Burly and amiable, in a checked shirt and jeans, he looks like the kind of cowboy ladies love.
“I was 13 when I started work at my father’s restaurant,” Kent Kistler says. “My brother Brandon and I have been doing it ever since – except for the years Brandon was the lead singer of a heavy metal band. We washed dishes, then we moved to waiting tables and bartending. About 20 years ago, we met Hal Smith.”
So there the brothers were, some time in 2012, shooting around ideas with the well-known restaurateur in his office, and one of them – history does not know which – asked something along the lines of: “Why can’t you find a friendly neighborhood bar that serves really good, creative cocktails and local craft beer?”
Pub W was conceived.
Now, almost seven years later, a visitor to the southwest corner of Yale Avenue and East 61st Street in Tulsa finds a large, modern row of buildings where just empty space existed a year before. Through a glass door and you’re in the Pub W Tulsa, opened in late February and co-owned by the Kistlers and Smith. (There are two locations in OKC and one in Norman.)
The Tulsa room is large; its ceiling is far above you, but it feels curiously welcoming. Perhaps it’s the happy voices of all the people seated at the bar – big and packed. Large, burnished copper pipes carry beer from the ceiling to the taps. And through those pipes flow some of the finest beer in the city.
A brewing renaissance has occurred the past two years in Tulsa – breweries have sprung up like mushrooms in the deserted industrial corridor east of downtown. Some have become world famous, many of their beers are hard to find, and almost all of them can be found at Pub W. The beers on tap include local legends like American Solera, Heirloom, Marshall, Cabin Boys and Prairie Artisan Ales.
Complementing the beer is a fine list of creative cocktails invented by beverage manager Rachel Custer (“like the general,” she says). A bleak, chilly day can be enlivened by the Abominable Snowman, featuring Bulleit bourbon, allspice dram, vanilla, egg white and a burning cinnamon stick.
“If you’re wanting something wintry, spicy and delicious,” says Custer, “this drink will fill you up, warm you up and make you feel good inside.”
And there’s the food.
“We didn’t want fancy food,” Kent Kistler says. “We wanted something unique and fun, with everything made in-house. We have pigs in a blanket like your grandma makes … except that grandma probably didn’t use a beer cheese sauce. It’s fun to have a beer and a pig in a blanket.”
Along comes the entrees. Kistler is particularly proud of the beer-braised pork shoulder.
“That took a long time to develop. We must have tried a dozen versions,” says Kistler, describing how his crew cooks vegetables, sears the pork shoulder in the vegetable pan, then deglazes that pan with Anthem IPA and puts everything in a giant pot, where it’s simmered for four hours or more.
As the dinner hour approaches, the back tables fill up, and it’s a diverse crowd. At one, a party of six comprises weary but content men in windbreakers bearing an oil company logo. Two tables down, four younger women, maybe from a nearby office building, enjoy burgers and mixed drinks. Nearby is an all-age group (it’s a family friendly bar), with moms, dads and a bunch of toddlers playing video games on tablets.
“Every day we’re throwing a party,” says Ory Fagan, the general manager. “You don’t invite customers to a party. You invite your friends and family, and we want our guests to feel that way. We’re not just a bar. We’re the neighborhood spot. If you want a family dinner, girls’ or guys’ night out, drinks with friends, just about anything, we’re your bar.”