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Gilley’s opens at casino

“Welcome to Gilley’s. How ya’ll doing?”

With these electrified words, a rhinestoned Gilley’s Girl greeted the first customers to the new Gilley’s inside Choctaw Casino at Pocola. The patrons, Cynthia and Earl Garrison, had driven from Paris, Texas, accompanied by Brian Morris. With the Western decor and cowboy hats all around, they surely felt right at home.

“It’s very nice,” Cynthia Garrison said later, after their meals were delivered. “The waitresses are friendly, and the food is good.”

“It’s a great addition to the casino,” Earl Garrison said.

Jody Casher, the executive chef, will be glad to hear that.

“He’s been working on the recipes and we’ve had taste tests a few nights now,” Matthew Ichniowski, food and beverage manager, said of Casher.

The jalapeño cornbread was a particular favorite with many of the taste testers, said public relations specialist Anna Lindsey, of Austin, Texas.

As the Garrisons worked on a rack of ribs and a chicken fried steak, Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” kicked on and all of the Gilley’s Girls in blue-jean shorts and cowboy boots filed to the dance floor to present what appeared to be an impromptu country music video. But, no, this is all planned out. And they had obviously been practicing. This could very well become the main attraction at Gilley’s, whether they have live music or not. But, Gilley’s will have live music. Western Justice was set to perform Thursday night.

Chelsea Railey of Fort Smith, one of the dozen Gilley’s Girls, said they went through training to learn the line dance. The boot stomps were in unison during the minute-long show, which happens a few times throughout the evening. A round of applause was given, and back to work they went.

This is one of only five Gilley’s in America, with the other four in Las Vegas, Dallas, Hollywood, Fla., and Durant, Okla. It is the second Gilley’s at a Choctaw Casino — the first was at Durant — and part of the casino and hotel’s $60 million expansion. Over 800 people are employed by Choctaw Casino in Pocola, and 20 more jobs were added with the opening of Gilley’s. The space was formerly the Stargazer, which was a buffet and music venue.

The venue seats 145 and has a capacity of 200. A dozen SuperStar Poker machines are inset at the long bar. Ten large booths line the walls and 10 barrel-based tables with horseshoe branded stools offer more seating. Three bartenders and a barback, a bartender’s assistant, keep the glasses filled.

“It has a good vibe. You can sit back and watch a show here. It’s just a good environment,” said barback Billy Smallwood.

“We were shooting for something casual and comfortable,” said Choctaw Casino Director of Operations Steven Loyd.

In the first hour of opening, the mechanical bull rarely stopped twisting and turning. Riders sign a waiver before riding. It is an easy way to become an “urban cowboy.”

Mickey Gilley, a country music icon noted for 17 No. 1 hits, will attend the venue’s ribbon cutting at 5 p.m. today. He may also dedicate the honky-tonk with a few songs from the Gilley’s stage after playing a concert at CenterStage in the main casino.