Today’s Tulsa, OK City Guide comes from Sarah Vespasian, the Creative Director/Editor of the Tulsa-based collaboration of designers, photographers, writers and crafty, creative types, Prairie Hive. She and her team publish a bi-monthly online magazine showcasing local homes and families, entertaining ideas, craft projects, design trends and more. Today, she offers us a glimpse into the historical and Art Deco-stylish city of Tulsa. Once a haven for oil barons, Tulsa now offers a mix of artistic and chic shopping, dining and lodging and boasts some incredible Art Deco architecture. Thanks, Sarah, for this wonderful guide! — Stephanie
The full city guide continues after the jump . . .
Before you start conjuring up images of flat, brown Oklahoma plains, think again. In the foothills of the Ozarks in Northeastern Oklahoma, Tulsa is the heart of the part of our state, known as “Green Country.”
A little history first, then we’ll talk more about the vibe here — it’s probably not quite what you expect.
Originally settled in 1836 as part of Indian Territory, Tulsa’s biggest growth spurt was from 1901 to 1930 during the Oil Boom. Known at that time as the “Oil Capital of the World,” we can now thank these oil barons for most of our downtown, one of the largest concentrations of Art Deco architecture in the US (only New York and Miami have us beat).
During this time, Cyrus Avery also started the movement to build the highway from California to Chicago, now known as Route 66. As the “Birthplace of Route 66,” the road is an important part of our history, and you’ll find several landmarks in the area, such as the recently restored Meadow Gold sign on 11th Street and the Blue Whale in Catoosa, which is about 30 minutes outside town.
Thanks to the wealth of museums, festivals and public arts projects in Tulsa, we are known as the Cultural and Arts Center of Oklahoma and consistently voted as one of America’s most livable and affordable cities.
Tulsa has experienced major growth in the last 10 years after the Vision 2025 program provided funding for a new arena and baseball stadium downtown, along with incentives for local business owners and many other projects around town.
Having lived here for over 20 years, I am so proud to be here and be part of this important time in Tulsa’s growth and history. We have some of the friendliest and most enthusiastic citizens around. Our Young Professional’s group is one of the largest in the nation, and thanks to that group and other ambitious leaders, we consistently see activities, rallies and movements geared toward educating, inspiring and promoting Tulsa as a great place to be.
Disclaimer: With 6 of us contributing, this list was (and still is) getting L-O-N-G, so we had to draw the line somewhere! We decided to include our favorite spots, while trying to keep the Design*Sponge reader in mind. Locals, please add your favorites in the comments section!
Downtown is divided into a few distinct districts, so I’ll tackle each of them separately. The lines get a little blurry sometimes, but all are a walkable distance from one another.
Photo by Dawn Thackray
Blue Dome District: The dome that the district is named for was once a gas station along Route 66, now housing offices for one of the main developers of the area. With a ton of restaurants and bars within a two- to three-block radius, this is the center of the downtown scene.
James E. McNellie’s Public House: Known simply as McNellie’s by locals, this pub is the flagship restaurant of downtown restaurateur/developer Elliot Nelson. Boasting over 350 beers (one of the largest selections in the region), they also serve classic pub fare including burgers, fish and chips and cottage pie. Don’t miss the famous $3 burger night every Wednesday (but get there early for a seat!).
El Guapo’s Cantina: Tulsa’s only downtown rooftop restaurant, a great place to unwind with a margarita while enjoying a wonderful downtown view. Enjoy traditional Mexican fare al fresco or inside the kitschy dining space (part of which is the former “May Rooms” brothel, original wallpaper still intact!).
Joe Momma’s Pizza: Gourmet brick oven pizza is the main event here, but they also have pasta, sandwiches and my personal favorite, fried pickle chips. Feeling brave? Try The Incinerator (includes wasabi, hot links, jalapenos, habaneros and siracha sauce), recently featured on The Travel Channel’s Man Vs. Food Nation.
Yokozuna: Downtown’s happenin’ sushi joint, this recently renovated hot spot serves Pan-Asian with a modern twist. Their sushi chef has developed an extensive menu of unique rolls as well as regularly featured specials. Try the Geisha’s Demise for a spicy option; the Sashimi Carpaccio is another favorite. Great cocktail and sake menu, and they have a daily sushi happy hour.
Dilly Deli: A great spot for breakfast, lunch or an afternoon wi-fi break with both traditional and creative sandwiches on artisan breads, a variety of breakfast choices and house-made desserts. Menu items are named for restaurant staff, friends and family, so ordering can get a bit personal! Its enclosed patio features bocce ball and a Cadillac dining table, and inside you’ll find board games and lots of diversions to keep little ones busy.
Blue Dome Diner: This downtown diner serves breakfast standards of eggs, biscuits and gravy, pancakes and home fries. Lunch, dinner and late-night options include burgers (fantastic homemade black bean burger!) and sandwiches.
Back Alley Blues & BBQ: One of the Blue Dome District’s newest restaurants, Back Alley serves “Memphis-style slow cooked BBQ and seriously good music.” Live bands play several nights a week, and the menu includes lots of Southern fare like Fried Green Tomatoes, baked beans and slaw.
Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge: Stop by and roll a few balls after work or on weekends. This newly opened bowling alley has a fun a retro 70s vibe (love the plaid carpet!), self-scoring lanes and cheery, hip seating areas for groups of all sizes. There is a private room with two lanes for small parties and a patio with locally designed seating. If choosing from one of the various tater tot combos isn’t your style, try a traditional Okie fried onion burger or an old-fashioned ice cream treat.
Fassler Hall: This traditional German beer hall is a favorite for local drinkers — with a wide selection of German, local and other beers. The menu includes house-made sausages, addictive duck-fat fries, imported pretzels and other German specialties. Patrons sit in true Oktoberfest style, under a barrel roof at communal wooden tables, so you’re sure to make a new friend — or 10.
Arnie’s Bar: Tulsa’s original Irish pub (since 1956) sits adjacent to the Blue Dome building, the district’s namesake. Any given night you will find it full of regulars grabbing a drink or shooting pool in the back room. Guests can lounge at the original mahogany bar, in the courtyard, or stay inside and listen to live music on weekends.
The Max Retropub: This totally awesome 80s arcade and bar is known for its collection of nostalgic video games from the era of the 30-something’s youth. Arcade games include Pac-Man, Tron and Mortal Kombat, or give the Skee-Ball lanes a throw. 80s memorabilia line the walls, while TV shows like Saved by the Bell and ThunderCats play on TV screens.
Boomtown Tees: Nestled between Joe Momma’s and The Max, Boomtown sells T-shirts designed locally and based on Tulsa slogans, icons and landmarks. Favorite designs include the Golden Driller, the now-extinct Zingo rollercoaster and Camelot Hotel.
Dwelling Spaces: Dwelling Spaces has become a local destination for gifts, home accessories and art, clothing and locally made goods of all kinds. In addition to the shop, owner Mary Beth Babcock has become an advocate for local art projects, hosts artists’ and musicians’ launches and co-founded a local “book club” of sorts, Booksmart Tulsa, a group that brings incredible authors to Tulsa. The shop was the first to carry the local favorite “Don’t Hate the 918” (Tulsa’s area code) T-shirts and houses numerous small clothing, jewelry and accessory designers, as well as local artists and crafters. This shop is a can’t-miss for both visitors and locals to find a piece of Tulsa to bring home with them.
JoeBot’s: Inside Dwelling Spaces you’ll find JoeBot’s Coffee Bar, a great place to stop and have a cup of locally owned Topeca coffee prepared by the friendly baristas.
Lyon’s Indian Store, 111 S Detroit, Phone: 918-582-6372: Lyon’s was originally opened in 1916 and has gone through several relocations to bring it to its most recent home in the Blue Dome District. The shop features American Indian arts, rugs and pottery, silver, turquoise and other Native American jewelry, moccasins, beaded apparel, crafts and more.
Photo by Dawn Thackray
BRADY ARTS and GREENWOOD DISTRICT
The Brady Arts and Greenwood Districts sit just over the railroad tracks, north of downtown. Anchored by concert venues, Cain’s Ballroom and the Brady Theater, and right by the new ONEOK Field, these are two of Tulsa’s oldest but fastest growing areas.
Brady Tavern: Right at the heart of the Brady District, this modern pub prides itself on local and seasonal ingredients, creative twists on classic dishes and house-made breads and desserts. The menu changes weekly as Chef Grant Vespasian (yes, my husband) shops the farmers’ markets, but hometown favorites include the Tavern Burger (with Stilton and mushroom cognac sauce on a challah bun), roasted chicken and of course, the daily grilled cheese. Sundays the Tavern hosts family-style fried chicken dinner — comfort food, yum! The dining room is chic but comfortable, or you can settle in at the original wood bar and try one of the delicious seasonal cocktails (if the Bengali Gimlet is on the menu, it’s a must!). The restaurant also features one of Tulsa’s only Chef’s Tables, where patrons can reserve a table in the kitchen and be right in the middle of all the action.
Hey Mambo: This brick oven Italian restaurant’s interior was designed by a Prairie Hive alumni, Shane Hood (see Issue One!). The clean, modern space serves creative pizzas, pastas and traditional Italian fare. Sit inside or on the sidewalk patio and enjoy a pie (The Center of the Universe is a favorite) and a glass of wine. Late night, the restaurant offers pizza by the slice for concert and club goers in the area.
Fat Guy’s Burger Bar: “Home of the Fat and Juices,” this burger bar — located outside left field of ONEOK Field — offers diners instructions to eat their cheesy, buttery burger combos. The not-so-basic burgers, fries and specialty items are all made with fresh, local ingredients. Take the Fat Guy’s Challenge (Bacon Cheeseburger, 2 Hotdogs and a pound of fries) and get your meal free, and a picture on the famed “Wall of Fat.”
Glacier Confection: This artisan chocolate shop produces treats that are as beautiful as they are delicious. Signature flavors range from Sour Cherry to Root Beer Float, or indulge in their Artisan Collection for a truly unique gift idea. The chocolatier also produces custom and seasonal chocolates, as well as offering vegan and gluten-free options. Not a cacao lover? Try the caramels or flavored organic popcorns. Heaven.
Club Majestic: This longtime Tulsa favorite features a two-level bar and dance club that caters to the GLBT community but guarantees a fun night out for anyone! I promise. Thursday and Friday nights are talent and dance competitions, and Saturday and Sunday have a DJ.
The Soundpony: Head over for fun live music and a great beer selection. Just down from Cain’s Ballroom, it’s a great spot for a pre- or post-show hangout, or really any night of the week. The bar is run by avid cyclists, so bike paraphernalia provides much of the decor, along with the hipster scenery.
Living Arts: This gallery and event space features rotating exhibits from local artists, as well as offering a full calendar of events ranging from spoken word and music exhibitions to drumming workshops. Living Arts also offers camps and workshops for all ages and hosts local events such as this year’s Indie Emporium craft show. Check their calendar for a current schedule.
Brady Theater: A true piece of Tulsa history, the Brady Theater was completed in 1914, remodeled in 1930 by renowned Oklahoma architect Bruce Goff, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The theater now serves as a more intimate concert venue for acts ranging from James Taylor to Ke$ha. If you’re in town for Halloween, track down an invitation to the annual bash — costumes required. (The more elaborate the better!) Local bands play into the wee hours of the morning.
Cain’s Ballroom: Built in 1924, Cain’s served as the home of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. During this time, the ballroom helped popularize western swing, hosting weekly dances and daily radio shows featuring Bob Wills. Today, Cain’s Ballroom is a top concert venue, consistently ranking in the Top 30 worldwide. The second stage, Bob’s Place, hosts smaller acts or serves as a great place to step away from the crowds at larger concerts. Indie acts like Fleet Foxes, Cut Copy and Wilco flock to Cain’s during tours, and it’s a favorite venue of local group Hanson.
ONEOK Field: Home to the Tulsa Drillers minor league baseball team, this newly opened stadium has made a huge impact on Downtown Tulsa. The Art Deco-style architecture reflects the history of downtown, and the central location to both the Brady and Blue Dome districts allows baseball fans to explore before and after home games.
Center of the Universe, Boston Avenue, between 1st and Archer: Atop a pedestrian bridge on Boston Avenue, right over the railroad tracks, is a large circular brick area that plays acoustical tricks with echoes for those who visit. Nearby, the 60-foot “Artificial Cloud” sculpture by Native American artist Robert Haozous marks the spot. The sculpture, meant to represent hope threatened by technology, may or may not play a part in the acoustical phenomenon, a long-time puzzlement for locals and tourists alike.
Photo by Dawn Thackray
DOWNTOWN DECO DISTRICT
Named for the abundance of Art Deco buildings in Tulsa, the newly formed Deco District gives a name to the heart of the downtown central business district.
Elote: Elote’s goal is to serve healthy, local, organic foods in a fun environment while observing green practices. So you can feel good about what you’re eating, and even better, enjoy it — the food is fantastic. The “blue corn” style Mexican menu includes Carne Guisada, Salmon Tostadas, vegetarian options including personal favorite Sweet Corn Tamales and of course, the famous Puffy Tacos. Adjacent to the restaurant is the Luchadore ring and bar, featuring traditional Mexican masked hero vs. villain wrestling twice monthly. Check their website for the schedule — it’s definitely a unique experience!
Mod’s Coffee and Crepes: Right across the street, stop by Mod’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner crepes or snack on house-made gelato. Watch through the glass wall as employees make you a fresh Nutella Banana Crepe, or for a savory treat, try the Baked Apple and Ham.
Topeca Coffee: Inside the Mayo Hotel, Topeca is one of the few coffee shops in the world that practices a “seed-to-cup” process, allowing them control over the coffee from the moment it is planted until it is served. This attention to detail shows, as the coffee is truly fantastic. Beans are sold in multiple locations (coffee shops, restaurants and groceries) around Tulsa and beyond, and the coffee shop at the Mayo is the flagship store, also offering a breakfast and lunch menu including Panini, crepes and more.
The Penthouse Bar: Atop the Mayo Hotel, the view alone makes this a must-visit for out-of-towners and locals alike. The clubhouse-style interior was once the Penthouse Suite of the famed hotel, housing celebrities and the like in the Mayo’s heyday. The rooftop patio offers great views of downtown, including the historic neon Mayo sign.
Casa Laredo: This Mexican grill and tequila bar was a longtime Tulsa favorite in its previous location in Midtown, and devotees have followed after it moved downtown in 2008. The specialty margaritas are great, and the setting couldn’t be more fitting —the owners retained the original Mexican tile that had been in the space (the lobby of the historic Adams Building) for over 80 years.
Spexton Jewelry: Voted one of the “Top 10 Coolest Jewelry Stores in North America,” this contemporary jewelry company hand-makes all their steel and titanium pieces in their Tulsa studio. Designs are clean, modern and a little quirky, including rings, pendants, cuff bracelets and a line of beads that can be combined into personalized pieces.
The Mayo Hotel: Built in 1925, the Mayo Hotel hosted many notable guests that passed through Tulsa including Elvis, Mae West, Bob Hope and John F. Kennedy. The hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and after being abandoned for 20 years, has recently been renovated. The restoration has brought the hotel back to its former “see and be seen” status, making it a favorite hangout for locals and out-of-town guests, at both the downstairs Trula restaurant and the Penthouse Bar.
Atlas Life Courtyard Marriot: Built in 1922, the Atlas Life Building is a pinnacle of downtown Tulsa’s Art Deco style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Previously used as an office building, the Atlas re-opened in 2010 as the Courtyard. In addition to standard rooms, the hotel offers the historic 7th floor, where characteristics of the original architecture have been retained. Check out the New Atlas Grill on the first floor for great breakfast and lunch.
Tulsa Art Deco Tour: Schedule a tour with a Tulsa Historical Society Guide, or a Self-Guided Historic Walking Tour is available for download online. Walk the Central Business District and learn about over 50 significant buildings including excellent examples of ZigZag skyscrapers, Streamline and Classical Styles of Art Deco.
BOK Center: The Cesar Pelli-designed BOK (Bank of Oklahoma) Center is both an architectural landmark and a cornerstone of much of the recent downtown Tulsa development. Pelli combined Tulsa’s cultural themes of Native American, Art Deco and modern design into a swirling glass and steel façade that stands apart from the rest of downtown. In addition to hosting major concerts from Lady Gaga to Paul McCartney, the BOK Center also serves as home for the Tulsa Shock WNBA team, Tulsa Oilers Central Hockey League team and the Tulsa Talons Arena Football League team.
Tulsa Performing Arts Center: Home to the Tulsa Ballet, Tulsa Opera and Tulsa Symphony Orchestra as well as a variety of other arts organizations, the PAC is located in the heart of downtown. The place to catch touring Broadway shows, such as “Wicked,” “Rent” and others — check the schedule to see what’s happening.
Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame: Located in the historic Union Depot Building on 1st Street, also known as the “Jazz Depot,” the organization offers a variety of concerts featuring both local legends and emerging artists. In addition to their concert series, the Jazz Hall offers a wealth of educational programs from Summer Jazz Camp to individual lessons and Master Classes featuring national artists like Wynton Marsalis.
Photo by Dawn Thackray
Just on the fringes of the downtown area are a few places we wanted to include that don’t quite fall into any of the above districts. Most are a short walk or cab ride away, so don’t miss these gems!
Dalesandro’s: This family-owned Tulsa tradition at 18th and Boston has some of the best Italian food in Tulsa — from classic Spaghetti and Meatballs to the well-known weekend special, Swordfish Piccata. Caesar salad is made tableside, and the wine selections are always good. Large windows, a clean, white interior and a small outdoor area make this a step above your run-of-the-mill Italian.
Vintage 1740: This cozy wine bar is a neighborhood (and Prairie Hive) favorite. The sofas and comfy chairs encourage lounging, or enjoy their streetside patio when the weather is nice.
DoubleShot: This local java joint has loyal regulars who are proud of their coffee knowledge, thanks to the owner, a dedicated coffee expert. The newly expanded shop roasts its coffee in house and has a stark, modern interior. Warning: This is not your local chain coffee shop. Don’t even think about using your cell phone while ordering! Whatever your impressions of DoubleShot, the truth is undeniable: The coffee is phenomenal, and it was recently featured in Wine Spectator magazine. A must-try for the coffee aficionado.
Blue Rose Cafe: Located right on the Arkansas River, the real draw here is the atmosphere. The brand new location features a huge cantilevered deck and roll-up overhead doors to the inside so you can sit back, have a burger and a beer and enjoy the weather, the view and the live music on weekends.
Blue Jackalope Groceries and Coffee: This small local grocer calls itself the “shopping equivalent of the slow food movement.” While supporting local farms and gardens, the shop hopes that patrons will take a moment, meet their neighbors and share stories and recipes while they browse. On Sundays, you might even find local musicians playing to provide a soundtrack while you shop.
Hotel Ambassador: A smaller boutique hotel just outside the hustle and bustle of downtown, the Ambassador, built in 1929, offers luxury rooms, in-room spa services and a more intimate atmosphere. The Chalkboard Restaurant provides on-site fine dining for guests, and a shuttle service is offered for easy access to downtown.
Kennedy Mansion Bed & Breakfast: Just north of downtown, the Kennedy Mansion offers a more tranquil, personalized experience with a variety of suites and rooms, each of which includes the fabulous gourmet breakfast featuring crepes, omelets, quiches, waffles and more. The B&B also offers candlelight dinners on their private terraces for a romantic evening. The co-owner is French, and she really knows how to cook!
Gilcrease Museum: Visit Gilcrease to view one of the largest collections of Native American art and artifacts in the world, along with historical documents and maps. In addition to the vast Native American collection, the museum has 23 acres of themed gardens and offers tours, lectures and workshops on the facilities.
Photo by Dawn Thackray
Near downtown, the stretch of 15th Street between Peoria and Harvard avenues is known by locals as Cherry Street. A bustling, walkable stretch filled with art galleries, antique shops and local restaurants, it’s a great area to wile away a sunny day.
Palace Cafe: Right on the corner of Peoria and Cherry Street, Chef James Shraeder’s restaurant features seasonal, local ingredients, and local artists’ work adorn the walls. Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, it’s a Tulsa favorite for fine dining. While the menus change throughout the year, standbys include Scallop Linguini, Pork Tenderloin and Lobster Corndogs.
Pare: Shraeder also operates Pare just around the corner. Pare offers seasonal take-out options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert — great for gourmet meals at home or for a picnic!
Mary’s Italian Trattoria, 1313 East 15th St: This unassuming traditional Italian spot is one of the best places in Tulsa for homemade, family-style fare. You feel a little like you’ve stepped into your grandmother’s dining room on entry, and the food matches that expectation. Great for small, romantic dinners, it’s a great place to slow down and enjoy a leisurely meal with a glass of wine.
Smoke: A relatively new addition to the Cherry Street scene, Smoke features an “American Inspired, Locally Sourced” menu. Inside the restaurant you will also find the Smoke Lounge, a humidor room where guests can enjoy cigars. Menu favorites include the Crispy Quail Legs, and a wide selection of Oklahoma beef. The interior features works by local artists, and on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, live music.
Tucci’s Caffe Italia, 1344 E 15th St: Further down the street is another Italian spot with a slightly trendier vibe. Locals visit Tucci’s for the pizzas and the dark, moody atmosphere inside, or the covered patio, where you can sit back and watch the Cherry Street crowd go by. The menu also offers a delicious Lemon Caesar Salad and standard pasta, meat dishes and calzones.
Lucky’s: With an excellent selection of small-plate appetizers (Meatloaf Sliders, Black-Eyed Pea Cakes, etc.), this is an excellent place to grab an appetizer and a drink. This sleek, intimate interior is a favorite date-night spot as well. The menu takes traditional dishes and serves them up with a gourmet twist.
Kilkenny’s Irish Pub: Much of the interior of this Irish Pub was made or brought in from Ireland by the owners. The menu features traditional dishes like boxty, cottage pie and corned beef and cabbage, as well as American pub fare. In addition to specialty beers and wine, the bar has a selection of Irish whiskeys and single malt scotches. Settle in and have a pint with friends!
Coffee House on Cherry Street: A favorite spot for the mobile office crowd, this comfy neighborhood coffee shop serves locally roasted Topeca Coffee, features local artists and a variety of tasty treats. With an eclectic combination of community style sofas, table seating and private nooks, the shop encourages collaboration but also gives opportunities for solo work. Barristas can whip up a dish from their full-service breakfast menu as well as warm a variety of pastries, including vegan options. Sandwiches and snacks are available for the afternoon crowd, and patrons can enjoy the outdoor deck on nice days.
Merritt’s Bakery: A Tulsa tradition, this bakery is known for its pastries, doughnuts and sausage rolls. Each morning, you’ll find the shop full of regulars, families and those ordering specialty items for later. The bakery also makes inventive cakes, cookies and cupcakes for birthdays, weddings and other occasions. Take a number and gaze into the case to make your selections . . . it’s tough.
Cherry Street Farmer’s Market: Each Saturday from May to October, you’ll find several blocks of Cherry Street blocked off to make room for Tulsa’s largest Farmer’s Market. In addition to local produce, the market offers locally made breads, cheeses, eggs, meats, herbs, spice blends and more. Cherry Street restaurants serve up breakfast for the crowd, which includes everyone from families and dogs in strollers to local chefs searching for today’s special. Musicians play, artists and crafters sell their wares and friends meet up to chat.
LaDonna’s Fancy Foods: This unpretentious gourmet food shop features artisanal cheese and chocolates, herb & spice mixes and other “fancy foods.” The owner is helpful with advice and suggestions, and the shop offers a nice selection of “Made in Oklahoma” products as well.
TA Lorton: Another Prairie Hive favorite, this home décor store features furniture, lighting, accessories and tableware. With an array of local artists, hard-to-find items and designs unique to Tulsa, take some time to browse the packed shelves and displays for treasures. Head back to the sale room for great deals, or ask the ladies if you’re looking for something in particular.
Bonbonierre Home Couture: Tucked back in a corner is this “European Style Boutique” specializing in accessories, linens and gifts. Luxury goods and antique style are the focus, but the shop also sells a small selection of jewelry and apparel.
Ding-Bats: A full-service baby boutique, this shop features everything from shower gifts to strollers and anything in between. Clothing, diaper bags, diaper cakes and a variety of other higher-end baby gear await savvy moms or moms-to-be!
Mod 50s Modern: The original mid-century modern shop on Cherry Street specializes in (as you could guess from the name) pieces from the 50s to the 70s. Browse through and you may find an Eames chair in need of some TLC or a spectacular Sputnik to take home. The shop also features a large collection of paintings, prints and sculpture for sale from artist J Jay McVicker.
Cheap Thrills: This vintage shop is a great spot to find goodies of all kinds. The clothing selection is well chosen and also includes accessories and some collectibles. The merchandise is smartly displayed, organized by decade for those (such as yours truly) who get frustrated digging in many vintage stores.
The Retro Den: A vintage furniture shop specializing in the 50s to the 70s, this shop has a great selection of furniture, lighting, art and accessories. The selection is pared down, and pieces range from refurbished to “needs love.” The hours are scant, so check the schedule before heading that way.
Joz: Another mid-century specialty vintage shop (right across the street from Retro Den), the Joz selection is equally quirky and well curated. Many pieces have been refurbished, but you may also find something to put your own touches on. We have found some seriously fantastic glassware in Joz as well; it’s right in front, so be sure to browse those shelves before you head back toward the larger items.
Rope: This women’s boutique has a clean, modern interior and features a swoon-worthy selection of designers like Cynthia Steffe, Loeffler Randall, Velvet and Earnest Sewn, as well as a variety of lesser known labels from around the country. Merchandise includes clothing from jeans to party dresses, with accessories and shoes to match.
Shoe Gypsy: Not just a shoe store, this boutique features a selection for men, women and children. Shoe labels include a wide selection of Tom’s and both casual and dressy options within a variety of price points. The small but nicely curated clothing selection echoes this range, and helpful salespeople are great to suggest pairings (I can thank them for my fantastic Christmas gifts last year!).
Mama Trizza’s Pottery: Packed with artwork and gifts, this shop is filled with items from artisans around the country. More than pottery can be found here — glass, metal and wood sculptures are a large part of the display, as well as water features and smaller items like jewelry and candles.
Wild Blue, 2747 East 15th Street: Next door, find another quirky gift shop featuring a huge selection of Day of the Dead décor, accessories and art. The shop is adjacent to a bead shop that sells pre-made jewelry as well as supplies to make your own.
Urban Garden: A “garden boutique,” this shop features plants of all types including succulents, airplants, bonsai and herbs, as well as hydroponics supplies. The helpful staff can also recommend specialty soils and other needed items for your home garden and sells a great selection of containers, pots and other vessels to start you out. Micro-greens and other herbs grown at the shop are featured at multiple restaurants around town as well.
Hotel Savoy: Just around the corner from Cherry Street is a small boutique hotel that even many locals don’t know about. Its seven suites feature antiques, sitting rooms and full kitchens, making it ideal for both romantic getaways within the city or a business stay.
The “see and be seen” area of Midtown Tulsa — South Peoria Avenue between around 31st and 51st streets is known as Brookside. Walk the strip and shop, eat, drink and just take in the scene.
Blue Moon Bakery and Cafe: While mostly known for delicious breakfast pastries and brunch, this café also serves healthy, local lunches and dinner. Freshly made pecan buns, scones and muffins are standout, and the breakfast menu includes standards like eggs, oatmeal and some of the best huevos rancheros in town! Lunch includes house-baked breads and sandwiches, and dinner changes seasonally.
Café Ole: This tiny Santa Fe-style restaurant has one of the most popular patios in Tulsa, tucked back from the street and perfect for sipping one of their signature margaritas. The New Mexican style is a nice break from some of the more traditional Mexican fare in town, with Blue Corn Stacked Enchiladas as a favorite . . . and don’t forget the White Queso!
Cosmo’s: Combination sandwich shop and coffee bar, this is another great place for a wi-fi break. They have a great selection of bar snacks, as well as salads, pizzas and sandwiches that stray from the norm a bit. Many vegetarian options are available, as well as a gluten-free menu. The bar also offers a full cocktail menu, including a lengthy selection of — you guessed it — cosmos!
Garlic Rose: Just off the main road, this cozy Italian bistro has a warm interior and an adjacent courtyard that guests can dine on. Antipasti, classic Italian entrees and house-made breads and desserts round out the menu. During nice weather, the large overhead doors open and give the whole restaurant an al fresco feel.
In the Raw: Tulsa’s “see and be seen” sushi bar, ITR not only has a great social scene but also delicious sushi. In addition to traditional nigiri, sashimi and basic rolls, the hipster hangout also has specialty rolls, cocktails and other Asian entrees. If there’s a wait, have a drink at the bar or on the back patio.
Lambrusco’z: Midtown’s favorite deli, at lunchtime, Lambrusco’z has pages of sandwich options including fabulous house-made pimento cheese, deli meats and wraps. The restaurant is also open nightly for dinner, or choose from the case and take your selection home (or great for picnics!). The deli also has take-home selections of dips, spreads and snacks, including frozen items made in-house. While you wait, shop their selection of quirky gift and kitchen items.
The Brook: Look for the marquee for this game day, family friendly spot for burgers, nachos and other bar food. Known for great fries, sandwiches and chicken fried steak, this is a good place to grab a beer and watch your favorite team.
Sonoma Bistro and Wine Bar: With both a front and back patio area, this is a perfect spot for a glass of wine on a beautiful day. If the weather isn’t cooperating, dine in the cozy interior — the menu has a good selection of specialty pizzas and flatbreads, as well as interesting entrees and a good selection of appetizers to nibble while you sip.
Doc’s Wine & Food: Right on the corner with a prime front patio for people watching, Doc’s has a little something different for the Brookside area. The menu features a Creole twist, with seafood including etouffee, oysters and shrimp.
Shades of Brown: This coffee shop features standard java, chai and tea blends as well as pastries from a local bakery. They feature a rotating selection of art from local emerging artists, live music on weekends and Mondays and private rooms in the back.
Weber’s Superior Root Beer Restaurant: Opened in 1933, this is the longest running business on Brookside. Stop in for the nostalgia and have a burger and a root beer!
Elmer’s BBQ: “It be bad!” is the slogan at this long-time Brookside joint. Menu includes dine-in or carry-out options with traditional BBQ meat, beans, slaw and Texas toast.
The Brasserie: This is a great special-occasion spot, with French-style food in an intimate atmosphere. The sophisticated menu includes fois gras, frog’s legs and duck, as well as steaks, seafood and other foodie favorites. They have put together a great wine list, so sitting at the bar for a drink and a small plate is a good option for the budget conscious.
The Local Table: Committed to using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, the menu is ever changing but always good. Vegetarian options are always on the menu (love the Poblano and Black Bean Lasagna!), and they feature weekly wine discounts as well as nightly themed food specials. If you need something to go, head over to the Market next door.
Ida Red: This quirky shop features a wide variety of local and handcrafted art and jewelry, Cain’s Ballroom merchandise and great concert posters from the artists featured at Cain’s. In addition to apparel and home décor, the shop also has a huge selection of retro soda pop and candy to enjoy while you shop or take with you. They frequently host events and feature live music and art shows, so you never know what you’ll find when you stop in!
M.A. Doran Gallery: A beautiful gallery featuring a wide variety of contemporary artists’ work. The main floor features rotating exhibits, while the upper gallery is a standing display of artists represented by the gallery.
Nattie Bleu: This boutique features a wide selection of jewelry from artists around the world, as well as handbags, hair accessories, scarves and more. From delicate to bold pieces, the prices also vary from mid- to high range.
Sideways: You’ll find a little bit of everything at this fun boutique. The back part of the shop features home accessories, fine linens and furnishings with brands like Dash & Albert and Dwell. In the front, a diverse selection of clothes and accessories in a good range of styles and prices.
SR Hughes: You won’t miss this gorgeous showroom, with its corner location and striking window displays. The destination for modern — the home furnishings and accessories store features big names like Knoll, Kartell, Tom Dixon, Flos and EcoSmart (to name a few) to choose from.
Little Black Dress: A cute boutique for a GNO, you’ll find pretty little dresses, tops and all kinds of goodies. Labels include Charlie Jade, Zinke, Plenty by Tracy Reece and more.
Isabella’s Design Originals: For the funkier crowd, head down the street to Isabella’s. This shop keeps more one-of-a-kind, locally designed pieces in stock, along with a fun selection of shoes and accessories.
Aberson: Tulsa’s couture destination is home to modern, clean styling for women and men’s clothing. Featuring designers like Jason Wu, Jil Sander, Armani, Lanvin and more, a girl can dream, right?
Aberson Exhibits: Across the street, find an equally sleek art gallery exhibiting the work of both emerging and established artists.
Black Optical: Simply a gorgeous selection of eyewear, sunglasses and vintage. The staff is extremely helpful (ask for Gary) and try on to your heart’s content!
edit: This brand new Brookside addition sells a collection of modern home, office and personal objects. As the name suggests, they focus on well-designed objects, with form following function.
Ribbons: For cute kid’s clothes, accessories and gifts . . . and even something for mom!
Philbrook Museum of Art: Philbrook was originally an Italian-style villa built by the Waite Phillips family in the 1920s. The architecture and grounds alone are worth the visit, but the site now houses a permanent collection including European, Renaissance, contemporary and Native American art, as well as rotating exhibits. Wander through at your own leisure, or take a guided tour, offered daily.
Woodward Park and Tulsa Garden Center: A great spot for a stroll, a picnic and people watching on a leisurely afternoon. The 45-acre park has rock gardens, herb gardens, the Municipal Rose Garden, a conservatory and over 15,000 azaleas that make for a beautiful show in the spring. Tour the Linnaeus Teaching Gardens just adjacent to the Tulsa Garden Center; it’s a one-of-a-kind garden run entirely by volunteers, featuring the latest in horticulture and landscape design.
Utica Square: Utica Square is Tulsa’s walkable outdoor shopping area. While most of the retailers are chain stores, there are a few fantastic locally owned clothing stores and some great restaurants that make the Square worth a visit. On Thursday nights during the summer, grab some food and BYOB to picnic and listen to live music.
The Wild Fork: Pre-, mid- or post-shopping spree, this is a nice place to sit down and have an elegant but casual meal. Breakfast is fantastic, and the lunch and dinner menus have a great selection of unique flavors, vegetarian options and a good wine list. Also has a great patio for people watching and listening to the hourly music from the clock tower.
Queenie’s: A favorite breakfast and lunch spot, this tiny café is frequently packed — but worth the wait! The breakfast menu is basic but always delicious, or lunch on some of the best sandwiches around. They have daily specials on soups, quiche and desserts, and you can’t miss the homemade Tomato Tart. Save room for dessert — the cookies, cakes and pies are famous — or take something to go for later!
Stonehorse Café: One of Tulsa’s best places for fine but casual dining, with an ever-changing seasonal menu. They also have some of our favorite pizzas in town. The market next door also offers a selection of “take and bake” meals, meats, cheeses, breads and desserts.
Polo Grill: With an award-winning wine list, this is one of Tulsa’s oldest places for a business lunch or a formal dinner. If the dining room is a bit stuffy for you, try the bar for a more casual experience. Dinner offerings include traditional steak, lobster and other classic dishes, as well as a nine-course Chef’s Tasting.
Nantucket Creamery: On a hot day, duck back into this gourmet ice cream shop for a cold, sweet treat. Choose from a variety of toppings, and servers will mix your flavor on a marble slab.
Muse Intimates: A locally owned lingerie store, this shop has a selection of brands like Hanky Panky, Le Mystere, Betsey Johnson and more. Staff is friendly and can help with fittings and suggestions.
The Snow Goose: This quirky shop is a great place for gifts, offering novelties, home goods, clothes, pajamas, toys and the funniest greeting cards in town! Swing through to find something unique or just for a giggle.
Flirt: This women’s boutique has a variety of styles and price points, from national designers like Alice + Trixie and Splendid to locally made jewelry. You can find anything from t-shirts to party dresses here, as well as handbags and shoes.
The Lolly Garden: “Designed for moms, by moms,” this children’s boutique has clothes for babies and kids, from traditional to trendy. The large store has mostly higher-end brands, gifts and accessories including toys, blankets, hats and more.
The Glass Slipper: A shoe-lover’s haven, the shop has a selection of styles including casual, office, trendy and bridal shoes, blending better-known designers with unique finds. A small selection of handbags and accessories rounds out the fun selection!
Loops: This knitting store has a fantastic selection of supplies including yarn, needles and bags. They offer coffee and a playroom for kids, so you have plenty of time for browsing! They have classes each month as well as free help and knitter meet-ups — check the website for schedules. In addition to the Utica location, there is another store on the south side of town.
Miss Jackson’s: Opened in 1910 in downtown Tulsa, this department store is celebrating 100 years and counting. In 1965, the store moved to Utica Square and has been a cornerstone of the center ever since. The store offers high-end apparel, fine jewelry, shoes and other accessories, as well as a fur salon, home and bridal registry, and a full-service beauty salon. Walking past their beautiful display windows is one of my favorite parts of Utica Square, so be sure and check them out!
Ranch Acres is the area roughly between 31st and 41st streets along Harvard Avenue, and we are also including here some other Midtown favorites that didn’t quite fit into another category. While the area isn’t especially walkable, most of these locations are within a one- to two-mile radius and are close to the Brookside, Utica and Cherry Street areas.
Akin’s Natural Food Market: Open since 1935, Akin’s is one of the longest operated natural food markets in the nation (I remember buying veggie burgers and skin care products here when I was in high school, before they were readily available!). Beyond supplements, cruelty-free cosmetics, 100% organic produce, fresh packaged foods and unusual cooking and gift items, Akin’s has an extremely knowledgeable and trained staff.
The Palate at Ranch Acres: Tucked in a shopping strip corner is one of Tulsa’s best-kept secrets. I personally love the Alex and Kate sandwiches and enjoy ordering the casseroles for quick and easy family gatherings.
Dutchess Chocolate: This homey shop makes all their chocolates with fresh ingredients right in the store, so the smell alone is worth a trip. Choose from the pre-packaged boxes, or create your own mix. They also make fudge, caramels and other seasonal treats. Mmmm . . .
Brownie’s, 2130 S Harvard Ave: Another Tulsa tradition, this burger and root beer diner opened in 1957. The burgers, onion rings and house-made root beer are legend in Tulsa (I was once told that if I ever defected from my non-meat-eating ways, this would be the place to do it!). Stop in for some nostalgia and save room for pie!
Steve’s Sundry Books & Magazines: Tulsa’s oldest independent bookstore, Steve’s has not only books and gifts but also includes an old-fashioned soda fountain where shoppers can order breakfast, sandwiches and ice cream treats.
The Colony: A revitalized dive bar, this cozy indie joint has live music seven nights a week and has become a major player in the Tulsa music scene. It also has a great fireplace in the winter and a small patio in the summer.
Bodean Restaurant & Market: Unassuming in a strip mall, you would never guess this is one of the best places in Tulsa for seafood. Flown in fresh, you’ll find standard dishes (oysters, lobster, scallops) plus daily specials that all come straight from the market next door. The market has not only fresh fish but also prepared dishes, rubs and sauces, as well as some of the best fresh bread around.
Toni’s Flowers and Gifts: In addition to being one of Tulsa’s most innovative floral designers, you can always find a great selection of glassware, home accessories and other gift items in this cute shop. The staff is extremely helpful, whether you need a large arrangement or a small hostess gift.
Kiddlestix: You won’t find a standard selection of mass-produced Barbies and Monster trucks in this toy shop. With items for all ages, Kiddlestix focuses on high-quality toys. Beautiful wooden toys, educational puzzles and almost any girly girl doll accessory you can think of line the shelves of this treasure trove for kids. For clueless, kidless folks like myself, the staff is always great to help with gift suggestions.
Sweet Tooth: In addition to truffles and chocolates, this candy shop offers a huge array of nostalgic candy, novelty sweets and sugar-free items. The staff is very helpful, and the shop also offers an array of containers, so you can build your own gifts. The gift shop next door has jewelry, toys and other fun gifts to pair with the sweets.
Tatermash: For fun, funky accessories made right here in Tulsa, stop by Tatermash. One of the best sources for oilcloth and oilcloth products online or off.
Ted and Debbie’s: I usually stop here when I need a quick garden pick-me-up. With everything from indoor houseplants to decorative garden plants, florals, vegetables and herbs, I can always find just what I want. They also have a unique selection of gifts and full florist shop as well.
Photo by Dawn Thackray
ELSEWHERE IN TULSA
For the final few places that aren’t in one of the main neighborhoods but are worth the drive to get to, we threw in this category. Some are south, some are north, but if you’re nearby, stop in.
White River Fish Market: For un-fancy but delicious seafood, make the drive a little further north and check out White River. With fish flown in every day, this Tulsa legend (since 1932!) has grilled, smoked and fried home-style fish dinners as well as a market.
La Roma: File this under “random but delicious.” While this hole in the wall started as a pizza place, they are now mostly known for their Lebanese food. Standard dishes like gyros, hummus and baklava make up the menu, and yes, they also still serve pizza.
India Palace: Pretty much the only place in Tulsa for good Indian food. The drive is a bit inconvenient, but the food is worth it! They offer a buffet at lunch and a huge menu for dinner, with everything from samosas to vindaloo to curry. Show up ready to stuff yourself!
El Rio Verde, 38 North Trenton Avenue: Authentic Mexican food, fast and cheap. Tulsans swear by the Wet Burrito (veggie, chicken or beef) and the Fish Tacos, as well as the guacamole.
Binh Le, 5903 East 31st Street: This Vietnamese restaurant has an extremely loyal following and the two dishes that repeat with everyone are the Bun Cha Cio and the Sesame Soy. It gets busy at lunch, so get there early!
Seigi’s Sausage Factory: Opened in 1985 and recently relocated to a new larger facility, this sausage maker ships meats all over the country. The adjacent German restaurant serves classics like schnitzel, spaetzle and potato pancakes, as well as — naturally — sausages.
OK Country Donut Shoppe: This tiny donut shop is known around town for making a variety of donut shapes and letters that change with the seasons and occasion. Great for kids and adults alike, the donuts are delicious as well as adorable. The owners will take custom orders and design the donut cutouts themselves, so they can work with you on a special request.
Kupcakz: This shop owner studied at culinary school and learned to love baking along the way. With yummy, inventive cupcakes like the Cheeky Monkey (banana cake with caramel cream cheese) and the Morning Buzz (espresso chocolate cake with mocha buttercream frosting), it shows. The shop is fun and has plenty of room to sit down and enjoy your indulgence!
J. Cole Shoes: Our favorite Southside Tulsa shoe boutique, these ladies offer a great selection of both shoes and accessories. They are quick to help with suggestions and also host trunk shows and other fashion events in the shop.
Terri’s: Another Southside spot, this women’s boutique has a large selection of mid- to high-range tops, dresses and work clothes, as well as a well-rounded jean selection. They also offer jewelry and other accessories to complete your outfit.
Hawley Design Furnishings: This artist offers custom contemporary furniture pieces and features several manufacturers in their Pearl District showroom. They also offer lighting, upholstered pieces, antiques and design services. Check out the Shatter Glass tables — customizable and amazing!
Oklahoma Aquarium: In addition to the Ocean Room, Coral Reef exhibit and the Shark Tank, the Aquarium also features an Ozark exhibit on local wildlife. A great way to spend a hot or rainy day for both kids and adults alike!
Tulsa Air & Space Museum and Planetarium: For kiddos or history buffs, this newly renovated facility has exhibits highlighting the early days of flight to the space age. The adjacent Planetarium was also updated in 2006, and the regular shows get rave reviews from moms of science lovers.
Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum: A great place to explore for kids of all ages, the Tulsa Zoo has plenty of exhibits and furry residents for everyone. From the most-popular Africa area — with many exotic animals — to the Tropical Rainforest, Oceans and Asia exhibits, the zoo, naturally, features animals from all over the world. The kiddos won’t want to miss the Children’s Zoo for fluffy animals ready to be pet.
Route 66: While much of the old Route 66 has seen better days (it stretches roughly along 11th street in town), there are still pieces of Americana to be found along the way. There are landmarks throughout the state along the mother road, but perhaps the most notable within Tulsa city limits is the neon Meadow Gold sign recently restored thanks to efforts by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.
The Golden Driller: Originally erected in 1953, this 76-foot oil worker (complete with oil derrick) that stands as a tribute to the oil industry marks the entrance to the Tulsa County Fairgrounds. Worth a drive by and a photo op if you’re nearby.
Oral Roberts University: Another great drive-by is ORU, known for the slightly wacky futuristic architecture (built in 1963). From the spaceship Prayer Tower to the giant Praying Hands, it’s definitely worth a look for architecture buffs.
Discoveryland!: For summer visitors (and locals), take a trip a bit outside city limits to watch the outdoor production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! with live horses, real cowboys and yes, a surrey with the fringe on top. Kitschy? Yes. But fun.