10 Dive Bars Only Real Tulsans Know About
BY JOE O'SHANSKY, BEA BAKER, SAM HATHAWAY, ZACK REEVES & MATT CARNEY
About This List
There are two kinds of alcoholics. Or more charitably, aficionados. One is affluent. The other, working class.
You can segment them by status, but you can tell a lot more by how they pick their poisons. True dive bars are populist in a way that boutique, high-concept dens of mixology are not. The Places in this Guide don’t sell sumptuous $15 craft cocktails or offer luxurious, leathery comforts. They are bars. With hard stools, cheap drinks and tough customers.
Here is a survey of some favorites. Like a humanities class with booze. —Joe O'Shansky
Please note that these bars' regular operations may have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Social distancing and calling in your order ahead are both recommended. And of course, wherever you go, please take a mask.
112 W. 4th St., Tulsa, OK 74103
Within stumbling distance of the BOK Center, Orpha's stocks cheap beer, racks two pool tables and keeps the jukebox buzzing from early until early. (They open at 8:00 a.m. each day and close at 2:00 a.m.)
This bar is older than you are. A dive in the truest possible sense of the word, it’s been open downtown since 1958 and God only knows whether or not its current signage has seen every one of those years. Orpha’s is popular among the overnight crowd—folks who work late shifts downtown. It’s a Tulsa institution.
The bartenders are friendly, smoking is permitted, the regulars can get rowdy and drink specials are available from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. —Matt Carney
1109 E. 6th St., Tulsa, OK 74120
Located in a VFW building, itself an old speakeasy, Centennial is the “Purple Heart of the Pearl”— bordering downtown and the revitalized arts and drinking Pearl District, between Utica and Peoria Avenues. You can’t miss its fantastically vintage neon sign.
Over a weekday afternoon of cheap Marshall’s on tap—unless you like to go hard early—you might find yourself in the company of storytelling vets who killed actual Nazis. Sadly retired.
At night Centennial regularly hosts live music (Tulsa’s late blues legend, Steve Pryor, used to perform there), and boasts a long-running comedy open mic where, if you show up on the right Wednesday, you can watch some of the best comics in Tulsa working out new material. —Joe O'Shansky
3307 S. Peoria Ave., Tulsa, OK 74105
Formerly known as Brookside Bar (under that name one of Tulsa’s arguably oldest watering holes), Another Round is closer to an entry-level dip. Nothing on Brookside is truly that trashy. Here you'll find strong pours, a pleasingly inexpensive selection of well-curated craft beers, and a back porch with darts and giant Jenga.
Another Round is the place to get a massive buzz in the warm familiarity of a neighborhood pub.—Joe O'Shansky
3120 S. Yale Ave., Tulsa, OK 74135
An old-school watering hole, On the Rocks has everything you need in a neighborhood bar: jukebox, TVs, and even a working cigarette vending machine. For a long time, the bar’s marquee read, “If you drive them to drink, drive them here,” and it’s a fitting slogan: On the Rocks is a comfortable spot to sit and nurse a drink.
The bar has plenty of drink specials, like $4 34-ounce mugs of Miller Lite or PBR, and $5 bottles of Guiness, or specialty cocktails, like the “Moby Drink” (Absolute Citron, blue curaçao, and lemon-lime soda), the “Tennessee Tea” (Jack Daniel’s, sour, and cola), or the “Whiskey and Gold” (Jim Beam, amaretto, lemon sour, and pineapple juice).
While looking a little impenetrable from the outside, this comfortable establishment is respectable and sweet on the inside: service is attentive and quick, and the bar is stocked and clean. One the Rocks is one of the rare bars in Tulsa to allow smoking, so light up and enjoy yourself. —Zack Reeves
2630 E. 15th St., Tulsa, OK 74104
An LGBT bar in spirit (there used to be a one-person prison cage between the booths), now Yellow Brick Road is really a pub for anyone.
A nerdy beer selection and tailored concoctions from midtown-centric bartenders who love their friends, housed in a vintage 40’s train row building—with unassuming, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, aesthetically minimalist signage—YBR is unrefined sophistication. —Joe O'Shansky
1120 S. Harvard Ave., Tulsa, OK 74112
Neon Signs. Smoke wafting up from the polished hardwood bar. Sports on each of the 8 or so televisions. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more quintessential dive in Tulsa than “The Buc.”
It bills itself as Tulsa’s Oldest Bar. According to the Tulsa World, it’s been serving up brews since 1932, but the official records have been lost to time. At any age, The Buc’s character remains. Signs advertising every imaginable form of liquor and beer litter the walls—make no mistake: this is a place for drinking. One sign behind the bar gives you a sense of its humor: “20% pain in the ass charge to all walked tabs.”
Don’t worry about stepping outside to light up: The Buc is one of the few bars in Tulsa where you’ll find indoor ashtrays. However, there is a convenient porch out back—where there’s also surprisingly adequate parking—if you want to smoke outside.
The bar mostly slings classics: Coors Light was named as their most served beer. But The Buc also offers a few favorite cocktails labeled it’s “Buck’en Good Cocktails”: the Buck’en Screw (a screwdriver with Tito’s), the Cran Mule (a Captain Morgan Moscow mule with cranberry juice), or the Bean Juice (Crown Royal, Peach Schnapps, and cranberry juice). If you catch them at the right time, $4 Jager shots were on offer at the time of writing. All aboard. —Zack Reeves
3245 S. Harvard Ave., Tulsa, OK 74135
Walking up to Tin Dog Saloon, you might mistake it for a large cardboard box. Don’t be fooled by the wood panellings covering the windows and low ceilings. This iconic establishment fully embodies the concept of a neighborhood bar. Plopped in the center of midtown, you are greeted with a couple of pool tables, sports on at least one of the two TVs, and friendly bartender, if not two.
Once your eyes adjust to the dark dive, take a look at the chalkboard menu. Coors, High Life, and PBR are only three bucks and a double shot will only put you seven dollars out.—Bea Baker
417 W. 7th St., Tulsa, OK 74119
Downtown Tulsa wouldn’t ever be called a red-light district, but you could get away with calling Cellar Dweller a red-light bar. Red and yellow lights dot the ceiling of this basement bar, nestled in the bottom of downtown apartment building. Descend down a steep, tight staircase and open a door into another world. Cellar Dweller has everything a good dive needs: dark ambiance, loud music and good, cheap drink specials.
Speaking of drink specials, ask for the Cellar Dweller drink and shot combo to get a Lost Lake and a shot of Fireball whiskey for only five bucks. There’s no beer on tap here, but a wide selection of bottles and cans makes up for it. Settle in for a mixed drink, not a cocktail—you’re here for the fun of it, not mixology.
Speaking of mixology, hit up Cellar Dweller on your birthday (or, more maliciously, bring a birthday-celebrating friend) for a “Clown Shot”—the combination of the dregs of all the bar’s empty liquor bottles poured from a terrifying Pennywise-esque clown bottle. Depending on the kinds of liquor the bar has been going through, your experience may vary: order a glass of water, just to be safe.
The bar is decorated with plenty of old vintage art: lots of topless women and, perhaps unsurprisingly, clowns. (The clowns aren’t topless.) With the lights, drink specials and fun art, the message is clear: if you’re here, you’re in for a good time.—Zack Reeves