Behind Bars: Idle-A-While's DeWayne Stokes carries on father's legacy

Erica Thompson
Maria and DeWayne Stokes and Everett Jones of Idle-A-While bar.

Several decades ago, Idle-A-While Bar was an entertainment staple of the King-Lincoln District. However, original owner Lloyd Williams Sr. had a more modest vision when he opened the establishment on Mount Vernon Avenue in 1966.

"It was a neighborhood pub to start out with," said Williams' son and current owner DeWayne Stokes. "He was basically in the business to sell spirits and then when he married my mother [in 1976], she had a different vision … to make it more of an entertainment destination as well as a restaurant."

Idle-A-While transformed into a place offering soul food, performances by blues musicians - including the late Willie Pooch - and people-watching opportunities for a young Stokes, who recalled "all the pimps, players and pushers" in attendance.

"You'd have city officials sitting next to the drug dealer," Stokes said. "You had undercover police officers come in and sit at the bar. They know who everybody is, but that place was like neutral ground."

Stokes wasn't so thrilled when the festivities spilled into his home where his mom and dad hosted after-parties. "It's a different feeling when customers were coming to your house and everything's free to them," he said. But he later understood his parents' intention.

"They were making sure that their customers were more than just customers," he said.

In the 1980s, the city bought and tore down the property to construct the King Arts Complex. As a result, Idle-A-While moved a block over and changed its name to the Limelight Lounge to better reflect its entertainment focus. It closed in 1992 as Williams' health was failing.

Today, Stokes, his wife and co-owner, Maria, and bar manager Everett Jones are determined to build on the family legacy. The new Idle-A-While opened in August 2015 on Channingway Boulevard in Reynoldsburg, and will host a New Year's Eve and 50th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, Dec. 31.

"Although we weren't in business for the full 50 years … we're bringing it back bigger than ever," Stokes said. The new Idle-A-While has two rooms, cuisine - provided by The House Restaurant, officially launching in January - and live jazz, funk and R&B music by two house bands.

"You're not gonna come in and hear Lil Wayne," Stokes said. "You're gonna hear some Luther [Vandross]."

In other words, Stokes wants to draw a "refined and sophisticated" crowd comfortable in "after-five" attire and not shy about dancing.

"This is a non-judgmental zone," Stokes said. "We encourage you to dance however you dance."

The Idle-A-While team is expecting plenty of dancing at the New Year's Eve celebration, which features performances by Norman Whiteside and Rhythmic Fusion, the Project System, Jerry McMahan and Jones, also a musician.

Looking ahead, the Stokes hope to draw national acts for intimate performances. But staying true to that same family feeling present in the early Idle-A-While days is also at the top of their list.

"We want people to feel at home," Maria Stokes said.

"But that doesn't mean I'm gonna invite them to my house," DeWayne Stokes countered.

"NYE & 50th Anniversary Celebration w/ Norman Whiteside"

Idle-A-While Bar

6068 Channingway Blvd., Reynoldsburg