The Plaza District is where Quirky meets Enterprising to do some strategic planning over a warm chai latte. Occupying a stretch of a few blocks along 16th Street between Indiana Blvd. and Classen Blvd., there is so much creativity, initiative, and positivity in this one small strip of 16th street that you really canâ€™t help feeling a bit more optimistic when you visit.
The Plaza District is fun. You can go to the Plaza and leave with a great new haircut, a belly full of delicious gluten-free food, a t-shirt that reminds you to â€˜Support Local Artâ€™ and maybe even some new original artwork… on your shoulder.
This is also a young arts district – many of the successful businesses operating here have been running for two years or less – and itâ€™s growing – soon there will be more dining options and even more of the unique shops and businesses that shape this districtâ€™s personality.
A few years ago at a committee meeting for Momentum, Amanda Bradway made a comment about Making Your Community More Awesome that has since stuck with me, both as a symbol of this neighborhoodâ€™s commitment to itself and as a good general rule: â€œThrow money at it. If you see something you think is great, you have to support it if you want it to stick around.â€ That philosophy rings incredibly true as you walk through the many independently owned businesses in the Plaza District. Many of these shops and galleries were peopleâ€™s dreams: now they are existing and thriving. If we think that that is great, then itâ€™s up to each of us to enjoy and support it.
The line between art galleries and other businesses is a bit muddled here, as lots of businesses do a bit of both, featuring the work of artists, crafters, and other creative folks side by side. Iâ€™m going to talk about them all together here, because that’s how they’re laid out.
DNA Galleries – Headed by fabulous artists and tireless arts supporters Amanda and Dylan Bradway, this gallery features primarily local artists and designers and offers everything from quirky accessories to awe-inspiring art for your walls. I believe that DNA was one of the first art galleries to open here, which I think says quite something about the ownersâ€™ vision. Also, this is one of the best possible places to buy a gift. Anywhere. Would you like a plush toy shaped like Oklahoma? Some handmade jewelry? Boundary-pushing contemporary art? Well, DNA has you covered.
Collected Thread – Right next door to DNA is Collected Thread. Owner Lindsay Zodrow clearly has a sharp eye – the layout of the shop is a work of art itself. Her eye for design extends to the gorgeous products she carries: wearable creations, stationery, handmade soaps and candles fill the shop here. Like DNA, there are always surprises, as the inventory shifts a little each month.
The DNA and Collected Threads storefronts – see also Grace Gordon’s article.
Chaparney Construction – Just a hair south of 16th sits Chaparney Construction, a gallery featuring sculptures by owner-manager Don Narcomey and other local sculptors whose work rotates each month. The sculpture here is heavy, complex, industrial, delicate and meditative at the same time – Narcomey uses wood of all types and salvaged materials and the results are always worth a look.
PhotoArt Studio – You probably have seen work by Keith Rinearson even if you donâ€™t realize it. His lush photographs are published in a number of local magazines, capturing some of the people, places, and events that make our city the crazy potluck that it is. His studio – itâ€™s the one with the big lit PhotoArt sign – is a great place to see his work in a stylishly remodeled building that once had a fur vault.
PhotoArt Studio’s awesome neon sign
Bad Granny’s – This is one hip happenin’ place. The main focus here is vintage and retro decor, clothing, and accessories, but be sure to check out the back room for vinyl. The used records range from kitschy garage-sale fare to 80’s New Wave classics. The room is also used as a small venue for mostly local acts, but they do get the occasional touring act. Also, on the first or second Tuesdays of every month, Coconut Revolution does free film screenings! Come check out the eclectic collection from the 36 – 40 vendors and artists, and you just may catch a show.
The back room at Bad Granny’s
A vendor’s beautiful, crazy booth at Bad Granny’s
Curiouser and Curiouser – This is another great source for vintage and retro goods, right next door to Bad Granny’s. Their focus has been collectibles (Rockwell prints, et cetera), but they’re transitioning into becoming a solid source for furniture by well-known makers. Check out their Brazilian, Hedwood-Wakefield, and Eames pieces. About 20 vendors sell through this shop.
An Eames table at Curiouser and Curiouser
Plaza Discount – You’ve probably seen this driving through the neighborhood, and may remember it from before the area started to expand. It’s been around for the past decade. This may be the most interesting dollar-store we’ve seen in a long time. Pick up some cheap, rockin’ sunglasses or Check out their figurine aisle for crazy, beautiful kitsch.
The figurines at Plaza Discount are well worth a gander
Lyric Theater of Oklahoma – Recently renovated, this gorgeous building offers a lot: a striking, historic theater building with a fresh, cleanly designed interior. Stepping up to the lobby makes you feel like you are walking the red carpet yourself. Lyric not only puts on a great show, it does good things: Lyric is firmly invested in the development of its neighborhood, and its education and outreach programs are central to its mission.
Everything Goes Dance Studio – This place lives up to its name, offering instruction in â€œBallet, Tap, Jazz, Modern, Hip Hop,Flamenco, Mexican Folkloric, Latin, and Argentinean Tangoâ€ for students aged 3 and up.
Everything Goes Dance Studio and Lyric on the Plaza
Cafe Evoke – Located at 1708 NW 16th, Cafe Evoke is a coffee catering businesses that manages to combine coffee knowledge with friendliness. Come by here on Monday mornings from 7-9 for Free Coffee Mondays, where you can enjoy… free coffee.
Coffyâ€™s Cafe – Oklahoma Cityâ€™s only 100% gluten free restaurant, Coffyâ€™s offers a healthy, (and all-vegetarian) limited menu in a cozy and welcoming space. Their patio is perfectly situated for people-watching and chai-sipping, if you like that sort of thing.
Outside Coffy’s Cafe in the warm weather
Saint’s – At the corner of Gatewood and 16th, this forthcoming pub plans to offer the Plaza a healthy take on Irish dining. Potatoes are still the big thing, but rather than the usual fried fish-and-chips, most of their fare is baked. They will serve rashers, and possibly blood sausage, for those who ache for a Real Irish Breakfast. Look for flash-chilled Guinness, Carlsberg, Ace Pear, Newcastle, and PBR on tap, as well as individual CO-OP brews. Expect their grand opening within the first week of March, or soon thereafter.
Midwest Marketing – The name of this business may not make it sound like the most likely place to go hang out during a gallery walk, but take a step inside. One of the youngest businesses in the Plaza, Midwest Marketing has provided gallery space and free promo videos of featured visual artists for the past several months. Itâ€™s one thing to see an artistâ€™s work on the wall, and another to walk through their process with them – these promotional videos allow you to do just that.
No Regrets Tattoo – A tattoo shop! Remember a few years ago when Oklahoma Cityâ€™s only options for tattoos were crossing the border into Texas, or knowing a guy who knows a guy who does a â€œgreatâ€ job in his living room? And then, it became legalized, and a bunch of sketchy tattoo places popped up with hideous signs that made you wonder how on earth they were qualified to commit a permanent work of art to someoneâ€™s SKIN? No more. Now you can get a lovely tattoo in a spacious, clean shop in a hip part of town. Everyone wins!
Well, except maybe that guy in his living room.
No Regrets Tattoo Studio
Velvet Monkey – I have no idea if the stylists here would cut you an ironic mullet if you wanted one, but this place certainly knows the value of â€œbusiness in front, party in back.â€ The front room features a salon with a distinctly urban atmosphere, complete with an incredible graffiti mural. Walk through the salon, and another world waits: a densely packed vintage shop with treasures ready for the rifling: wall hangings, weird shirts, lighting fixtures straight out of the 1970s, and more. And I do mean MORE – Thereâ€™s a lot back there!
Warpaint Clothing – Selling clothing by local and national designers, accessories made from repurposed items, and a screenprinting studio in the back, Warpaint is another must-stop in the Plaza.
A STONEâ€™S THROW AWAY
The Urban Art complex includes four different galleries:
- Istvan Gallery – contemporary art, Story Slam events, and packed-house openings
- Blue Sage Studios – glass art with live glassblowing demonstrations
- Art Fusion Studio – fused glass jewelry, wall pieces and more
- Maya Trading Company – artwork by Mexican and Central American artists
At 12th and Western, these are so close you can taste them, and conveniently all next door to each other.
WHEN TO GO
Just set aside your Fridays for art shows in Oklahoma City. On the second Friday of each month, the Plaza District presents LIVE on the Plaza, which is part gallery walk and part street party, with food trucks, live arts events, film screenings and more as part of the goings on. Even better, IAO gallery downtown and the Urban Art galleries often plan openings to coincide with LIVE on the Plaza, which makes for a night of happy art-ing!
Also, in October, come by for the Plaza Festival. A block full of juried artist booths plus special sales and events at the regular Plaza businesses make this weekend festival a lot of fun. The 2011 dates have not yet been announced, but itâ€™s typically been held on the second weekend in October.
Paula and Company – A realty firm that I hear is a very supportive partner to the crazy artsy-ness that surrounds it.
PLAZA MOM – This list just plain wouldnâ€™t be complete without mentioning the work of Plaza Association Executive Director, Kristen Vails. Her hard work and easygoing attitude have been a big key to its ongoing success and growth. Balancing this work with her own art career, Vails deserves lots of kudos.
The Flaming Lips – Oklahoma Cityâ€™s favorite celebrities live very close by, and band members (especially Wayne Coyne) are often seen attending openings and other Plaza events. Alright, Iâ€™m not going to lie – I love the Lipsâ€™ music and still get those little kid â€œomg thatâ€™s a FAMOUS person!â€ butterflies when I see them around town. You canâ€™t guarantee that you will see a Lip whilst strolling the Plaza, but you might.
So, thereâ€™s the Plaza District in a nutshell. There is always a lot to see and do, and thereâ€™s a lot more than what is here – mark your calendar now for the second Friday of next month and see for yourself.
If you want to learn more about who, what, and why the Plaza is, check out the Plaza District Homepage.
(c) Jenn Barron All rights reserved. Photos (c) Rachel Cagigal All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce photos without Rachel’s permission.