Food and booze culture tends toward opposite poles: At the same time that we exhibit tremendous brand loyalty to our beer and booze selections, we also chase after the newest bar or restaurant. Neighborhood bars are rare in the metro – unless by “neighborhood bar” you mean a place that has low-point beer and cigarette smoke in abundance.
The kind we see in movies and television shows with a regular cast of characters who know the owner/bartender by name, as well as their neighbors at the bar, are genuinely rare. Combining all the elements of solid lists – beer, wine, spirits – with consistency, quality and familiarity is exceedingly difficult.
In addition to tracking the new and the tried and true of bars in the metro, we are also keeping an eye on trends in booze. Cider, anyone? New brands will be everywhere by the time this goes to press. In spirits, the Old Fashioned is back on top as the metro’s leading cocktail. Why? We asked the city’s best bartenders. As for all those unfamiliar names on back bars, the truth is there is only so much shelf space, and critics around the country are already calling for a slowing of the rush to create ever more “craft spirits.” Honestly, how many beers do we really need aged in a whiskey/cognac/brandy barrel? Can’t beer just be good because it’s beer?
The same question adheres to the nature of a bar or restaurant. Does it have to be new to be great? No. Some of our favorite food and booze joints are favorites because they’ve proven themselves over the years and through the trends. Here, then, is a less than comprehensive survey – a topographical map of booze, if you will – of some places and beverages worth noting around the metro.
Savings and Loan Bar
423 NW 23rd, OKC, 405.308.1803
Waiting for this Uptown 23rd bar to open offered the city multiple opportunities to engage in office pools. “I got February 14! Bill has the 15th! What? Not February either? Okay, on to March.” The craft cocktail bar did finally open this summer, and one of the city’s best bartenders, James Etzler, is slinging cocktails there, alongside a collection of very experienced mixologists and guest bartenders. The menu rotates seemingly every week and either you can sample the “palate challenging” specialty cocktails, or they can make you a classic. Your choice, and you can also choose dark and downstairs or well-lighted and upstairs.
900 W Main, OKC, 405.982.6960
The restaurant/bar inside 21c Museum Hotel is drawing more attention to the western edge of downtown. The concept – with locations in Louisville, Cincinnati, Bentonville, Durham and Lexington – is famous for taking food, lodging and art very seriously. They also do a fantastic job of staffing, so in August, they hired food and beverage veteran Michael O’Hara (Flint, Nonna’s) as assistant director of food and beverage. O’Hara is a certified sommelier, so expect an already good wine list to get even better. The bar already features local brews – another thing 21c does well is localize – and the craft cocktails are solid. Feel free to take your beverage with you and check out the art; that way, you can say you were getting some culture instead of a drink.
Hudsons Public House
1000 Danforth, Edmond, 405.657.1103
We are not sure anyone ever said aloud: “Hudson’s should be smoke-free!” That sort of misses the point of what Hudson’s has always been. However, the new Hudsons Public House in Edmond is a smoke-free sports bar that Edmondites are learning to love. Their boast of “one of the largest beer selections in the Oklahoma City metro” notwithstanding (have they been to Tapwerks or McNellie’s?), they have a respectable list, featuring 32 handles and another 100+ selections in bottle. Televisions abound, and the menu is full of watching-the-game selections such as burgers, sandwiches, nachos and wings.
1234 N Western, OKC, 405.609.3647
Lonnie Green opened Fat Dog Kitchen & Bar in spring 2016, and a photograph of the eponymous fat Labrador Retriever hangs on the wall inside. The choice was not simply an aesthetic one, even though the décor is clearly dog themed, as is the wine list. Choosing a dog-themed wine list can lead to some pleasant surprises, including Faithful Hound, an excellent South African Bordeaux-style blend from rockstar winemaker Andy Erickson (Favia, Leviathan, Ovid). The food is middle America all the way, with hot dogs (of course) and burgers leading the way, and the menu is curated and managed by consulting chef Beau Stephenson. The feature most likely to attract customers to this new bar, tucked in as it is just north of NW 10th on N Western, is the amazing patio. As soon as it opened, it was a top five patio in the city, featuring water bowls for dogs, misters and tons of space. The whole thing is enclosed with a locking gate, meaning the pups are safe to roam. A word of warning: It’s smoke-friendly, too, so choose accordingly.
► Old Faithfuls
Some of these are newish, and some have been around a while, but you should certainly give all of them a try. Local establishments tend to love local brands, too, so you are sharing the love twice when you support these joints.
Oak & Ore
1732 NW 16th, OKC 405.606.2030
There are places with more taps, but none that take more exacting care to serve brews as they were meant to be enjoyed – this Plaza District beer haven rotates selected varieties through its 36 temperature- and pressure-controlled taps to give you the best possible pour. Bartenders are ready to give recommendations and samples, and the food is mostly terrific; it’s a must-try.
121 E Sheridan, OKC, 405.319.9499
Some things are just cool because they seem to exist effortlessly and because there is a strong sense that the owners know exactly what the thing is supposed to be. Such is Tapwerks. Oklahoma City’s original beer Mecca, the place just oozes cool. Maybe it’s the well-worn bar and tables, smoothed out and faded by years of elbows and forearms and friends, or maybe it’s the genuine public house vibe. Whatever the case, the food is still hearty, the beer is still plentiful, and – Bricktown parking be damned – it’s worth the $5 to park just to be reminded of what a well-stocked pub ought to be.
132 W Main, Norman, 405.801.2900
While this is technically a restaurant bar, it still gets the nod as one of the select places in Norman that can pull us south down I-35. If you love Blackbird or Blu or any of the Good Life group’s concepts, we are certainly with you. There are great reasons to love those places (see The Library), but Scratch is that rare university town restaurant that doesn’t feel like you’re in a university town. Owner Brady Sexton has cleverly revisioned the space, and the ambience is like nothing else in Norman. That the food from Chef Jacque Methvin is stellar helps, and the back bar is the best stocked we’ve seen in Norman.
5830 N Classen, OKC, 405.286.4577
The food menu has more than a few tempting options, but a look around at the hundreds of bottles covering the walls serves as a demonstration that beer ranks high on this pub’s priority list. Whether your taste is focused near or far, you’ll find plenty of possibilities for satisfaction – just don’t expect quiet contemplation, since it’s nearly always bustling. P.S. Northside dwellers, a new location is on its way to Chisholm Creek.
1228 SW 2nd, OKC, 405.702.0699
This one is a favorite of people in the booze and food industry. That says a lot. It’s tucked behind the Farmer’s Market, right across the street from Urban Agrarian. Owner Clay Berkes has great food (verde pork!) and good sense about booze. Local beers and craft cocktails dominate the menu. Seating is available inside or outside (covered and uncovered), and it’s become a favorite venue for the local music scene, too. It’s not huge, but this place has a lot to love.
421 NW 10th, OKC, 405.609.3300
Seriously, it’s beer and sausages. Has there ever been a more perfect combination, especially for lunch? Fassler specializes in German beers, and bartenders can help you navigate the large selection. Weekends get a little raucous, so if you’re hoping to hold a quiet conversation or your mentality occasionally veers toward “get off my lawn,” maybe go before 7 p.m.
9 E Edwards, Edmond, 405.285.6670
Edmond’s first serious attempt to create the love child of Bleu Garten and Tapwerks is located in a large, white house on the corner of Edwards and Broadway. The metal fence that surrounds the whole establishment and its picnic tables may seem more forbidding than welcoming at first glance, but the aesthetic can be excused given the excellent beer list, which features 48 taps and nearly every Oklahoma beer you can imagine. The Patriarch doesn’t discriminate against Tulsa, either, as they have plenty of Marshall Brewing Company and Prairie Artisan Ales on tap.
Blue Note Lounge
2408 N Robinson, OKC, 405.434.8832
Blue Note bills itself as one of the city’s oldest live music venues, and while that’s true, it’s also one of the best smoky barrooms in the metro. The music lineup is eclectic, they still have pool tables, smoking is permitted (encouraged), local beers are featured prominently … and, of course, they have karaoke. Blue Note is an OKC tradition; it just is.
Sidecar Barley & Wine Bar
1100 N Broadway, OKC, 405.421.0203
Do not climb the ladder if you are drunk. That’s a rule, people. Other than that, enjoy one of the metro’s best bar aesthetics. The wine list is really well curated, and the cocktails are excellent. On nice days, the bay door is open, and if you don’t mind a bit of road noise, the outside seating along NW 10th allows for outstanding people watching.
7312 N Western, OKC 405.843.0073
The old “wine bar” still has an impressive wine list, but they also have a well-stocked liquor bar, and the arrival of new blood in the form of Craig Weygandt, a food service veteran, means they are upping their cocktail, wine and front-of-house game.
Das Boot Camp
229 E Main, Norman, 405.701.3748
King’s Gold to Munich Dunkel, beer lovers anywhere near the metro owe it to themselves to try one or two – or all five – of the Bier brewed in-house by the meisters at Royal Bavaria in Moore. We recommend this Norman offshoot because it’s faster and easy to find, and they sell growlers.
2601 NW Expressway, OKC, 405.848.5597
This throwback restaurant/bar has been around for more than 40 years. That alone is worth the visit. And the Brandy Ice is still the best in the 405, maybe anywhere.
Old and New
Colby Poulin is something of a bartender savant. The New Hampshire native is normally spotted behind the bar at Ludivine, where he works with one of the most amazing booze libraries in Oklahoma City. Poulin has three primary skills: making great conversation – he’s a bartender, after all; combining ingredients that make other bartenders scratch their heads; and matching a cocktail to a person. That last one is huge. Tell him what you like, and he will find something else that you will like, and he can even do it for the various seasons.
We asked Poulin about the uptick in sales of the Old Fashioned around the metro, and he told us that the drink has really never gone out of … well, fashion. “We can trace the origins of the Old Fashioned back farther than most other cocktails,” he says. “Originally, it was just a spirit, not specifically whiskey, and then they added sugar, water and bitters. It’s a classic. The balance of spirit, bitters and sweetness made it easier to stand the test of time, and that combination showcases the flavors of the spirit, so you can enjoy any spirit you mix that way.”
Poulin’s down and dirty Old Fashioned recipe for home bartenders
2 ounces rye whiskey
2 dashes Winship’s Old Fashioned Aromatic bitters
½ ounce simple syrup
Combine in shaker with ice. Stir, do not shake.
Pour over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with lemon peel and orange peel.
Go visit him at Ludivine, and he’ll make a Rio Bravo for you. He calls it a “caipirinha on steroids.” It’s mixture of Hamilton’s Jamaican Rum, honey, lemon, lime, tomato-basil tincture, Winship’s Cucumber bitters and salt. The Hamilton Rum is 96 proof, so this is definitely an alcohol-forward cocktail, but it’s balanced with sweet, savory and citrus.
► Top 10 Beers Non-Beer Nerds Should Try
Speaking of local brews, and by local we mean the state, these are 10 of the best our area has to offer, in no particular order. We threw in some from the 918 because: A) they are genuinely delicious; and B) we love the other original area code and our little sister to the east.
(from left to right) Prairie Artisan Ales Bomb! | Anthem Uroboros Stout | Black Mesa ESB | COOP Native Amber | Mustang Sixty-Six Lager | Roughtail 12th Round Ale | Anthem IPA | Marshall Old Pavilion Pilsner | Anthem Golden One | COOP F5 IPA
► New Adult Beverages
Try a sip or splash of something different
Cider did not just arrive this year; brands such as Strongbow have been around for decades, but there is a surge of interest nationwide in this beverage made from fermented apple juice. Some of this is surely due to the quality of so-called hard ciders being produced by the likes of Colorado Cider Company. The Denver-based company bottled their first batch in 2011, so they arrived in Oklahoma just in time to celebrate their fifth anniversary.
For the amateur cider drinker, start simple. The Glider Cider from Colorado Cider Company is slightly sweet, crisp and low alcohol (6.5 percent). For an impressive example of dry (as opposed to sweet, just like wine) cider, try the Glider Cider Dry – same crisp, aromatic cider but with less residual sugar. Slaughter’s Hall was one of the first OKC bars to embrace the trend. You can find Colorado Cider Company offerings there, including the Cherry Glider, a remarkably delicious concoction enhanced with the flavor of fresh cherries.
Tin City Cider is a collaborative effort between Curt Schalchlin of Sans Liege wines, Mikey Giugni of Scar of the Sea wines and cider, and Andrew Jones, the winemaker for Field Recordings wines. They use California apples to make this light, crisp and easy-to-drink cider. The Tin City actually comes in a can, making it an excellent choice for poolside drinking in the hot weather. Scar of the Sea is one of the best ciders available anywhere, and beer lovers should absolutely give the Hopped Cider a try (also true of the Colorado Cider Company Grasshop-Ah).
► Winship's Bitters
Earlier you may have noticed that Colby Poulin recommends Winship’s Bitters for his cocktails. Winship’s is a local bitters manufacturer, the brainchild of veteran bartenders Josh Cockle and Tony Fiasco.
Winship’s has been around for three years – Cockle was working at Ludivine, and the craft cocktail boom was booming everywhere else but just getting to Oklahoma. Consequently, orange bitters were hard to come by. Cockle made a batch of blood orange bitters out of necessity, and the idea for the company was born.
Both Cockle and Poulin emphasized that the products are excellent for home bartenders. “I combined aromatic and orange bitters in the Old Fashioned Bitters to simplify the process for non-professional bartenders,” Cockle says. “It has less aromatics and more orange, so you can use it in any cocktail that needs orange bitters.”
Winship’s Bitters are available at Urban Agrarian, Savory Spice and Parks Restaurant Supply.
► Switching to Local
Want to try something local but not sure what all the varied styles mean? We constructed a handy chart with the help of two booze professionals: Natalie Torrey, a bartender genius and wine sales rep for Premium Brands, and Phil Wheeler, clubhouse manager at Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club.
(clockwise from top left)
Like Budweiser? Try Anthem Golden One. | Like Coors Light? Try COOP Spare Rib Pale Ale. | Like Bud Light? Try Mustang Sixty-Six Lager. | Like Guinness? Try Anthem Uroboros Stout. | Like Stella Artois? Try COOP Horny Toad. | Like Coors? Try Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Standard. | Mexican Beers (Negro Modelo) Natalie says, “Leave the Mexicans alone. Their beer is delicious.” Good advice.
►That’s the last call for this article, but how about another round or two of images? To see more photos from our exploration of the metro’s most outstanding bars and booze, click here. Slainte!