Mike Wozniak might not be a Tulsa native, but he’s certainly dug his roots in enough to call the city home. Since moving to Green Country in the early ’90s, he and a handful of like-minded business owners have carved out a section of T-Town to make their own: the Tulsa Arts District. Nestled against the city’s Inner Dispersal Loop at the north end of downtown, the area was largely a “blank canvas” when he and his business partner, Josh Gifford, opened their bicycle-culture-themed dive bar and DIY venue The Soundpony in 2006. “We were into bikes, we were into music and we were into creating a vibrant arts community,” he says. “We had been to other urban centers that had seen a renaissance, and we felt that Tulsa was ripe for it.”
These days, calling the Tulsa Arts District a “vibrant arts community” would be a significant understatement. Just stand on Main Street in front of The Soundpony on any given night, and you’ll likely hear live music trickling (and in some cases, blasting) from the doors of the numerous venues concentrated in the area: The Vanguard, The Yeti, The Hunt Club and, of course, the historic Cain’s Ballroom. And with museums and galleries like the Woody Guthrie Center and the Philbrook Downtown on seemingly every corner, it’s easy to see what makes the area so magnetic. “I don’t want to pooh-pooh any other areas, but [Tulsa] really has kind of held onto its hometown feel and its integrity,” he says. “Sometimes we have a chip on our shoulder, I think, because we’re like, Man, this town really is cool, and I love living here. But you have to kind of explain why to people.”
Arts and Craft Cocktails
Our neighborhood ambassador shows us how it’s done
If You Want A Libation That Raises The Bar
Specializing in “serious drinks,” Valkyrie is the place to go if you’re feeling a little less vodka tonic and a little more French 75. “[Valkyrie’s owner] Aaron Post is over-the-top in terms of his knowledge of cocktails,” Mike says. “I think it’s probably one of the best cocktail bars in the country just because he is such student of that trade. I swear that guy is on the forefront of that craft-cocktail culture.” (13 E M.B. Brady St.; valkyrietulsa.com)
If Your Machine Educates Fascists
Woody Guthrie Center
More than just a singer-songwriter, Woody Guthrie was an American folk hero who provided the downtrodden and the marginalized a voice in the wake of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. At the Woody Guthrie Center, visitors can learn all about the life and times of Oklahoma’s favorite son by digging through the singer’s archives. One of Woody’s greatest admirers and imitators—a musician by the name of Bob Dylan—will soon have his own archives permanently exhibited at the nearby Helmerich Center for American Research. (102 E. M.B. Brady St.; woodyguthriecenter.org)
If This Land Is Your Land
Nestled among downtown’s brick-and-asphalt surroundings lies a beautiful urban park where on any given day you can find a concert, a yoga class or just a lush patch of green grass perfect for a picnic. “Guthrie Green during the spring, summer and fall is really starting to showcase some amazing talent,” Mike says. “There’s always programming going on there.” And if you get hungry, just head over to Mr. Nice Guys in the park’s cafe for tacos and an ice-cold craft beer. (111 E M.B. Brady St.; guthriegreen.com)
If You’re Tired of IPAs
Prairie Artisan Ales has made quite a name for itself—and Tulsa—since they got started in 2012. “They’ve gotten a lot of national attention for farmhouse brewing, which kind of gets away from all these hoppy beers,” Mike says. And while they do feature several varieties of saison on their list (including a hoppy farmhouse ale), beer aficionados can also find German-style pilsners, goses and the famous “Bomb!”: an imperial stout aged on espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans and ancho chile peppers. Pair that with some pork-belly ramen or eggplant roulade from the pub’s kitchen, and you may find yourself slipping into a coma of contentment.(223 N. Main St.; prairiepub.com)
If You Want to Dine Like A Gangster
Bull in the Alley
“You feel like the mobsters might’ve been in there in the 1920s,” Mike says, and when it comes to describing the district’s speakeasy-style steakhouse, we tend to agree. If you don’t know where to look, there’s a good chance you may never find the lounge’s entrance in the alley just off M.B. Brady Street. (Hint: It’s a green door denoted solely by the metal bull sculpture hanging above it.) Oh, and don’t pass up a martini from the tableside bar cart when you’re there. (11 E M.B. Brady St.; bullinthealley.com)
If You Want It All
Like the mythical creature for which it’s named, Chimera is a hybrid of sorts. It offers the variety of coffee drinks you’d expect from a hip coffee spot, as well cocktails, wine, beer and, most notably, an extensive selection of healthy and environmentally conscious food options. “They’ve done a really wonderful job of creating a vegan-friendly menu and giving people options in the area that we didn’t really have in Tulsa before,” Mike says. (212 N. Main St.; chimeratulsa.com)
If You’re Willing To Engage in Healthy Discourse
When asked what attracts patrons to his bar, The Soundpony, Mike chalks it up to their inclusive nature. “It’s a place where everyone can come, and we don’t judge you unless you’re an asshole,” he explains. “I really mean that. If you’re trans, if you’re gay or lesbian, if you’re straight, conservative—it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re willing to engage in healthy discourse. That’s it really.” Put simply: Come for the raucous rock shows and the patio’s skyline view, stay for the lively conversation. (409 N. Main St.; thesoundpony.com)
If You Want To See Where It All Began
It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes Cain’s Ballroom so special. Is it the venue’s intimate nature? The spring-loaded dance floor? (Yeah, that’s a thing.) If you ask Mike, he’ll tell you it’s the history. “It’s the birthplace of Western Swing music, which is a forerunner of rock and roll, really, and there’s ghosts in that building that can tell the story of American music and the development of it,” he explains. “It’s one of the coolest venues that I’ve ever been to.” We couldn’t agree more. (423 N. Main St.; cainsballroom.com)
If You’re Feeling Old School
Ida Red General Store & Soda Fountain
Trigger your 1950s nostalgia with Ida Red’s selection of retro candy or grab a cool beverage from the soda jerks at the counter. All the classics are on the menu, like New York egg creams and chocolate ice cream sodas. Or get something with a modern touch like the Cold-Fashioned made with espresso, cardamom syrup, bitters and a little water garnished with orange peel and a cherry. And if you’re not thirsty, peruse the shop’s selection of Okie-centric gifts. (208 N. Main St.; 918-398-6700)
If You Want The New St. Vincent Album on Vinyl
With its flame-red doors usually flung open, offering peeks at its curated shelves of new and vintage vinyl, this Brady Street spot is a hard one for a music lover to pass over. Billing itself as a “music lifestyle” store, Spinster Records also offers in-store performances from local and touring bands. (11 E. M.B. Brady St.; spinsterrecords.com)
If You Want To Pretend You’re in Chelsea
Philbrook Downtown—a 30,000-square-foot warehouse-turned-gallery that’s focused on modern and contemporary art—is the hip little sister to the Philbrook Art Museum. If it seems rather “big city,” it’s because it was designed by New York-based Gluckman Mayner Architects, who’ve worked on such projects as the Andy Warhol Museum and the Museo Picasso. (116 E. M.B. Brady St.; philbrook.org)
There’s more to Tulsa beyond the Arts District. Here are a few other downtown(ish) faves:
324 E. 3rd St.
A farm-to-table spot that’s a sure bet for special occasions—check out Chef Justin Thompson’s five-course tasting menu if you’re feeling splurge-y.
502 E. 3rd St.
A shipping-container redevelopment that plays host to a slew of small local boutiques and bars, including—wait for it—“Tulsa’s only Belgian Honky Tonk.”
EAST VILLAGE BOHEMIAN PIZZA
818 E. 3rd St.
True Neapolitan-style pizza (00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, 800-degree oven, etc.) in a charming bistro
that lives up to the Bohemian
in its name.
823 E. 3rd St.
A cozy-chic cocktail joint with The Nicest Folks Ever behind the stick. Also: ridiculously good food-truck fare out front.
1317 E. 6th St.
A gorgeous industrial-mod space for folks who really know their coffee. (And even those who don’t.)
CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
1 S. Boston Ave.
Stand in the center of this concrete circle and witness an “acoustic anomaly” that’ll leave you bumfuddled.