We know. It’s hot. It’s summer in Oklahoma. Cool down by sampling cocktails that local bars and restaurants have concocted just for you. Find a nice, air conditioned space or a shaded patio and while away the hours drinking the flavors of summer. You might decide it’s not that bad after all.
— by Devon Green, photos by Mark Hancock, Shannon Cornman and Lauren Hamilton
There are a wealth of new local eateries cropping up in the metro and even more coming. If they’re not on your radar, they should be. From the comfy atmosphere at The Barrel on Western Avenue to the laid-back vibe at the Plaza District’s coffee shop, you might find a new regular hangout.
— by Devon Green, photos by Mark Hancock and Shannon Cornman
There’s no shortage of sports bars in the football-crazed town of Norman, so why bother opening another one?
“It’s not the run-of-the-mill hamburger joint or sports bar,” said Dustin Wall, general manager. “You can take a look around here, and there’s no sports-themed stuff on the walls at all. Here in Norman, there are tons of sports bars, so we thought, ‘Why not be something different? Why not step out of the loop?’ We want people to come in and feel like they aren’t in the average college bar.”
In just two short months of business, customers certainly seem to be enjoying a new bar and grill experience. The Garage is owned and operated by Tanner Smith and Brandon Kissler of the Hal Smith Restaurant Group (which also runs Charleston’s Restaurant, Louie’s Grill & Bar and more). It couples the feel of the classic bar and burger joint with a few fun twists, like Skee-Ball, arcade games and buffalo burgers.
The owners found the perfect location for the concept — one that is striving to not only attract college students, but also families and young professionals — in the re-emerging, slightly quirky Norman district.
“This part of Norman didn’t really have a good hamburger spot, we felt,” Wall said. “(Smith and Kissler) approached me with the idea of a downhome, Ma and Pa-type burger joint where everything is done fresh. Then we found this spot and really liked it. We feel like this part of Norman is really growing, so we ran with it.”
The result is a laid-back spot with industrial “garage” touches and collected ephemera — think signs, bulletin boards and more — adding to the casual vibe.
The Garage opened in April and underwent trial-by-fire almost immediately. Just as the place was getting its legs, The Garage opened its doors to serve huge numbers of hungry Norman Music Festival patrons in an atmosphere Wall openly described as “controlled chaos.”
It served as the perfect introduction for the bar and grill that is turning out something a little different than most.The simple menu spotlights both classic diner treats — fried onion burgers and fresh-cut fries — along with dishes with fun, modern twists, like Sriracha spicy tacos, garlic and Parmesan fries and grilled jalapeño bacon cheeseburgers.
But picking your fixings is only half the battle, as The Garage offers its customers the choice of standard beef, turkey, garden/veggie or buffalo patties.
“We were going to be a ‘build your own burger thing.’ Then we thought we’d assemble 10 types of burgers, and you get to pick the protein,” Wall said. “People have really liked it. It lets people branch out. It gives people something new to try.”
The public’s focus has certainly centered on the food menu so far, which came as a surprise to management, who envisioned a lunch spot morphing into a late-night hub.
“We’re a drinker’s paradise, and that’s what people don’t know about us yet,” Wall said. “We haven’t really pushed it, though. We wanted to get the food down pat, and then mold into that bar. We’ll get there very soon.”
As the beginning of the fall semester nears, The Garage plans to roll out more nightly drink specials, along with more local music showcases. Of course, nothing tops the plans for a Skee-Ball league and tournament in the coming year. In the meantime, Skee-Ball wizards can still win prizes like Bomb Pops, beer and fries for high scores.
But The Garage is perfectly happy with how the public has received and treated the new bar and eatery up to now and can hardly wait to see how patrons will receive all the fun in store for the future.
“The sky is the limit for this place,” Wall said. “We are doing so good right now, and if we keep executing perfectly, I have no reason to think it will stop anywhere short of that.”
Who says Skee-Ball is just for kids? The game popular at fairs, amusement parks and arcades across the country has, like dodge ball before it, made its way back into the hearts of adults. Usually accompanied by drinking, obviously.
There’s even a national Skee-Ball championship, according to a May article in The New York Times. This past Memorial Day, 60 Skee-Ballers from around the country plus about 200 fans crowded into a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for the game, dubbed the Brewskee-Ball National Championship.
According to the article, Skee-Ball has seen a resurgence by 20-something urbanites, which explains the site of the championship.
Skee-Ball, for those who don’t remember (or have repressed) childhood games, involves rolling a ball up a ramp and trying to make it into one of a variety of holes that allot different points. Practice your Skee skills at The Garage in Norman. —Jenny Coon Peterson