[dropcap]If[/dropcap] it were a movie, you’d want to leap through the screen and enter a world that’s much more vibrant and romantic than our own. You can’t do that with movies. But you can with restaurants. You just have to find it first – and that’s not easy.
An elegant, secretive watering hole and steakhouse comes to life every night in a cavernous, hidden building accessible only via a side alley. It flies so far below the radar that, while some call it the Lounge and others know it as Bull in the Alley, it doesn’t even have an official name, and if it did we probably wouldn’t be permitted to tell you. “Remember, you’re the first magazine we’ve ever allowed inside,” several employees tell us, “and we can’t allow you to print our address or phone number.” But we can hint.
“And anyone who finds us will be welcomed,” corporate chef Trevor Tack says. “We’re elegant, not snobby.”
Head for Tulsa’s Brady Arts District and find the northeast corner of Brady and Main streets. Walk east on Brady and find an alley heading to the left. Though clean, brightly lit and newly paved, it’s easy to miss. A short walk down this alley brings you to a tall green door on the left, with a tiny bovine sculpture high above. Walk through this door, and you’re in a small room which, like the rest of the restaurant, has a marble floor and towering ceiling. A hostess in an elegant black dress leads you into the main room. When you walk through that door, you step back in time.
How far back, you can’t be sure. Most people see it as the Roaring ’20s or Hollywood Regency 1930s. It’s the sort of place Ernest Hemingway may have had in mind in The Sun Also Rises (1926) when Jake Barnes narrates, “We sat on high stools at the bar while the barman shook the Martinis in a large nickelled shaker” – except that here martinis are stirred, not shaken. Tack, Tulsa’s culinary wunderkind and formerly executive chef at Bodean, has been intimately involved in this project from the beginning; he says the inspiration is 1950s Las Vegas. In any case, it’s an era just dripping in glamour, with just a hint of the naughty.
“I still think this is the sexiest restaurant I’ve ever been in,” Tack says enthusiastically. “And oh, how I love it.”
The menu is what you’d see if you visited an old-school New York steakhouse, the kind of place that has sated hearty appetites since the 19th century: a few old-fashioned appetizers (escargots in shell, shrimp cocktail), a daily fish special, a wedge salad. But those play second fiddle to the steak. “The best steak, the best creamed spinach, the best potatoes, that’s all you need for an old-school steakhouse,” says Tack, who spent several weeks eating at the finest steakhouses in New York and Chicago before designing his menu.
Here the steak is a huge porterhouse, and it’s USDA Prime. Most restaurants have broilers that top out at 500 degrees, but the broiler here cruises along at 1,500 degrees – not quite hot enough to melt steel, but certainly more than enough to soften it. Chefs broil the steak the way it’s done at Peter Luger’s and Gallagher’s in New York. First, the steak goes in briefly to sear it. Then they take it out and cut grooves in it. The steak and grooves are slathered with butter, then broiled to the desired doneness. Out it comes, dripping with juices. It’s rushed to your table, served on a tilt so the juices pool at the bottom, ready for you to spoon them on your meat. The waiter slowly serves each diner with two perfect slices, one from the New York strip side of the bone and the other from the filet mignon side. You sit and watch politely and, during that time, the heady meat aroma triggers primal urges that make you want to grab the bone. And then you eat, and it’s just perfect.
It’s hard for a reviewer to describe the taste of a pristine prime-aged steak. Most simply describe the reactions of the diner. Perhaps Hemingway could have done it. Suffice it to say that you eat till you bust. Then the dessert comes, and one portion of turtle ice cream pie, dripping in chocolate, stands almost a foot high and is bigger than a head of lettuce, and it’s so good that you eat it, too.