Located 200 miles from Dallas via Interstate 35 is a hip destination with vibrant arts, live music, culinary and cocktail scenes, an amazing array of outdoor adventures, and an active LGBT community.
And no, it’s not Austin.
But it sure feels like Austin used to before it got so big it outgrew its infrastructure and stopped being as weird as it is increasingly mainstream. Sure, we still love our capital city, but right now we have all the feels for Oklahoma City. The drive north is easier (with much less traffic) and the energy of a city coming into its own can’t be underestimated.
So if you’re looking for a great getaway for a long weekend (or even a short one), here are five reasons to head where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.
Oklahoma’s So Gay, O-K!
Any time we find an LGBT section on a city’s convention and visitors bureau home page, we know that’s a place we want to visit. Believe it or not, even in 2018 not every major city promotes its LGBT tourism, but Oklahoma City sure does. For a relatively small city (1.3 million people in the metropolitan area), OKC boasts five gay bars, an all-gay resort (though one we wouldn’t recommend), and two major LGBT events each year—Great Plains Rodeo (May 25-27, 2018) and OKC Pride (June 22-24, 2018).
Of the five gay bars, we have two favorites. Apothecary Thirty-Nine, a craft cocktail bar, doesn’t feel like a typical gay bar thanks to its jazz soundtrack (which sometimes happens live). The other is The Boom, a high-energy dance bar. What we really like about The Boom, however, is their live theatrical productions, including the upcoming TV parody, Overly Designing Women (April 20-May 26). They also host Drag Bingo and a Sunday Gospel Drag Brunch.
Rest Your Pretty Head Here.
We stay in dozens of hotels a year, so when we find a brand that really wows us, color us all sorts of impressed. 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City is part of a small chain of properties that feature 24/7 art museums combined with boutique hotel accommodations and chef-driven restaurants. With art at every turn (inside your room and in every hallway, nook and cranny), staying at this former Ford Motor Company assembly plant is a real feast for the senses.
The pet-friendly rooms are spacious, comfortable and filled with great amenities (including a mini bar that’s legit and priced fairly, a first in our travel experience). Request a Lightwell room (pictured) and you’ll get an exclusive view into a sculptural lightwell that delivers gorgeous natural lighting during the day and dramatic effects by night.
Mary Eddy’s, the on-site restaurant and bar, delivers on its promise of top-notch cuisine for breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner. And while there’s no pool, you can find plenty of relaxation at the small spa adjacent to the well-appointed fitness room.
The Great (Sometimes Very Wet) Outdoors.
Whether you want to hike, hit a lake or hop on a bike for a few hours, there’s plenty of spectacular scenery waiting to be explored. But the coolest destination we found is right next to the Oklahoma River. Riversport Adventures in the Boathouse District is home to an 11-acre whitewater rafting center where you can test your rowing skills on a large raft with friends (pictured) or solo on a kayak.
There’s also zip-lining, high-speed (dry) slides, an 80-foot freefall, and a full bar should you need to take the edge off before or after your adrenaline rush.
Eat, Eat & Be Merry.
One of the aspects of our OKC visit that impressed us the most is the culinary scene, which features everything from the city’s famous low-brow onion burgers to fine dining. Over a long weekend we ate way more than we should, but it was all in the name of research.
The biggest hits for us were Hunny Bunny Biscuit Co. for breakfast, Tucker’s Onion Burger, Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes (which really surprised us with its superb rendition of authentic south-of-the-border fare), Cheever’s for brunch, and Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse for one of the most exquisite dinners we’ve experienced on any side of the Red River. From kicking off dinner with a perfect dirty martini to a sampling of steaks, we didn’t have a single bite that didn’t thrill. And if you had to ask us for the most impressive dish of the entire trip, it would have to be Mickey Mantle’s Lobster Cargot (pictured), a twist on escargot that trades out the snails for jumbo chunks of lobster oven baked with butter, garlic and a lobster cream sauce.
Good thing the city’s major districts are all very walkable. Steps, steps, steps!
Booze We Can Use.
It’s no secret, we love our cocktails. Thankfully, OKC did not disappoint us once. Depending on what you’re looking for outside the gay bars, there’s something for every taste and budget. For great craft cocktails, check out the cool two-story space Ponyboy, which we patronized twice, mostly because we simply had to return to experience St. Patrick Swayze Day when we were in town on March 17. Just around the corner, there’s The Pump Bar, with tons of craft beer and tiki drinks, plus a kick-ass outdoor space (the whole place is kid-free, too). If you like dive bars, The Flea is one of the coolest we’ve ever been to. What was once a down-and-dirty hole-in-the-wall has been updated, without losing a bit of the charm of its filthy past.
Our first night’s dinner found us at Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes, but we loved the creative Mexican cocktails so much, we returned a second time just to hang on the patio with a frozen avocado margarita and a passion fruit slushie with gummies on top (pictured above). In historic Bricktown, TapWerks Ale House is a beer-lover’s dream thanks to 212 taps and more than 100 bottles of beer on their walls. And right behind 21c Museum Hotel, The Jones Assembly brings together food, music and spirits in an impressive (and massive) setting without a bit of attitude.
Cheers to OKC!