Named for a pioneering shoe salesman, Tulsa’s revitalized Brady Arts District gives visitors more reasons to hustle to Oklahoma.
Our waiter, Cameron, zipped by to inquire about the status of our dining party’s drinks and said, “Your dinner will be up… sometime in the near future.” Snug in a windowed front alcove of The Tavern, where we could survey the bustling restaurant, as well as the Brady Arts District street scene, we were content.
As with many repurposed buildings in revitalized downtown areas, the restaurant has a history. So, from its dark wood bar and soft gray leather banquette, to its black-and-white historical photos and Ball-jar centerpieces, The Tavern laces its laid-back cool with well-worn comfort. And from the Deviled Egg Trifecta appetizer and the don’t-miss Angry Mac and Cheese, to the superlative bone-in pork chops and the silkiest Chocolate Torte I’ve ever tasted, the food is can’t-forget-it good.
The eatery was surprisingly crowded for a late-April Thursday evening. “Close your eyes and listen to the sound,” one of my dining partners said. The noise was happy and substantial–much like the noise this particular area of Tulsa, Okla., is generating.
Staking a Claim
Named for former shoe salesman Wyatt Tate Brady, one of Tulsa’s 1890 founders and builder of the famed Cain’s Ballroom, Brady Arts District has long been known for an ambience that caters to the creatively inclined. The Blue Dome and Greenwood districts (home to dance clubs and the Jazz Hall of Fame) lie alongside. This is the go-to destination for artists’ studios, trendy bars with live music, and patrons with a younger mindset.
But over the past decade, this district directly north of downtown Tulsa has seen an influx of venues more broadly targeted. Art Deco-style ONEOK Field (home of the Tulsa Drillers, the Colorado Rockies’ AA affiliate) opened in 2011. New showcases related to Tulsa’s major art muscle, the Gilcrease and Philbrook museums, opened in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
One cannot mistake the pure air of creativity when stepping into the wide-open spaces and clean lines of the University of Tulsa’s Henry Zarrow Center for Art and Education, located in the renovated Mathews Warehouse (the former Tulsa Paper Co. building). TU manages both Gilcrease and the Zarrow Center, but while Gilcrease’s renown is for its incomparable collections of Western and American Indian art and artifacts, the Zarrow Center’s focus leans toward the more contemporary.
The Sherman Smith Family Gallery is host to roughly 10 exhibitions a year, while tucked away in the center’s classrooms are opportunities for fledgling Picassos from age 3 to adult. A range of classes, drop-in family art days, and workshops on printmaking, mosaics and more draw visitors. And that doesn’t even mention the wine bar, First Friday Art Crawl and lectures.
Sharing the warehouse with the Zarrow Center is Philbrook Downtown, opened June 14 this year. Its ground floor is devoted to modern and contemporary art, plus gallery spaces for temporary exhibitions, while its second floor showcases the Eugene B. Adkins Collection and the Adkins Collection & Study Center, both dedicated to the preservation, study, and exhibition of 20th-century American Indian art and artists.
Opened April 27 this year just down the street is the Woody Guthrie Center, which pays homage to the Oklahoma folk singer who was so much more. Along with his original 1940 handwritten copy of “This Land Is Your Land,” the fiddle he carried during his World War II U.S. Merchant Marine service, and his 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Award, visitors will find many of his watercolors, charcoals, pastels, and inks (many transferred onto curved steel plates). Also on display are some of his novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, as well as interactive touch screens with some of his 3,000-plus song lyrics (he recorded only 150). The center holds the country’s only permanent exhibit on the Dust Bowl, inspiration for so many of Woody’s songs.
Although Woody was a race-barrier breaker and political activist before it was cool, and his opinions didn’t always sit well with many conservative Oklahomans, Woody’s daughter, Nora, who was present for the opening, insisted the controversy and bad feelings are in the past. It’s “so old, it’s boring,” she said, adding that Woody would love this place. Even those who don’t like folk music can enjoy the personal archival objects and concentrate on Woody’s words–he was a fun-loving but deep man who respected everyone’s walk in life. “Don’t look up to him, look eye to eye,” Nora said.
Browse, Eat, Stroll
While numerous other studios and galleries, such as Hardesty Arts Center and Living Arts of Tulsa, also tempt, other new options catch the eye. Don’t miss Colors of Etnika, a free-trade-style shop overflowing with handmade clothing, jewelry, and accessories hand-picked from Peru, Guatemala, and Cambodia. At the Tulsa Glassblowing School, visitors can watch the pros or get hands-on with their own glass creation for $25 to $50. And John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park is a memorial to the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot and Oklahoma’s black founders and builders, crowned by the 25-foot-tall Tower of Reconciliation.
Nearby, hungry visitors will find The Rusty Crane, opened in 2012 in a renovated glass-plating factory burned in the race riot and rebuilt with the area’s ubiquitous red brick. Decorative red brick scavenged from Tulsa’s old Mayo Hotel helps define this low-key space that’s standing room only with live music on weekends. Worth checking out is the No Crash Lunch Philosophy, aka healthy options for sleep-prone office workers, but the Turkey Bacon Wrap is phenomenal.
Smack in the district’s middle is Guthrie Green, an urban garden and performance space. Sunday Market at Guthrie Green, held April through November, allows visitors to browse local vendors’ booths for produce, bakery goods, artisan cheese, microbrew beer, and art of all kinds. Or they can join the singles, couples, families with small kids, and a smattering of dogs to wander the paths, play in the splash pad, listen to musicians and grab lunch from a food truck. No matter which way visitors turn here in Brady, another option presents itself.
Karen Eakins is features editor at Home & Away magazine.
Sep/Oct 2013 Issue
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