ALLOW ME to set the scene: Picture a larger-than-average dining room with gray cinderblock walls supporting exposed ceiling trusses. Rough-hewn tables line the space, each one with built-in bench seating on either side. Along the room’s farthest wall, a bar runs almost the full length. The decor is modern and minimalist but with a definitive air of honky-tonk, like a Swedish interpretation of Texas. People are hunched and huddled together, crowded around sheet trays of pretzels and french fries, hoisting glinting mugs of beer. Over the speakers, Jay-Z fades away, the conversations catch and there’s a perfect second of silence before the room is bathed in what has to be one of the greatest musical moments of the 20th century: the shimmering, disco-tinged synth that begins Madonna’s “Lucky Star.”
God bless Fassler Hall for having a jukebox. I’ve just spent the best $2 of my life.
This isn’t my first visit to Fassler. I’d stopped in by myself a few days before on a quiet and still-cold Tuesday for a late-night dinner. The food was fine, but I could tell there was something lacking, a noticeable absence of energy in the hall.
Two days later, on an equally low-key morning, Trevor Tack, Fassler’s executive chef, would unknowingly tell me exactly what was missing. “This place is about connections,” he says. The seating in the hall is communal by design, marrying the feeling of a traditional German beer hall with a college-bar vibe. “This is the place where you don’t just bring a friend; you bring five or six or eight. Just bring everyone you know.”
“Yeah,” Ashley Price, Fassler’s general manager chimes in. “We might get a little loud sometimes, but that’s what we’re here for.”
OK, Fassler Hall. Duly noted.
So I’m back, a tableful of friends in tow, beer in my glass and Madonna on repeat. Now this is more like it.
Fassler is the brainchild of The McNellie’s Group of Tulsa, Oklahoma, that city’s answer to our own Yellow Rocket Concepts, and it’s an idea that grew out of the fabric of Tulsa itself. Since the late 1970s, Tulsa has been home to one of the nation’s largest Oktoberfest celebrations. As throngs of people flocked to the event to buy beer and sausages from pop-up kiosks, it didn’t take long before the owners of McNellie’s decided that Tulsa was hungry for a year-round Oktoberfest option.
While the original concept for Fassler Hall predated his time at McNellie’s, when Trevor joined the team as the group’s executive chef, he found ways to put his own signature style on the menu. “Menus are promises,” he says. “It may be a big promise or a little promise, but you’ve put that menu—that promise—in writing.” How well guests think you deliver on that promise, Trevor believes, dictates if they come back or not.
Trevor, a Chickasha, Oklahoma, native, admits that food wasn’t always at the forefront of his upbringing. “I grew up eating the same seven things on a weekly rotation,” he says, “and most of those were denoted by color: green chicken, red chicken.” It’s something I can empathize with, the nights when I’d know by a single whiff if my father was cooking and if we were having the thing that smelled bad or the thing that smelled worse. It wasn’t until Trevor got older and began eating dinner at his friends’ homes that he realized what he’d been missing.
By the time he started college at Oklahoma State University, the Food Network had captured his attention between business classes. Eventually, he changed his major and enrolled in the university’s culinary and hospitality program, and after working in several Tulsa kitchens, he found a home with McNellie’s. Being the executive chef for a restaurant group this large—McNellie’s has created 10 different concepts, some of which, like Fassler, have multiple locations—means that he spends more time looking over paperwork than cooking on the line. “The funny thing about cooking,” he says, laughing, “is that the better you get at it, the less people want you to do it.”
The food at Fassler gives a nod to classic German cuisine, while unabashedly racing in new directions. And while more traditional sausages such as a sauerkraut-topped bratwurst have their place on the menu, the hall’s best dishes are the ones where the ties to their German heritage are loosest. The falafel dog, served with feta cheese and tzatziki sauce is a standout, and the jalapeño-cheddar sausage will have patrons reaching past their beers for a margarita.
When Fassler Hall opened its doors in late March, it joined two sibling restaurants, one in Tulsa and the other in Oklahoma City. “The Fassler in Tulsa…,” Trevor laughs, shaking his head. “It’s pretty gritty.” Trevor describes the Tulsa location as the punk-rock cousin, and the Oklahoma City location as the most debonair of the trio. As for Little Rock—Trevor admits that it may be too soon to know. “I really like this building,” he says, gesturing around the newly renovated space. “Go look at a real German beer hall—it’s just tables; people are just there to be together and have fun.”
“I tried to make everything here the same,” Ashley says, “but I had to stop thinking of this as the third Fassler and think of it as the first Fassler in Arkansas.”
Back to my second night at the hall. It’s as loud as Ashley said it would be, but not loud enough to drown out my $2 at the jukebox ($20 to play Madonna’s entire first album—what a small price for the betterment of humanity), and people are filing in and out of the connected outdoor beer garden, the largest patio in Little Rock, with half-liters of German hefeweizens and pilsners in hand. Here with all the people, all the noise and energy, you can tell that this is what Trevor had in mind. This is what Fassler is supposed to be and how it should be experienced: surrounded by people and with a beer in your hand.