This year, as the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma is getting a stirring reboot on Broadway, Tulsa, the second-largest city in the show’s namesake state, is getting a reboot of its own. Compact and easy to navigate, it’s enough to conquer in a few days. Yet with its varied offerings and creative locals, all set against a backdrop of the American prairie cut through by Route 66, you’ll likely extend your stay.
The Gathering Place, a $465 million public-space-meets-sleek-community-center-meets- theme-park developed by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, was completed in 2018. Around that time, the foundation launched Tulsa Remote, a program that offers $10,000 annual grants to people to move and work in Tulsa. Artists and tech folks from around the U.S. took the foundation up on its offer and where creative people go, food and drink follow.
The past few years have seen a terrific boom in the local drinking scene, so much so that its varied and unique offerings might make bigger coastal cities, like Boston or Seattle, blush. And what’s more, although it’s the smack in the center of the United States — a landscape of prairies, farms, and interstates — Tulsa is a rather growing metropolis.
On a Tuesday night at the Valkyrie, a bartender attentively stirred a Manhattan, while another one snuck behind him and scaled a ladder Spiderman-style to reach a bottle of bourbon on an upper shelf. The dimly lit bar with its pressed tin ceiling, exposed-brick walls and other signals of vintage cool, was packed. Tattooed artist-types sat side by side with people who had clearly come straight from the office.
The whiskey-focused cocktail bar is very much in the mold of the trendy watering holes that have come to define Brooklyn or San Francisco’s Tenderloin, but this scene was playing out in Tulsa’s lively and increasingly hip Arts District, about one mile from the Oklahoma stretch of Route 66.
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Valkyrie isn’t the only place making outstanding cocktails. At Hodges-Bend, a popular spot in the East Village and a 10-minute walk from Drillers Stadium, features vast windows, exposed-brick walls, a marble bar and old-timey touches. The drink list features imaginative options like a Tobacco Old-Fashioned (rum, tobacco bitters, orange peel) and the Tiger Lilly (turmeric-infused mezcal, lime, honey, cilantro).
The mood shifts in the daytime, when Hodges-Bend transforms into a café. Locals gather here for espresso drinks made with the house blend, cold brew, and more. The menu features bistro fare.
Cirque also pulls off the double-duty concept extremely well. A high-ceilinged industrial-chic space with an on-site roastery is located in the increasingly hip Pearl District, just east of downtown.
By day, this hangout offers single-origin coffee, velvety oat milk draft lattes on nitro taps and attention-grabbing pick-me-ups like espresso with homemade tonic and sparkling water.
There are even more involved creations like the cleverly named “Your Hair Looks Good Like That”. (Nitro cold brew, black-pepper-cinnamon-cherrywood-smoked simple syrup, black/white pepper-and-chocolate bitters shaken with an egg and garnished with flamed rosemary sprig).
Evening brings a boost to the creativity quotient. A beautifully illustrated, hard-cover menu is heavy on text that dives deep into cocktail history. Drinks cover a wide range of classic and a hearty selection of originals.
No self-respecting drinking destination could call itself complete without strong tiki representation. Tulsa’s tropical fantasy comes to life at Saturn Room, a moody island-themed paradise in the Arts District with a menu that leans heavy on rum-centric classic tiki drinks. The custom-made “Golden Driller” tiki mugs are worth the trip to Tulsa alone.
Tulsa Brewery hotspots
And then of course there are breweries. No city in America is lacking in this area. Tulsa’s brewing community delivers quality over quantity and, in many cases, originality over expectation.
American Solera, which has garnered national attention and awards, specializes in beers aged in oak up to 18 months. The original tap room is located in South Boston (aka Sobo), but a stunning new brewery is in the works in The Pearl Distict.
Heirloom Rustic Ales, a destination in the historic Kendall Whittier neighborhood, features an airy, light-flooded taproom. the brewery is known for its progressive brews and heartfelt descriptions. Of a kolsh made last spring: “It reminds us of attic Ouija sessions by yellow apple candlelight, basement-stored copies of Pumpkinhead on VHS, and a favorite hazel blanket on grandma’s divan.”
If that doesn’t drive home Tulsa’s electrifying creativity, nothing can.