On Tulsa Time

The second-largest city in Oklahoma has made an indelible impression on American pop culture. Here are just a few of its reference points.

The second-largest city in Oklahoma has made an indelible impression on American pop culture. Here are just a few of its reference points.

Larry Clark’s Tulsa

When Larry Clark’s collection of black-and-white photographs was released more than half a century ago, it created quite a stir in the art world. The subjects are society’s outcasts — sex workers, drug addicts, criminals, etc. — from within the Tulsa native’s social circles.

Criticized not only for the book’s content but also what many consider his voyeuristic stance towards the subjects, Clark has insisted that the photographs are not prurient but a reflection of the life he was living in 1971. Those criticisms only intensified when Clark’s first film, Kids, was released in 1995.

The book’s preface sets the tone: “i was born in tulsa oklahoma in 1943. when i was sixteen i started shooting amphetamine. i shot with my friends everyday for three years and then left town but i've gone back through the years. once the needle goes in it never comes out.”

Larry Clark’s Tulsa is currently still in print.

The Center of the Universe

Even though the stones that make up this bizarre acoustic phenomenon have fallen into disrepair in recent years, the effect is still the same if you stand inside the eight-foot circle on the bridge between X and X. Standing in the center of the circle, you can hear your voice and other sounds echoed back to you, but to those standing outside of it, your words become garbled if you can hear them at all. The effect is actually caused by the curved concrete encircling The Center of the Universe, but don’t let the science stop you from experiencing it for yourself.

James Beard nominees

Anyone who’s visited Tulsa knows that there’s no shortage of mindblowing restaurants, breweries and bars to grab a meal and a drink. Oklahoma Gazette dropped into 2023 James Beard Foundation Outstanding Bar nominee American Solera on its first Tulsa trip and grabbed a meal at SMOKE. Woodfire Grill (nominated for Outstanding Hospitality) on our third exploration, but other nominees this year include the restaurateurs behind the 3 Sirens Restaurant Group (Bird and Bottle, Bramble Breakfast and Bar, Holé Molé and Shaky Jake’s Burgers and Franks) and the chefs at FarmBar, Mr. Kim’s and Sans Murs.

et al. also received a nod for Best New Restaurant. The pop-up concept is currently held on certain nights at our friends Foolish Things Coffee Co.

But this year’s chef’s finalists for the region include only Oklahoma City chefs Andrew Black of Grey Sweater and Jeff Chanchaleune of Ma Der (more on both of those in a future issue).

Woody Guthrie Center

Even though he’s actually an Okemah native (about 60 miles southwest of Tulsa), the Woody Guthrie Center in downtown Tulsa is an impressive archive of the musician’s life and work. The center also showcases an impressive collection of books and records donated by others and gives out the Woody Guthrie Prize annually. For its 10th anniversary celebration, this year’s recipient is the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, who will be receiving the prize and performing at Cain’s Ballroom on May 6 (ticket just went on sale). Admission to the museum will also be free that day for its anniversary.

Tulsa King

Even though Dwight "The General" Manfredi, played by Sly Stallone, might be the Tulsa King, the majority of the first season was filmed in Oklahoma City (and none of the second season will be produced anywhere in the state), there are a number of Tulsa landmarks that made it into the series. Among them are the Tulsa International Airport, the aforementioned Center of the Universe, Triangle Coffee Roasters and the streetscape of South Boston Avenue.

Golden Driller

Originally built for a petroleum trade show, the Golden Driller has been positioned in front of the Tulsa Expo Center since 1966. Standing 75 feet tall, it is the sixth largest statue in the United States. His belt has a 48-foot circumference and he wears a size 393DDD in mens shoes. Even though his belt reads “Tulsa,” the Golden Driller was named the state monument in 1979. Lately the poor guy has been dressed in all manner of ridiculous things, from a striped shirt and mustache for a European painting exhibition at the Philbrook to that ultra-creepy Elon Musk mask when they were trying to woo him to open a Tesla plant there.

Tyler Thrasher

Even though “your personal mad scientist” Tyler Thrasher has one of the largest social media presences of anyone in Tulsa, it wasn’t until a few months ago that he opened his own space at 2816 E 15th St.

“Usually I show my work on pop-ups or I go into other cities and stuff, but I really wanted somewhere where people can come in and see my work in person and I can talk to them about it because that's an element I missed during the pandemic,” he said.

Inspired by an elaborate garden at his childhood home, Thrasher went on to study both chemistry and art. He combines those disciplines along with botany and entomology into his one of a kind creations.

“I would spend a lot of time going around collecting leaves and stuff and making potions. The idea of using nature as an outlet for creativity has always stuck with me,” Thrasher said.

His crystallized insects (made by submerging them into a supersaturated solution with compounds like chromium, potassium sulfate and copper sulfate) and his glowing plants (made by combining phosphorescent mineral powder with an clear acrylic base and dipping them into the mixture) are a wonder to behold.

“My favorite part is seeing the reactions … It reminds me of me being a kid and just having my mind blown by everything. I think it's a very valuable resource, being able to be surprised and shocked at how cool the world is and seeing that happen with grownups and adults is kind of magical,” he said.

Route 66

Route 66 in Tulsa is making a comeback in large part to local mover and shaker Mary Beth Babcock. Perhaps the most iconic sight is the enormous space cowboy that stands outside Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios, 1347 E 11th St. Originally a PEMCO filling station, the Buck is a dwarf compared to the Golden Driller, but this one-of-a-kind oddity was made specifically for the gift shop.

“We actually found a gentleman that owns a mold —the 22-foot mold that was used to make the original ones from the 60s—that lives in Virginia. So it looks exactly the same, but we got to choose the character. So we thought, why don't we merge the spaceman and the cowboy?” manager Julia Figueroa said.

The stretch of The Mother Road is also home to some other curiosities like its neighbor, Decopolis, with its dinosaurs and shop dog welcome visitors inside one of the most unique shops on this street or any other.

If you’re hungry, Ike’s Chili is just up the block or you could visit Mon Amie, which bills itself as a “spa + vegan cafe.”

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