Peace of Mind Books in
American Way Magazine
Click this link to redirect to American Way Article, by Steve Larese
When I was growing up in Tulsa in the 1980s, downtown was a ghost town, full of empty (albeit beautiful) buildings good only for urban spelunking or hitting a dive bar with loud, local music. In the past few years, though, T-Town’s downtown is burgeoning. Museums and nonprofit art galleries are taking over historic buildings vacant only a few years ago. Restaurants and bars ranging from upscale dives to classy 1920s-themed joints are creating a vibrant nightlife. It’s a scene that doesn’t forget the “Tulsa Sound” made famous by JJ Cale and Leon Russell, but one that pulses with the vibrancy of a youthful clientele.
Oil drove Tulsa’s growth in the 1920s and built its Art Deco skyline, which includes the 24-story, gargoyle-protected Philtower and Boston Avenue Methodist Church, considered to be one of the best examples of Art Deco in the United States. When oil prices fell in the 1980s, downtown struggled. Blocks of once-thriving retail shops were vacated.
Realizing Tulsa was losing its downtown, taxpayers and donors funded the BOK Center, which opened in 2008 and sparked new life in the area. Acts such as Paul McCartney and Nine Inch Nails filled its 19,199-seat arena, and visitors are now filling the nearby-restored Mayo Hotel, a 1925 glamorous Art Deco hotel that was slated for demolition just a few years ago. Food trucks surround the new Guthrie Green park, and on the first Friday of every month, shops stay open late with live music and art shows.
Here are six of my favorite haunts that every Tulsa visitor should see:
1. Woody Guthrie center
Music and history lovers make the pilgrimage to the interactive Woody Guthrie Center that opened in April 2013 in the Brady Arts District downtown. The museum examines the life and times of the Oklahoman who scrawled “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar, showing there’s more to him than campfire songs you learned in grade school. His instruments and original writings are on display, and his complete archives relocated from New York are available to researchers. “Think about the lyrics to ‘This Land is Your Land,’ “ says executive director Deana McCloud. “He really was radical and directly influenced songwriters such as Dylan, Springsteen, Billy Bragg and Joe Strummer.”
2. Philbrook Museum of Art and Philbrook Downtown
Once the 1920s home of oil baron Waite Philips (of Philips Petroleum), the Italian Renaissance-style villa and its 23-acre grounds were donated to the city in 1938 by Philips and his wife, Genevieve. The museum today displays paintings from the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance, as well as European, American, African and Asian collections, Roman and Egyptian antiquities and Native American works
such as San Ildefonso pottery by Maria Martinez. Outside, Philbrook’s expansive gardens are worth the visit alone.
When Philbrook Downtown opened in June 2013, modern and contemporary pieces were relocated there, including works by Picasso and Warhol, as well as 20th-century Native American art by such luminaries as Allan Houser.
3. Gilcrease Museum
When oilman and Creek Nation member Thomas Gilcrease donated his private museum of American West and Native American art and artifacts to Tulsa in 1955, one of the best museums of the American West in the nation was opened to the public. Bronzes and paintings by Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, James Audubon, Joseph Henry Sharp, Winslow Homer, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and other American masters grace exhibit space, which was built in the style of a Native American longhouse. Historic Native American artwork representing tribes and nations from across North and South America include leather and beadwork, pottery, and other works ranging from pre-Columbian to the early 1900s. The museum sits on 475 acres, 23 of which are manicured gardens.
4. Cherry Street
This quirky and fun section of 15th Street between Utica and Peoria is beloved by Tulsans for its local boutiques, art galleries, coffee shops and restaurants. Kilkenny’s Irish Pub could have been plucked from Dublin and serves an expansive menu ranging from salads to seafood — and of course plenty of Guinness. Peace of Mind Books is one of the largest New Age bookstores west of the Mississippi and carries literature on every metaphysical topic imaginable. Upscale home décor shops such as The Nest and Fifteenth and Home speak to the gentrification of the area, and Pinot’s Palette is where you can sip a glass of your favorite wine while you paint your latest masterpiece.
5. Brookside District
This stretch of Peoria between 21st and 41st streets has long been Tulsa’s go-to district for shopping, nightlife and dining. The funky Ida Red Boutique offers all-things Okie, from Tulsa T-shirts to local music including The Tractors and Leon Russell. Cosmo Café and Bar is where to go if you can’t decide between a gourmet sandwich and a fully stocked bar. M.A. Doran Gallery brings contemporary art to Tulsa, and In the Raw sushi bar proves Tulsa is far more than beef country. However, if you’re hankering for a steak, Doc’s Wine & Food serves a great filet.
6. River Parks
River Parks is a trail system that parallels the banks of the Arkansas River and a favorite place for runners, bicyclists, families and anyone enjoying the outdoors. More than 26 miles of paved trails ribbon past green fields, disc golf courses, rugby fields, fountains, restaurants and playgrounds along the river. The Pedestrian Bridge at 29th and Riverside is a converted railroad bridge that spans the Arkansas, close to The Blue Rose Cafe with its deck overlooking the river and Elwood’s, which serves light fair and beers on its outdoor patio, where live music frequently plays. An approximately 80-acre expansion of River Parks called The Gathering Place for Tulsa, slated to open in late 2017, will see land bridges over the river with more parks and cafes.
STEVE LARESE is a photographer, freelance writer and editor specializing in the cultures and history of the American Southwest.