GLBT travelers can’t resist stopping for a night or a weekend where they can park, check in, swim, dine, and walk to numerous bars.
Gay ghettos were born out of necessity, and 39th & Penn was no exception. In the seventies a few bars lined NW 39th Street and were subject to constant police harassment. Bar owners had enough. They went to court to prove the harassment and won. Today the police typically don’t enter the area without probable cause.
The Habana was a state of the art mainstream hotel when it opened in the 1960’s, and hosted numerous car shows and conventions until I-44 was rebuilt, making access to it more complicated. Another factor was the bigger and better hotels that had sprouted up elsewhere in the city. The hotel fell in to disrepair, with many rooms shuttered in need of renovations. Because the hotel bordered the GLBT strip, many in the community would stay at the hotel which increasingly caused conflict with the fledgling mainstream clientele. The owner had to make a decision: discourage GLBT patrons or go all in. His decision paid off, and while it’s certainly not fancy the Habana is famous (or infamous).
There’s always fun times to be had but the best time to visit is during one of the major events, such as rodeo weekend over Memorial Day, or Pride Weekend. The Wandering Emperor will be holding court there on Friday, May 27th, and would love to tell you more stories over drinks.
It’s tacky, campy, a little sketchy, and a lot of fun. Oklahoma City’s 39th & Penn is a unique place that’s worth a visit.
BY: CHRIS ANDOE – STAFF WRITER