Five to Follow asks The Ohio Club owner Mike Pettey to share his five favorite media sites.
By Sara Dacus
Mike Pettey was selling real estate in Hot Springs, and he was happy in his career.
“And then one day The Ohio Club popped up on the MLS listing, so I went and looked at it,” Pettey said. “It was sad. It was run down and dirty and had nothing going for it except that it was old and had that beautiful back bar in it.”
Several years before, Pettey had owned a neighborhood bar. Real estate in Hot Springs was not booming then, so he decided to purchase The Ohio Club in 2010 as a side job to make extra money.
“At that time, most of the bathhouses were closed, and there weren’t very many restaurants downtown. The 300 block had The Ohio Club, a couple of t-shirt shops and the fudge factory, and that was about it,” Pettey said. “During the week I had my employees park on the street so it would look like somebody was downtown. It was kind of bleak, but the area was starting to turn around.”
While rebuilding The Ohio Club, Pettey also researched the history of the bar and started telling its story.
The Ohio Club opened in 1905 as a casino and saloon. During prohibition, it turned into a true speakeasy with the name changing to Ohio Cigar Store. In the 1930’s, Hot Springs and the bar were popular hangouts for Al Capone, Bugsy Segel, Frank Costello, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano and other infamous mobsters. The stage welcomed performers like Mae West and Al Jolson. The casino and sports book were open until 1967.
“The history has been a big draw. It’s been fun to develop The Ohio Club into a destination. People come to Hot Springs from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri and Tennessee, and part of the reason they come is The Ohio Club.”
While falling in love with The Ohio Club, Pettey also grew to love downtown Hot Springs. In his effort to give back to the area, he has served as president of the Downtown Merchants Association and on the Historic District Commission. He is a current member of the Advertising and Promotion Commission.
He also fell in love with Dona, the lead singer of The Ohio Club Players, the weekend house band during the live thoroughbred meet at Oaklawn Park. The two married, and she now works alongside Mike every day at the club. “It cannot be understated how important she is to this place,” Pettey said.
Most weekend nights a crowd waits to get inside. “The business grows exponentially every year. I’m proud that I’ve taken it from a place that employed three people to place that employs 20,” Pettey said. “Ultimately, the problem I had with real estate and the investment business is that it wasn’t my product. I was brokering deals. I have the pride of ownership with The Ohio Club. I beam with joy at owning a place that people enjoy coming to.”
Describe yourself: I’m very driven. When I’ve been successful in life, it’s been doing things that I’m passionate about.
Give me five of your favorite media sites:
I check Trip Advisor a lot. We’re consistently ranked #2 or #3 of all the restaurants in town. Trip Advisor has made a difference in our business.
The website and newsfeed have a lot of articles that are industry-specific and very helpful.
I’m always wanting feedback from customer reviews. Yelp has been a big tool for me. It helps me see things in a different light. It has given us ideas and changed the way we do business. For example, user comments helped us develop our vegetarian menu.
Our Facebook page is one of the best ways we communicate our events and news to our guests.
I am a car collector. I love antique cars, and Hemmings is the Bible of antique and collector cars.