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He Said/She Said Tulsa

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Tulsa's famous "Golden Driller." (Photograph by Karen Wiley, My Shot)

Denver Nicks and Andrea Leitch are a little bit country (Oklahoma), and a little bit rock and roll (Washington, D.C.). They met as awkward 11-year-olds, ran in the same circle in high school and have managed to stay close over the years. He’s written for The Daily BeastThe Nation and AlterNet (he even wrote a book). She’s worked at Vogue and has been a proud member of the National Geographic Travel digital team for almost a year now. Check out these two Okies’ takes on their hometown of Tulsa.

Tulsa is His/Her City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is The Center of the Universe, a semi-secret spot downtown with mysterious auditory qualities and a good place to start a tour of Tulsa. Ask a local.

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Utica Square for upscale shopping and dining.

When I crave barbecue I always go to Burn Co. BBQ (on 11th Street across from the University of Tulsa). It’s a new place that feels like it’s been there for decades, and hopefully will be carrying the banner for Tulsa’s Q tradition for decades to come.

When I crave ice cream I always go to Braum’s.

To escape the city, I head to north Grand Lake, northeast of Tulsa. Beautiful rolling hills in the heart of the Cherokee Nation and a quiet, peaceful part of the lake with great fishing.

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Storm-watching is practically a professional sport in Tulsa. (Photograph by Ashwin Ravi, My Shot)

To escape the city, I head south down I-44 on the Turner Turnpike to see wide-open spaces and golden Oklahoma sunsets.

If I want to catch a good independent movie I go to the Circle Cinema, an old now-restored movie house.

If I want to have a glass of wine I go to the patio at Vintage 1740.

For complete quiet, I can hide away in the dirt bike hills tucked away in the foliage around the Arkansas river.

For complete quiet, I can hide away in the gardens outside the Philbrook Museum of Art.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the Golden Driller! He’s sand-colored, ripped, and 76 feet tall.

DING! If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the Golden Driller — or the Praying Hands at Oral Roberts University.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from JJ’s Gourmet Burgersit has to be the gourmet burger. It also happens to be about the only thing on the menu, but fortunately it’s the best burger anywhere, ever. The joint is only open for lunch a few days a week and you should try to bring a local with you, as VIP at JJ’s get special treatment (and technically you have to be a member of the “club” to eat there, though JJ isn’t a stickler for this rule, so long as you tuck in your shirt and kick the mud off your boots before walking inside). Be sure to call it a “gourmet” burger, not a hamburger. JJ does not easily forgive this misstep.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from the Coney Island Hot Weiner Shopit has to be a classic coney with chili, onions, cheese, and mustard.

Native American Art (on Main Street downtown) is my one-stop shop for great painting and sculpture by Native American artists (and custom framing). If you go during Mayfest, the proprietor will sell you a cold beer, too.

Lyon’s Indian Store is my one-stop shop for Native American jewelry.

Locals know to skip the vast strip mall wasteland of Deep South Tulsa and check out anywhere else in the city instead (the folks over at Lonely Planet made this mistake).

Locals know to skip food chains and check out local restaurants instead. Whether it’s in North, South, East, West, or midtown Tulsa, each section of the city has its own food specialty.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to Mercury Lounge for a beer.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to Weber’s Superior Root Beer Restaurant for a (no surprise!) root beer.

For a huge splurge I go the top floor of the Mayo Hotel for a scotch.

For a huge splurge I go shopping at Miss Jackson’s in Utica Square.

Photo ops in my city include the praying hands at ORU, overlooking the Arkansas River from the pedestrian bridge, sitting on the boot of the aforementioned Golden Driller. The best vantage points are overlooking the entire city from the top of Reservoir Hill, and the Summit Club.

DING! Photo ops in my city include Tulsa’s strong art deco heritage, as seen in many of the old buildings downtown. The best vantage points are on top of the historic Mayo Hotel or from any of the pedestrian bridges crossing the Arkansas River.

The most random thing about my city is the billboard announcing Tulsa as the birthplace of the parking meter. (We might as well have a sense of humor about it and say, “Tulsa, birthplace of the parking ticket!”)

The most random thing about my city is that the longest running play in America, “The Drunkard and the Olio,” is performed every night at the Spotlight Theater.

If my city were a celebrity, it’d be Gary Busey.

If my city were a celebrity, it’d be Carrie Underwood because she’s young, attractive, a little bit country, alittle bit glamour, artsy, fun, and a decent gal.

My city has the most casually attired, in the strictest sense, men.

My city has the most southern gentlemen.

My city has the most southern-charming but western-pragmatic women.

My city has the most philanthropic women.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves bouldering at Chandler Park or playing a round of disc golf at one of the courses around town. Easy, we take it.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves bike riding. Many locals prepare for and participate in Tulsa Tough, a cycling event that promotes fitness and healthy lifestyles.

My city’s best museum is Gilcrease, the world’s largest collection of art from the American West. The restaurant there has a spectacular view of foothills of the Ozarks and what amounts to the end of the woodlands of eastern North America. Not too many miles west, the Great Plains begin.

DING! My city’s best museum is Gilcrease, which has the largest comprehensive collection of art from the American West. The museum’s restaurant also has a spectacular view of the Osage Hills.

My favorite jogging/walking route is the loop around the river via the pedestrian and 11th Street bridges11th Street bridges11th Street bridges.

My favorite jogging/walking route is along the Arkansas River at the River Parks.

For a night of dancing, go to Caravan Cattle Company to line dance your boots off. Or, for live music, check out Cain’s Ballroom for bigger name acts, The Colony for homegrown legends.

DING! For a night of dancing, go to Los Cabos Mexican Grill and Cantina on the RiverWalk for local bands performing country and classic tunes for the whole family to enjoy. Or, for live music, check out the iconic Cain’s Ballroom for world-famous musicians and local favorites.

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The historic Cain’s Ballroom. (Photograph by Andrea Leitch)

The hot dog truck downtown (often at the corner of 2nd and Elgin, I think) is the spot for late-night eats. I swear that guy makes the best hot dogs or sausages or whatever anywhere.

QuikTrip is the spot for late-night eats. It’s a convenience store chain with the cleanest store, friendliest employees, and biggest (and cheapest) selection of healthy and unhealthy foods and drinks. I recommend their fresh-baked cookies and donuts with sprinkles!

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the Do What? section in This Land Press.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read TulsaPeople Magazine because it’s the best source for happenings around town.  

You can tell a lot about my city from the old architecture built during Tulsa’s brief glamour days, when, so the Tulsa boosters tell us, the city was the “Oil Capitol of the World.”

You can tell a lot about my city from Dwelling Spaces, a shop located downtown in the up and coming Blue Dome District. It’s a plethora of quirky, fun and stylish “Okie” products made by local artists. It’s a popular store for out-of-towners and locals of all ages, and it’s common to see “I Heart Tulsa” t-shirts on Tulsans from all over the city – it’s cool to wear city pride!

You can tell if someone is from my city if the words “tornado warning” serve as a signal to grab a chair and take a seat on the front lawn to watch the storms roll in.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they refer to Tulsa as “the 9-1-8.”

In the spring you should grab a chair and take a seat in the front lawn to watch the storms roll in. Also, the rose garden is quite beautiful in the spring.

DING! In the spring you should check out the roses at the Tulsa Garden Center at Woodward Park. This wedding-venue favorite has thousands of beautiful blooms in different colors and varieties.

In the summer you should spend a day knocking balls through wickets with mallets at Tulsa’s croquet courts at LaFortune Park, oddly one of the better croquet facilities in the U.S. And when you’ve had enough, play a round on one of LaFortune’s two 18-hole public golf courses. Par to the People!

In the summer you should go to a Driller’s baseball game or an outdoor movie at the Admiral-Twin drive-in.

In the fall you should go to Tulsa’s Oktoberfest, one of the largest and widely regarded as one of the best festivals of its kind outside of Germany. Also catch an OU (…alright, alright, or OSU) home football game. Don’t forget to get out of town and enjoy the fall colors in the Ozark foothills east of Tulsa, or, better yet, in the Kiamichi Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, where coniferous and broadleaf trees blend in a rare forest mix – even better for the color burst of autumn.

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Stop and smell the roses at the Tulsa Garden Center. (Photograph by Holly Gondles, My Shot)

In the fall you should go to a football game. Oklahoma is a football state of champions. (Boomer Sooner!)

In the winter you should go sledding, take a Christmas light tour, go ice skating on the outdoor rink downtown, go caroling with a mug of eggnog, etc. Oklahoma has cold and generally snowy winters, and no place today does Norman Rockwellian Americana better than Tulsa.

DING! In the winter you should go ice skating outside of the BOK Center downtown.

A hidden gem in my city is Buffalo’s BBQ, a food truck next to a Daylight Donuts in Sperry, a small town north of Tulsa (basically an extension of north Tulsa), with the some of the best Q in the known universe.

A hidden gem in my city is Steve’s Sundry bookstore. It has an old-fashioned soda fountain — perfect to pair with an afternoon of reading from the best selection of local books.

For a great breakfast joint, try the Blue Dome Diner. Hearty grub with diner food soul. Brookside By Day (known locally as BBD) is the standard bearer in this category, but for my money the Blue Dome Diner is the David to BBD’s Goliath).

DING! For a great breakfast joint, try Brookside By Day and order a giant cinnamon roll.

Don’t miss the Mayfest festival in, you guessed it, May. It’s a great weekend when people from all over the city converge on downtown for music, eats, art, booze, dancing, hollering, carousing, and hell raising in general. The excellent Blue Dome Arts festival is the same weekend just down the street.

DING! Don’t miss Mayfest, an outdoor music and arts event that attracts vendors and visitors from around the world.

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Wild bison still roam in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. (Photograph by Randall Watkins, My Shot)

Just outside my city, you can visit the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, the largest protected tract of tallgrass prairie left on earth where bison still literally roam free (within the confines of the preserve, of course). An extraordinary glimpse into the world of pre-Columbian North America.

Just outside my city, you can visit Pops on Route 66 in Arcadia, Oklahoma. It’s a soda ranch and restaurant with more than 500 pops (we call soda “pop” in Oklahoma) to choose from. There is also a 66-foot-tall giant pop bottle landmark in front.The best way to see my city is by car with a bicycle in the trunk.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live at north Grand Lake.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in Washington, D.C.!

The best book about my city is The Outsiders. It may be a little dated but it speaks to something about the social and class strata of Tulsa, a sort of microcosm for social groups and class in America (perhaps the same characteristics that make Tulsa a frequent test market for restaurants, television shows, etc.).

DING! The best book about my city is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton because it‘s about young men coming of age in Tulsa and it mentions many of the city’s famous landmarks.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Leon Russell’s “Home Sweet Oklahoma.”

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is any song from JJ Cale’s “From Tulsa and Back” album.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss whatever is going on at the Fairgrounds. Just about every week there’s a livestock show of some kind (All American Mule & Donkey Congress, U.S. National Arabian and Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show, Shetland Pony Congress, etc.), always a hit with kids. And you’re liable to run into another kid friendly event like a flea market or maybe even Wanenmacher’s, the largest gun and knife show in the world.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss a hands-on arts studio like the Purple Glaze Studio, which is a pottery painting and ceramic studio. There are hundreds of unfinished pottery pieces to paint and it’s a wonderful place for kids to exercise their creativity. Heading out on foot for a night on the town and catching a live Mexican luchador wrestling match while chowing down on excellent organic, locally-sourced Mexican food before having drinks over arcade games then crossing the street to bowl the night away could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because Tulsa is one of the cultural capitals of flyover country, and an often overlooked part of an always overlooked region. The city has a unique vibe and a peculiar yet cohesive identity, at the crossroads of the Midwest and the South, the East and the American West, Tulsa’s no oil capital, but it’s still rich in oddities, monstrosities, and classic Americana with a weird Tulsanian twist.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it has a unique blend of Native American culture, oil wealth and history, art deco architecture, and contemporary artists. The city of Tulsa is also an American gem because it is home to some of the most philanthropic people in the world – it’s a city of good people! 

Follow Denver and Andrea on Twitter @DenverNicks and @AndreaLeitch.

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