Travel expert Joey Amato returns to this hidden Midwestern gem.
Since I began Pride Journeys five years ago, I have had the incredible opportunity to visit dozens of destinations around the world. Some destinations I visited once, while others left such an impression, that I was yearning to return. Oklahoma City is one of those destinations.
I first visited OKC during a road trip to Las Vegas. While I was only there for one night, it piqued my interest when I found out they have a viable gayborhood known as the 39th Street District. During that trip, I stayed at a hotel in the neighborhood known as Habana. It has since been updated and rebranded as The District Hotel and served as my home base on this trip.
The property has changed a lot under its current ownership. The rooms especially have been modernized and are quite welcoming. During the summer months, the hotel is known for throwing outrageous pool parties drawing guests from miles around. There is also a nightclub, bar, and lounge on property for guests to enjoy.
The 39th Street District is quiet during the day but really comes alive at night. There are no less than eight LGBTQ+ nightlife establishments in a two-block radius, putting the city’s nightlife scene on par with major LGBTQ+ destinations.
Begin your evening with a cocktail at Apothecary 39. The friendly bar staff and patrons will always make you feel welcome. Next, head over to Indigo Lounge, a newer establishment with more of a NYC chic vibe. The owner of the bar randomly introduced herself to us and told us about her collaboration with her daughter to create an open and inviting space. She gave off such a positive energy that it made us want to stay there for a few more drinks. And by the way, the drinks in OKC are strong and inexpensive. A Grey Goose cocktail will run you about $7. You won’t find that in NYC.
Finish off the evening at Angle’s, the district’s only true club. Angles is open Wednesday through Saturday, so if you are in town during one of those days, be sure to swing by. The neighborhood also contains numerous murals, perfect for those mandatory Instagram posts.
Everything shuts down in OKC at 2 a.m., so don’t expect to party too late.
Celebrating the First Americans
After a good night’s sleep, head to the First Americans Museum. This was my first time visiting and I was so impressed by not only the modern design of the building but also the interactive nature of the exhibits.
First Americans Museum (FAM) celebrates the 39 Tribal Nations that call Oklahoma home, although only a handful are indigenous to the state. Many were removed from their homelands and relocated to Indian Territory. The name Oklahoma actually derives from two Choctaw words, “Okla” and “Homma,” meaning land of the red people.
The museum’s full-service restaurant, Thirty Nine offers a delicious brunch menu on the weekend. Some standout items include Blue Corn Blueberry Pancakes, the FAM skillet, and a hearty Mushroom Frittata.
Time for some shopping and views
After the museum, it’s time to do a little shopping. Swing by queer and female owner Common Dear for some rainbow-inspired gifts then head over to LGBTQ-owned Craig’s Emporium. This is a gem collector’s dream come true. The store is enormous and features a huge variety of gems, minerals, and so much more. I literally didn’t know which way to turn. The store is divided into different rooms, and you can easily get lost inside.
For the best views of the city, catch a ride on the Wheeler Ferris Wheel or go to Vast located in the Devon Energy tower, the city’s tallest building. And be sure not to miss the cutting-edge design of the city’s Skydance Bridge.
Immersive experiences and Asian cuisine
One of the hottest attractions in Oklahoma City is Factory Obscura, an immersive experience created by local artists. Guests are given 3D glasses upon entry to thoroughly enjoy the venue. I have never experienced anything quite like this. It’s a combination of a maze, art installation, and interactive playground. I’m not really sure how to describe it, but it was very cool and fun for all ages.
What many people don’t realize about OKC is that it has a thriving Asian culinary scene. The Asian District contains dozens of restaurants serving everything from traditional Cantonese cuisine to Vietnamese food, which is how it got its nickname, “Little Saigon.” Try VII Asian Bistro, which is located in an unimpressive strip mall. But don’t let the façade fool you. The food is delicious and inexpensive. I highly recommend the Chicken Lettuce Wraps and Moo Goo Gai Pan.
A time to honor the victims of the past
Every time I visit, I like to walk by the Oklahoma City National Memorial, a site that honors the victims, survivors, and rescuers of the Oklahoma City bombing which took place on April 19, 1995. A section of the old Murrah Federal Building still stands near the entrance to the memorial. The best time to go is early in the morning when you can take your time to walk the grounds without the crowds. It’s a very somber experience that should not be missed.
Saturday night sinner, Sunday morning brunch
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, there is no better place to be than The Boom for Gospel Brunch starring Kitty Bob Aimes and Norma Jean Goldenstein. The drag duo had us rolling for the entire hour-long show. I was so impressed by the improv talent of the two entertainers. I was told the Bloody Mary’s are to die for.
Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring downtown Oklahoma City then head to the city’s Paseo District, a quaint neighborhood filled with shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
Make a reservation at Frida Southwest, a modern restaurant featuring elevated Latin cuisine such as Tuna Tartare made with guajillo-orange marinated ahi tuna, whipped avocado, and pickled onion served with crispy corn tortillas. If you are in the mood for a heartier appetizer, try the Short Rib empanadas.
For an entrée, I recommend the Chilean Seabass served over a truffle corn and parmesan risotto, lobster beurre blanc and sautéed baby spinach. I’ve had Chilean seabass before, but this dish ranks among the top I have ever tasted. And of course, you must complete your meal with the Mexican Hot Chocolate cheesecake because calories don’t count on this trip. The cheesecake is made with a hazelnut cinnamon brittle, chocolate dulce, and spiced cinnamon-ancho crust.
I feel like all I did on this trip was eat, but Oklahoma City’s culinary scene has taken off in recent years and the city boasts so many wonderful options outside of what they are traditionally known for.
Consider visiting during their Pride on 39th festival and parade which is scheduled for June 2-4, 2023.