Toby Keith Wants You to Love His Bar and Grill (Part 2 of 2)

He Anticipates a Broad Mix of Music at His New Venues

Before sitting down to dinner in I Love This Bar & Grill — Toby Keith’s new Oklahoma City restaurant set to open in early 2005 — there are a few things he’d like you to know. He’s chosen the music he loves, from Bob Seger to Willie Nelson. He’s including custom-designed motorcycles out front. And if you come to visit his Las Vegas location — also due in 2005 — come hungry.

CMT: Why was it important for you to include a stage in the new venue in Oklahoma City?

Toby Keith: Oh, for music. If people come to my place, they are going to expect to hear live music. I can’t let the people down like that. They’re going to expect it. We’re going to catch it being at I-40 and I-35, the crossroads there for Oklahoma City. We’re going to catch a lot of acts on Tuesday and Wednesday nights that are heading to a big show on the weekend that we can snag right there, drop them in.

Are you going to have a house band in there, too?

Yeah, we’ll have a house band.

How involved are you in this new venture?

Just the final say-so on a lot of things, you know. They bring me the artwork, I approve it. I throw my ideas into the pot. Like these guys building me these red, white and blue custom chopper motorcycles, you know. I’m going to stick one of those out in the lobby of each one of those bars. Then all my military memorabilia will be in one. A lot of my music memorabilia will be in another. It will give people the reason to go to different ones.

It’s going to be a nice place to stop. The slot we have in Vegas and Oklahoma City are so … I mean, it’s triple-A location. It’s unbelievable. We’re right next door to Bass Pro Shop at the intersection of I-35 and I-40 (in Oklahoma City). So, you’re going to see us either way. The one in Vegas is right where the people mover stops. You get off to go to Bellagio or Caesars. As soon as you walk off that train, you walk right into my doors. If you get off that tram at Harrah’s to go to Bellagio or Harrah’s or Caesars, you’ve got two ways to go, and so it’s 50-50. If you go this way and you walk 20 steps, you start seeing memorabilia, and then you turn the corner, and then, bam you’re in.

Is it replacing something that was already there?

No. There were some storage rooms there, and they’ve added about another 10,000 square feet on the back of it.

You’ve got one coming to Kansas City, too, right?

Oklahoma City, Vegas, Kansas City and then they have a casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Harrah’s is obviously everywhere. They’re going to put one, I guess, at the big casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and then there’s a big racetrack in Shreveport, La., called Louisiana Downs, and they’re going to put one there, too. That’s the first four or five that are going in.

Why is it different from other cities you’ve played?

What I have in Vegas that a lot of people don’t have is, I have a local following there. I was selling out those smaller casinos when I was struggling and coming up. The first three or four years of my career, I could go into Vegas and play Boulder Station, and they would charge a real premium ticket for a 600-800 seat theater … just sell it out. The promoters would say these are the local people coming. Then we moved outdoors and started selling like … 5,000 seat tickets outside and kept selling those out. Of course, when my career hit its stride, we’d play everything from Thomas and Mac Center to the MGM to all the big rooms now. Vegas has always had a great local following. “Should Have Been a Cowboy” was a big song to the locals in Vegas.

Are you going to buy a place to live out there, too?

No, no, no. … Vegas is something you hit hard for two or three days, and you get out of there. … I’ll tell you what part of Vegas that I think is underrated, as far as publicity goes, and that’s the food. There are great restaurants there. I’ve got lots of friends that are chefs there. It’s phenomenal, some of the chefs.

Do you have a say about the menu at your own place?

Absolutely. Final say.

What can your patrons expect to see on the menu of your new place?

We’re going to have a great sandwich board, just for sandwiches. The entrees are going to be chef-prepared, but they are going to be Southern cuisine. Meatloaf, catfish, chicken fried steak, ribs, chicken, things like that. You can get a big strip steak there, and it will be great … first class. But it’s not really a steakhouse. It’s going to be very casual. It’s going to be fun, entertainment, food and all of that. It’s going to be roadhouse, too. It’s not going to be hillbilly country. I’ll provide enough of the redneck hillbilly to have those kind of people in there. But if you’re sitting around listening, I want you to be able to hear the Doors, and then I want you to hear the Rolling Stones, and I want you to hear Waylon and David Allan Coe, Willie and Merle, the Eagles, Bob Seger, Stevie Ray Vaughan. It’s going to be more of a roadhouse atmosphere.

Have you noticed, as you’ve branched out beyond country music audiences, that people have a preconceived idea about what country music is?

I hate it. I don’t want to name it, but I was going on this TV show to sing “The Angry American” one time. You know, it was a big cable show, a high-ratings cable show. I showed up and they had like wagon wheels, straw, hay, cactus. Why does it always have to go Hee Haw and look like a Hee Haw set? That’s not why we’re doing this. I’m doing this because this is my kind of music. It’s the kind of music that I listen to. If you listen to my iPod, you’re going to hear Waylon, Willie, Merle, Roger Miller, Charlie Daniels, those things, and you’re going to hear the Eagles, Seger, things like that, Creedence. You’re going to hear some of those things. If I was going in there, that’s what I would want to hear.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.