Eric Marshall gets excited when he talks about his hometown.
“We love it here,” the owner of Marshall’s Brewing Co. told me on a recent Tulsa trip. “I was born and raised here, so when I got into beer, it was from a culture perspective. As I was finishing up school (at Tulsa University) and deciding what to do with the rest of my life, I said, ‘Wow. Tulsa doesn’t have a brewery.’ If that was something I wanted to do, I would have to create my own opportunity.”
He did. Eric’s dream has turned into reality as his brewery has become one of Oklahoma’s largest producers of craft beers. It has earned a loyal following of strong beer fans around the region.
Eric, who has a degree in international business and German, said that Tulsa has changed a lot since his college days. It went from boomtown to bust when the bottom fell of the petroleum business. At one point, downtown Tulsa looked like a ghost town. Buildings were shuttered and the streets were empty.
Not anymore. Tulsa is again booming and enjoying an urban renaissance. The new BOK Center dominates downtown, and a new baseball stadium draws thousands into the city’s center.
It’s nice to see, because I always liked Tulsa and felt a little sad when it hit hard times.
“The great thing about Tulsa is that we have had a lot of revitalization over the last five to 10 years,” Eric said. “A lot of downtown places are now hopping. It got people really excited about going downtown. The Brady Arts District has a lot going on. There are some phenomenal museums down there now, and the Drillers are downtown.”
As a local guy, Eric had a lot of ideas to share for fun times in Tulsa — it will take me several trips to check out all of the places he suggested.
“The Vault is a great place with American cuisine and great craft cocktails and beers,” he said. “That’s carried over to Cherry Street, where arts and entertainment is thriving.
“Tulsa has always had a good music scene, and now more than ever great local music and modern art. The Woody Guthrie Archives has opened, and I can’t wait to see it. They even have the handwritten lyrics to ‘This Land is Your Land.’ We’ve always been rich in arts and music and architecture. People actually come to Tulsa to see the architecture.”
I checked out The Vault for myself. The new downtown eatery and night spot is located at Sixth and Cincinnati in the former First National Bank and Trust building. Built in a midcentury modern style — it was possibly the first motor bank of its kind — the upscale joint was a nice place to grab a cocktail after chatting at the brewery with Eric. I opted for a drink and meal in the Tom Tom Room, which is the bank’s former board room. Not normally one to experiment, I went out on a limb and ordered a gin and jam. The gin drink is served with a spoonful of, you guessed it, jam. Hello, blackberry. Just take the jam and stir it in, the bartender said to me. My lunch there was great — comfort food with a twist. My pork chop was perfect, and the sides reminded me of a family reunion picnic. Lunch and a couple of libations set me back about $30, which I think is worth it for the great view of downtown Tulsa and the cool retro digs.
Earlier in the day, I stopped in at a place more familiar to me: Utica Square. The classic shopping center always intrigues me. One of the country’s classic high-end shopping meccas, Utica offers a Saks Fifth Avenue, many great specialty shops and several restaurants with patio dining. One of my favorites is The Wild Fork. I stopped in for a quick bite and settled on a chicken-salad sandwich. The restaurant’s dishes are simple and fresh. The service was quick, which was a surprise given that the place was packed with well-heeled business types and ladies eating lunch. The atmosphere is simple, with art hanging from the walls. And I hear it has an outstanding happy hour. My sandwich and a beverage was less than $15. Next time I’m in Tulsa, happy hour at Wild Fork is on my to-do list.
Not far from Utica Square is a place I love.
Knowing I would have some time to explore the city, I set up a meeting with Jeff Martin. Jeff handles communications and social media for the Philbrook Museum of Art. All of the talk about art and museums with Eric reminded me that Tulsa offers one of the nicest and most highly regarded museums in the Midwest. I had never met Jeff before, but he was nice enough to offer me a tour of the museum and its gardens. It didn’t take long for the conversation to move to Tulsa’s rebirth and the roll the museum and the arts played in it.
“One of our core missions right now is the idea of collaboration,” Jeff said. “During a given year we will try to do a collaboration with the Tulsa Ballet and Tulsa Opera and the Art Directors’ Club of Tulsa, who are graphic designers. In our new season of events you will see multiple collaborations with different arts organizations. We’re not just us out here by ourselves. We are reaching out across demographic and interest lines. Using those collaborations is adding a lot to the fabric of the artistic community.”
Philbrook has a rich tradition in the Tulsa community. The original Phillips Mansion, known as Villa Philbrook, was donated to the city by Waite and Genevieve Phillips for use as an art museum. The oil baron and his wife called Villa Philbrook home from 1927 to 1938. It then became home to a growing collection of classical paintings, sculptures and other works of art. Today, following several restorations and additions, the ever-changing museum and social gathering space is a crown jewel and a must-see for Tulsa visitors.
“We’re getting ready to celebrate our 75th year,” Jeff said. “So, over three-quarters of a century, what has kept us relevant is evolution. We haven’t decided to just be the place with beautiful gardens, even though we have beautiful gardens. We are not just a place with a great European collection although we have that, too. We’ve continued to add new things and seen the growth from an artistic point of view and a social point of view.”
Thousands of people follow the museum on social media channels.
“Seventy-five years in, we’re not just setting on our laurels,” Jeff explained. “In June we opened Philbrook Downtown, and we’ve got a satellite location in the Brady Arts District. It’s over 30,000 square feet on modern and contemporary art.”
Philbrook Downtown is also home to a large Native American collection.
As my day in Tulsa drew to a close I remembered what Eric said about the new Tulsa: The city’s renaissance isn’t relegated to downtown.
“There’s a lot of great stuff going on all around the city,” Eric said. “People who haven’t been here in a while will be shocked. There is a lot going on. The majority of people who come here are really surprised.”
Rebirth of downtown breathes new life into city's arts, entertainment and culture
Eric Marshall gets excited when he talks about his hometown.
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