Sanctuary Barsilica is a church-themed bar that is not only one of the coolest hangs in OKC, but it’s also changing live music culture in Oklahoma City.
Take me to church
Jose Rodriguez has created some of the most unique bars in OKC, and Sanctuary is just one of them. Sanctuary is a church-themed bar that he got the idea to create very shortly after opening his first bar – retro gaming bar called Flashback Retro Pub. Now Flashback and Sanctuary sit next to each other in film row, helping to grow the bar culture of the city as well as the live music culture.
Rodriguez knew it was risky to create a church-themed bar in a religious part of the country, but the idea was just too good to ignore, so he started thinking of ways to make something quirky and clever, without making it offensive.
“It just stuck with me,” Rodriguez said. “I thought it was so different, and I thought that it would really catch people’s attention, especially right here in Oklahoma in the middle of the bible belt. I knew there would be a fine line to walk between making it edgy and making it fun and lighthearted and not offending people.”
The bar has religious decor – bible verses, paintings, stained glass, and even drink names like “the Virgin Mary” or “Holy Communion.”
When Rodriguez opened up Flashback, they were the only bar in the area. Now they have the 21c and the Jones Assembly, which both are providing live music opportunities. As more bars are doubling as live music venues, the music culture will continue to grow. Rodriguez said, in the time that he’s opened Flashback and the Sanctuary, he’s seen a massive difference in the enthusiasm.
A Sanctuary for Artists
The Sanctuary is creating a place for local musicians to bring their art, something Rodriguez says might be lacking in Oklahoma City.
“I feel like Oklahoma lacks in venues for live music, especially in local artists,” he said. “I know we get national artists and regional artists all the time in the bigger venues, but the local artists can’t fill those bigger venues, so it’s nice having a smaller venue that’s still a good size because we can still fit 180 people here.”
Learning how to operate a live music venue has been a huge learning curve for Rodriguez – figuring out how booking, scheduling, and promoting. But he’s done a damn good job so far and has shows booked out months in advance for the Sanctuary, and he’s learned a lot about the artist community here in OKC.
“I have to say that I am surprised, kind of amazed at how many talented musicians we have here in the city,” Rodriguez said. “I just had no idea. We don’t have a lot of music venues, and the ones that we do have, are kind of spread out all over the place.”
As more people learn about the talented musicians in OKC, perhaps more venues will open.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “The more places that we get that have live music, these musicians can get a little more exposure, and the scene is going to grow, and the city will build a reputation for some really great live music.”
Live music culture builds communities. Rodriguez said there’s no reason why Oklahoma City can’t feel just like Austin. It’s just a matter of who’s going to put in the work, who’s going to make that dream a reality, build opportunities, create enthusiasm, and give artists more opportunities to showcase their talents and gain exposure. If Rodrigez can provide two new places to hear live, local music, well that’s two places that weren’t here before.
“I just love Oklahoma City. I could have moved anywhere and done this, but I chose for this to be my home and for this to be where I started my business, and so it is important to me, for the city, as it continues to grow, for it to grow in all aspects – grow in the arts, grow in music, grow in the economy, grow in the workforce, grow in every aspect. Having a live music culture in the city benefits everyone around.”Jose Rodriguez
The “Church Band”
The Sanctuary is home to “The Church Band,” which is their monthly house band full of incredibly talented local musicians Rodriguez said this was one of his favorite parts about the live music. The next church band plays the first saturday of every month, and their next performance is August 3.
“When we talked about getting a group of local musicians together to just have fun, jam out, we didn’t realize it was going to turn out to be the way it has,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve gotten some really great people here and some great musicians. People are coming in and just lovin’ it.”
There’s a sense of community at the Sanctuary, and part of Rodriquez’s vision is connecting the music scene with the OKC community. Hopefully artists can even build some supporters at the Sanctuary, some local friends who come out and enjoy their music and even follow them along their career.
You know when you watch a music documentary, and a big-name artist talks fondly of the venues they played in growing up where they found their people? That’s the type of venue Jose wants to create.
“Man, I would love nothing more than to have some of these local musicians come here and really start getting a following and take off and go somewhere else and become that place that they really made a name for themselves,” Rodriguez said. “That would be a dream come true for a venue.”
Come Catch a “Service”
Rodriguez is excited for warm weather and upcoming shows. The Sanctuary has big garage doors, and when the Oklahoma summer heats up, they open up those doors and start the party. This summer will be packed full of amazing shows like music from our friends Spunk Adams, Josh Roberts, Jordan Law, and more.