With a combination of great food, good drinks, and excellent original music, Soul City is an eclectic gastropub to get a Wabi-sabi fix and feed both your belly and spirit.
Chances are, when Kevin and Amy Smith first opened Soul City in September 2011, they didn’t expect it to grow into the business and gathering spot that it has become. What started out as an art studio and workshop has turned into one of Tulsa’s most eclectic and inviting gastropub-bar-music venues, and it’s all happened organically.
Originally located at 818 E. 3rd Street (currently home of Bohemian Pizza), Amy had previously booked music for Riverwalk Crossing on the weekends and used those contacts to bring in bands on the weekends, hosting events with food trucks and music.
By 2013, they had outgrown the space and moved to Soul City’s current location. With even more space for Amy’s workshop and studio, the Smiths also had more space to host events. Art installations with live music and local CD release shows continued to be augmented with food trucks and a catered bar, culminating in Buddy Guy’s after-party with the Dustin Pittsley Band. Members of Buddy Guy’s band, as well as Robert Randolph, showed up and took the stage with Pittsley after headlining at the Brady Theater earlier that night.
“Over time, we realized everyone else was making money, and we were just hosting and watching it all happen,” Kevin explains of Soul City’s transition. “At that point, we courted a couple of people and discussed doing a restaurant, but nothing ever came of it.”
Ultimately, the biggest help and encouragement came from the guys next door at El Rancho Grande. “They basically told us, ‘We inherited this from our parents and had to figure it out as we went along and you can too,’” he continues. “So roughly two years ago, we hatched a plan for a cool gastropub.”
That concept finally came to fruition in April 2016, and Soul City has found an audience with those searching for a space where food, drinks, music, and art all coexist — as well as those who are simply looking for a place where they can feel comfortable, relax, and put the day behind them.
“Many people say that the place reminds them of Austin, Deep Ellum (Dallas), the Caribbean, New Orleans, and even Key West,” Kevin says. “That tells us we’ve got a cool mix going on and also that we’ve accomplished at least part of what we set out to do.”
Of course, part of that vibe comes from the eclectic interior and decorations, which are often a source of discussion, attention, and regular questions.
“It really all came together because we started out as artists and vintage collectors,” Kevin says. “A lot of it came from estate sales and auctions or antique stores. Now, people bring us stuff to add all the time.”
Sure, many of the items have their own stories and Kevin can recall where they came from, but the magic comes from how it all fits together.
“There’s an old boy scout cap from the ‘50s and some old hats that hang in the corner behind the stage. We see people taking them down and taking pictures in them all the time,” he says. “We’ve found that when things are put in the right atmosphere, they become new and interesting again. I guess that’s a lot of what we’re doing here.”
Perhaps Amy was able to sum it up most accurately: “It’s called the Wabi-sabi, which means having a view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Things that others have discarded, we can recycle into art or find another use for.”
Branded primarily as a gastropub, the kitchen plays a large part in Soul City’s identity, and the food is as eclectic as the décor. The menu is constantly shifting and evolving, but one constant is the signature jerk chicken tacos, which are easily the top seller. Other favorites include the Ultimate Grilled Cheese, a Cuban sandwich, and the decadent Cheesy Mac, smothered in four cheeses with bacon and chives.
“I lived in Jamaica for a while, so that flavors a lot of what we serve here,” says Amy, who directs the kitchen. “The jerk chicken is authentic and the mango salsa is made inhouse. My mom and dad were amazing cooks as well, so part of their Louisiana heritage has been passed down as well.”
The bar works hand-in-hand with the food and boasts an impressive selection of tequilas, as well as a broad selection of craft beers from Marshall, Anthem, New Belgium, Kona, ACME, and Evil Twin Breweries, amongst others.
The musical undercurrent of Soul City ties into the bar selections as well, with Train, Miranda Lambert, and Dave Matthews represented, respectively, by the Save Me, San Francisco, Red 55, and Dreaming Tree wines. Kenny Chesney’s Blue Chair Bay Rum and Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar Rum and Cabo Wabo Tequila are staples of the bar, as well.
Seeing that live music played a large part of Soul City’s development, it only makes sense that it would remain integral to the location’s continued evolution. With a focus on original music, Soul City hosts live music almost every weekend, utilizing a large backyard patio with ample seating during the summer months, as well as providing a listening room type of environment with its dining room stage on the west end of the building.
Staples of Soul City’s music calendar include Tuesday Bluesday, featuring a weekly blues jam led by Dustin Pittsley (as well as $4 a la carte tacos) and Writer’s Block, an open-stage night for singer-songwriters, led by Cody Clinton on alternating Thursday evenings. In addition, Soul City is the Sunday evening home for acoustic duo of Mark Bruner and Shelby Eicher, who were musical anchors at Full Moon Café for nearly 20 years.
With a combination of great food, good drinks, and excellent original music, Soul City has quickly become the place to feed both your belly and spirit. New and fresh art from Amy’s workshop at the east end of the building serves to complete the balance.
“Our concept was not to be a conventional bar, or a conventional restaurant or music venue. We just wanted to create a place where people can relax and feel like family and forget about their day for a little while,” says Kevin. “We’re not perfect and we’re not trying to be. But we’ve found that imperfect people fi t perfectly.”
1621 E. 11th St. | Tulsa
Tuesday-Friday: 4 p.m.-Midnight
Sunday: Noon -10 p.m.
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