Growing up in Tulsa, decades after the '60s Greasers-style cool of The Outsiders, I never thought of my town as particularly hip in any way. It was hard to find a place where my not-very-sporty/artsy personality felt at home. That's why, as someone who still calls the city home, I'm endlessly jealous of the kids I see growing up here now.
In many ways it's a different city, and no area exemplifies this more than the Brady Arts District, a multi-block collection of former warehouses on the edge of downtown that's now full of galleries, restaurants, and boutique shops, the great majority of which are locally owned. A decade ago, the district was dormant, with just a few early pioneers struggling in a sea of vacancies. Now, it's the crown jewel of the city's cultural life—and its resurgence was a choice, willed into existence by dedicated philanthropy, tireless entrepreneurs, and a public in need of another vibrant neighborhood.
Here, my favorite spots in the Brady Arts District. When you make it over to Tulsa, you'll likely find me hanging out in one of the places on this list.
Once home to Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, this Depression-era dance hall is the heart of Tulsa's music scene. Not far from our other historic venue, Brady Theater, Cain's hosts almost nightly shows with the hottest acts in music today like Leon Bridges, Gary Clark, Jr., and more. Fun fact: Cain's was one of only seven spots in America to host a Sex Pistols concert; a framed hole in the wall the size of Sid Vicious's fist remains on view to this day.
423 N. Main Street, cainsballroom.com.
Antoinette Baking Co.
Full disclosure: my wife co-owns the place. But that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be on this list. Last fall, the bakery, quite successful in another part of town (since 2012), packed up and moved to the heart of the Brady District. With the success of its breakfast, lunch, and brunch offerings—and the near-legendary "Pie Night" (Fridays and Saturdays 7-10 p.m.)—the little-bakery-that-could is now on the national stage. But don't take my word for it. Baking superstar Joy the Baker called their double-chocolate Guinness cookie the "best cookie I ever ate." And on a recent visit David Sedaris proclaimed to a crowd of thousands, "I have just three words for you. Antoinette. Baking. Company." He digs the coconut cream pie.
207 N. Main Street, antoinettebakingco.com.
Woody Guthrie Center
Marking another great sign of the District's power to attract, the Woody Guthrie Archives were moved from New York to Tulsa three years ago (the legendary folk singer was born in the small town of Okemah, OK, but his family ended up in New York). Their arrival led to the establishment of the Woody Guthrie Center, where you can now find pieces of musical history like the handwritten lyrics of "This Land is Your Land." And in addition to hosting traveling exhibitions and maintaining a regular calendar of concerts, the center will soon be joined in the neighborhood by the Bob Dylan Archive, cementing Tulsa's place as a musical destination.
102 E. Mathew B. Brady Street, woodyguthriecenter.org.
There's nothing quite like the experience of going to a minor-league baseball game. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the intimacy. For years the Tulsa Drillers (who play in the Double-A league) toiled away in a lackluster park across the street from a Target. That changed in 2010 with the arrival of ONEOK Field (pronounced "one-oak")—it's beautiful, accessible, and made for memories. I often drive by in the middle of a busy summer workday when there's an afternoon game underway and feel the urge to play hooky with a hot dog in the bleachers. Visit this summer, catch a game, and see the team that gave Sammy Sosa, Iván Rodríguez, Matt Holliday, and others their start in the big leagues.
201 N. Elgin Avenue, milb.com.
Tulsa Violin Shop
It's exactly what it sounds like. Opened twenty years ago when the whole area was empty (cheap rent?), this refreshingly transparent business announces its services on its website as follows: "purchase, appraisals, bows, strings, and string accessories, as well as repair and restoration." I'm sure there are plenty of venture capitalists that would love to gets their hands on its three storefronts, but I hope it never leaves. Places like this are the true heart of a thriving neighborhood.
220 N. Main Street, tulsaviolin.com.
Recently profiled in The New York Times by cocktail writer Robert Simonson, Valkyrie is the brainchild of Aaron Post, a man obsessed with the endless search for the perfect cocktail. Not long ago, sitting in the quiet early evening, Mr. Post emerged from the alley behind the bar wearing gloves and covered in water. He'd apparently been cutting ice with a chainsaw, experimenting with ice cube size. It's that kind of place. The city needed one. Also check out the tiki-themed throwback favorite, The Saturn Room, just a short walk away.
13 E. Mathew B. Brady Street, valkyrietulsa.com.
Jeff Martin is an author and editor. His latest book, The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, was praised in The New Yorker and The Economist, and called "funny, poignant, relentlessly thought-provoking" by The Atlantic. He lives with his wife in Tulsa.
For more, see thebradyartsdistrict.com.