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Jack Daniel's lounge opens Friday on Army base

Jul. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Jack Daniels' Lounge opens Friday at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The Jack Daniels' Lounge opens Friday at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Monica Wood/Fort Sill MWR)
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After visiting the Jack Daniel's Lounge you are eligible for a MWR-provided taxi ride home anywhere within a 25-mile radius. (Monica Wood/Fort Sill MWR)
Fort Sill MWR officials reached out to the owner of the Jack Daniel's brand to secure the rights to using the Tennessee whiskey for its new bar. (Bruce Schreiner/The Associated Press)

A handful of Jack Daniel’s-branded gathering places draw whiskey drinkers and other patrons in sports arenas, stadiums like Wrigley Field, even in Dubai International Airport.

You might not expect to see such an establishment inside the gates of an Army base. As of Friday, you’d be wrong.

The Jack Daniels’ Lounge opens that afternoon at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, taking the place of the Lanyard, a bar last renovated during the Reagan administration.

The base’s morale, welfare and recreation officials had been looking for a way to turn the location into a suitable social setting for soldiers and other community members, either as a place to gather after work or as a pre-party spot for the banquets and gatherings held in one of the many rooms inside the Patriot Club, where the lounge is based.

Brown-Forman, which owns the Jack Daniel’s brand along with otheyepr liquor-cabinet staples such as Southern Comfort, partnered last year with the Fort Knox, Kentucky, MWR team on the Woodford Reserve Room. The Fort Sill folks reached out to the company for something a bit better-suited to the region.

“Everybody’s a Jack-and-Coke-type fan here,” said Michael Borden, chief of business operations for Fort Sill MWR. “It just seemed like that was more of a fit.”

Unlike a chain restaurant, MWR officials retain control of the lounge’s menu — it’ll include traditional pub food like burgers and flatbread pizzas, Borden said, but the offerings could change based on customer feedback. The space also is more modular, allowing for different-sized groups and faster service than the Lanyard’s layout offered.

And unlike other brands that requested exclusivity when it came to drink offerings, Jack Daniel’s won’t be the only spirit available — though it’ll find a place in many of the lounge’s cocktail specials, and the drink menu will include new or hard-to-get varieties. Sinatra Select, introduced earlier this year, will be in stock, said both Borden and Joe Bollinger, Brown-Forman’s director of military and transportation.

“We’ll keep switching up signature cocktails,” Bollinger said. “We’re going to try to keep it fresh.”

Bollinger said another base had contacted his company about a similar licensing deal, but he couldn’t say which. Borden said his MWR colleagues at Fort Benning, Georgia, are considering a licensing deal, but didn’t know whether it was with Brown-Forman.

The renovation and rebranding also serves to attract soldiers who may otherwise find nightlife off-base in a less-safe atmosphere, Borden said.

There are “several clubs and bars, and strip joints, stuff like that, where some of our soldiers had got into trouble; some of them had even been shot and killed,” he said. “We want to entice them to stay here [by offering] something that’s nice — something they’re proud of, as we are.”

On base, officials can offer safeguards that could prevent disaster. Brown-Forman will help train bartenders to make sure the establishment doesn’t “overpromote our brand,” Bollinger said. Customers also are eligible for an MWR-provided taxi ride home anywhere within a 25-mile radius, Borden said, “no questions asked.”

Brown-Forman news release announcing Friday’s grand opening event included an all-caps request asking media members not to photograph “uniformed military personnel with any alcoholic beverages.”

About 400 guests were expected for the grand opening, Borden said, adding that the most common response he’s heard from early visitors has been, “Oh my goodness, you wouldn’t even think you’re at an Army installation.”

“It does make it nice to have something like this,” he said.

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