Behind the Bar Snap Shot

A Bar That Has the Ideal Mix of High-Low

Clay Berkes Image: Brittany Phillips

Entering Oklahoma City’s Power House is like stumbling onto an Old West adobe outpost—the Alamo meets New Mexican hacienda, complete with bleached animal skulls and a wide patio anchored by an outdoor fireplace. Except you’re smack in the middle of OKC Farmers Public Market in an up-and-coming neighborhood surrounded by Mexican produce vendors, artisanal food stalls and a ton of potential. You’re in the best bar in Oklahoma City.

But Power House isn’t just a bar—it’s a community. That’s how owner Clay Berkes prefers to think of it, anyway. It walks the fine line between a classic dive and a more ambitious cocktail bar, offering six-ingredient drinks alongside shot-and-beer specials. Think of it as the ideal mix of high-low, with the best playlist in the state.

Virginia Miller

It’s All About Your Roots

“I grew up mainly in Southern Oklahoma,” says Berkes. “At age 16, the service industry kinda got into my blood. While attending Oklahoma University, I worked at Pearl’s Oyster Bar on the South Side of OKC, and that’s where I truly became a bartender. I met some of my oldest and dearest friends there, including Jonny Raglin [an Oklahoma native who opened San Francisco’s Comstock Saloon and oversees The Absinthe Group bars]. Then I was in Austin bartending from 2000 to 2013, playing music in my bands Love County and Medicine Park.”

The Power House Paloma (made with tequila, fresh grapefruit juice, habanero simple syrup, sangrita and soda water), left, and the Roasted Hatch Chili Margarita (made with hatch chile tequila, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, habanero simple syrup and fresh lime juice). Brittany Phillips

It’s Not Just the Drinks

“My first serious bartending gig was at Steak and Ale in OKC,” says Berkes. “I was taught by a 57-year-old woman named Linda who had a crazy cult following. She was a full-time school teacher who bartended a couple nights a week. She was old-school and taught me some things that I have never, ever forgotten—not just how to make drinks but about how bartending could be about real life: love, hurt, happiness, sorrow and good times shared with a diverse cast of characters that packed the place and truly loved one another while under her care.”

Build It Yourself

The building was actually a de facto power house for the six-acre Farmers Market District, opened in 1928,” he says. “So I kept everything as old and original as possible, doing most of the work myself, from sealing the entire building to moving 20 tons of granite, gravel and dirt. I dug trenches for the plumbers and electricians, planting everything in what was a huge, concrete parking lot: trees, bushes, shrubs, grasses, vines, cacti, agave. Our main liquor shelf display is an enormous, original breaker panel. I also found home movies in the insulation from a family that used the building as a fruit and vegetable distribution location. They were dated to the late 1940s. I had the eight-millimeter reels converted digitally, and we play the movies on a loop in the bar. It’s my dream to find that family some day.”

Cherokee 75, made with gin, sorghum sage simple syrup, fresh lemon juice and Champagne.

Sound and Vision

“The easiest thing for me is the music and the lighting. It seems to be the hardest thing to get right for many, but it plays such an important role in setting a mood,” says Berkes. “We have two different Pandora music stations, one inside and one outside, typically playing different styles of music. Anything from Doug Sahm and the Texas Tornados to ’80s hits to outlaw country to Spoon, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Roger Miller, Dolly Parton, Roky Erickson and, well, you know, good stuff.”

Know Your Neighbors

“When coming up with recipes for the kitchen, I started out making red chile but after a few weeks began honing my verde recipe,” he says. “I used some great Oklahoma products I was turned on to by my neighbor, and the original anchor for the neighborhood, Urban Agrarian, a commercial kitchen for wonderful made-in-Oklahoma products: Oklahoma pasta, cheese, beef, lamb, chicken, bison, pork, fruits, vegetables, you name it—very seasonal and across the street so you don’t have to guess as to how they’ve shaped what we do in the kitchen and behind the bar.”

Verde Michelada, made with hatch chile tequila, verde mix, Worcestershire sauce, Winship cucumber bitters, lime juice and chile cerveza. Brittany Phillips

Drinks for Everyone

“We think we have one of the best cocktail menus around, with drinks like a Margarita with roasted hatch chiles or the Little Fat Cowboy made with mezcal, Modelo Especial beer and our house Bloody Mary mix,” says Berkes. “We use all freshly squeezed juices and try to make drinks that are accessible but also some just unique enough to encourage people to order outside of their comfort zone. However, if you want a Coors, PBR or Gin & Tonic, well, damn, we are most happy to serve it!”