Tulsa’s Deco below


I get wind of a new joint in Tulsa. Top secret. Swanky. Hidden deep below the concrete expanse and neon lights of downtown Tulsa. The kind of place where whispers of words like "clandestine" and "rendezvous" echo softly in a dimly-lit lair.

The directions are clear as mud: Look for an alleyway—like all the others that wind behind the elegant skyscrapers of the Deco District—off 5th Street and Boston Avenue. I spot a sign with no words and walk through double doors into the bowels of a high-rise building. To my right, an incongruous office door with misted glass and gold lettering—Boston Title & Abstract Company. This has got to be it . . . right?

I open the door and am met with a dark concrete staircase, and no reassurance that I’m where I should be. I step gingerly down one flight. The sounds of music and clinking wine glasses drift upstairs. My eyes adjust to the darkness, and I get my first mirage-like glimpse of beautiful people carousing in an exclusive underground restaurant and bar.

Co-owner and executive chef Paul Wilson greets me with a spoonful of black cherry and absinthe ice cream. His partner in crime, co-owner Greg Donnini, pours me a glass of something divine and tells me the story behind their speakeasy concept, Boston Title & Abstract.

"When I was looking for a space downtown, I kept running into title and abstract companies," he says. "They always looked empty and old."

Title and abstract companies perform tangential real estate transactions that are required in only one other state—and will be obsolete in a couple years. Soon, the only remaining abstract and title company in Oklahoma will be a phony front for a place to get high-end hooch and cuisine.

The restaurant dwells in the basement of the Meridia high-rise apartment building. The space was originally a boiler room—an empty concrete shell with three inches of water covering the floor. It’s an unlikely spot for a fine dining restaurant, but perfect for a "post-apocalyptic speakeasy," the guiding inspiration for the restaurant.

"We wanted it to look like a speakeasy was here 90 years ago and was shut down. Then we came in, dusted it off and turned on the lights, got it going again," says Donnini.  "When I was designing the space, I paid homage to Tulsa’s architecture and Art Deco flair. The Deco District feels like authentic Tulsa."

The upper level dining area is primo and private—the real catbird seat to scope out the action below. A bar with cozy seats peer into the small but lively kitchen. A resplendent leather couch with carved wooden accents inhabits the middle of the concrete floor, perfect for canoodling with a cocktail. Banquettes with chunky dark wooden tables line the walls, and Edison bulbs glow in light fixtures made from copper plumbing pipes.

High art details meet raw materials. Unfinished concrete and exposed metal belie the refined menu curated by Wilson.

"We’ve always had the desire to have this juxtaposition—creating fine dining somewhere unexpected. Part of our scheme was to get that ‘shock and awe,’ where you are walking in and not sure if it’s a restaurant or not," says Wilson.

Wilson is classically trained in French cuisine, but he grew up influenced by Mexican cooking and worked with a variety of cuisines while in New Orleans. His menu for Boston Title & Abstract is, well, abstract—by design.

"There is a stencil for the menu with a strong French backbone," he says. "But items within that stencil will change based on seasons and what I’m in the mood to create."

Wilson’s ratatouille—a traditional French dish of stewed tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and eggplant—gets a summery deconstruction. Twirls of thinly-planed squash and zucchini are cleverly placed along a pool of pureed tomato, with dots of baba ghanoush accenting the edges. The highlight is a golden disc of lavender bread pudding with an intoxicating herbal sweetness and sumptuous texture.

On nights when Wilson is feeling frisky, a velvety chilled cantaloupe soup or a pho-inspired tamale—or maybe even duck confit mac & cheese—could make an appearance.

"There’s nothing really static on the menu. We want it that way," Wilson says. "If we’re static, we become boring. And we always want this to be exciting."

The tightly-knit 10-person crew provides impeccable dinner service from 5 to 10 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sunday brunch. No secret password required—only a reservation, available through OpenTable.

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