Join Bricktown Brewery 25th Celebration at 6 p.m.
So forgive me, but sometimes I have weeks where getting anything done is a major effort and quite frankly, my burn out this week was pretty severe. This is something not every writer or reporter will admit to - at least not to their readers. But sharing this sort of thing is the sort of back and forth we've established for years. No need to be shy after all this time. But something significant is being remembered today.
The Bricktown Brewery at 1 N Oklahoma Ave. is celebrating 25 years as the state's oldest and first brewpub. It's an amazing accomplishment, especially when one considers no other restaurant can match that run following the closing last year of the Spaghetti Warehouse.
The Brewery was and remains a great anchor for Bricktown, but is very different from those early days when a locally created brew was unheard of and the city's restaurants were pretty much dominated by the national brands. The Bricktown Brewery is a place of so many memories, of visits by presidential candidates, big name rock, blues and pop performers, of movie shoots, of festivals and celebrations.
In 2017, the Bricktown Brewery brand is stronger than ever, with sister restaurants in Edmond, Tulsa, Shawnee, at Remington Park, in Kansas, Arkansas and Texas. And at all of these restaurants, the beer brewed in Bricktown is being served and the Bricktown name is being embraced.
So we have a celebration getting started at 6 p.m. being hosted by the current owner Buck Warfield. A performance by Superfreak will follow at 9 p.m. with proceeds from the $5 cover charge going to the Warriors for Freedom organization, which is dedicated to supporting and improving mental, physical and holistic wellness for our nation’s active military.
I congratulate Buck, who took over the legacy started by the McLain family in 1992 and then, for much of the 1990s and early 2000s, owned by my friend Jim Cowan.
When Cowan sold the business, it was a heartbreaking moment. Cowan had done all he could do to keep the place moving forward. But he knew that new blood, new ideas, were needed. And Buck and his crew have certainly changed the game.
The brewery story, however, is still told with heart and passion by Jim. So here is his story:
Jim Cowan, circa seven to eight years ago when he had less gray hair.
I remember growing up, I used to cringe when I heard my Dad come over the loud speakers at Chickasha High School and say this. He was the Assistant Principal and would often make daily announcements. He would use this phrase when he was really excited about the accomplishment of a student or a sports team. After this phrase, he would go on and on about what the student or team had accomplished!
Now here I am, about the same age as my Dad was when I was in High School and I find myself wanting to use this same phrase. Bricktown Brewery will be celebrating it's 25th Anniversary on Friday, October 20th. I still remember all the details leading up to the opening of the First Brewpub in Oklahoma history. I remember getting a phone call from my friend and Executive Chef, Randy Pentecost. I was in La Quinta California working at the incredible La Quinta Golf & Tennis Resort. Randy tells me that I need to move back to Oklahoma and join him to open up a Brewpub in Bricktown. I had no idea what a "Brewpub" was, nor had I ever heard of "Bricktown". I was 29 years old, married and my wife was pregnant with our first child. The thought of moving home to raise my family was appealing, so off to this strange place called "Bricktown".
(Tres Bradford, Jill Roper, Mike McLain and Cindy Batt, from left, try their hand at pool at the Bricktown Brewery party, 1994)
I met the McLain family. They had sold their Bunte Candy Company and now they had an entire City Block of empty Warehouses. They were partnering with Bryan Jester on a new concept called a Brewpub, a restaurant that brewed it's own beer. This seemed like a pretty cool idea. I was hired as the "Co-GM". It seemed strange for a place to have two GM's, but I was excited to be a part of something new!
After hiring and training a staff of about 50, The Bricktown Brewery opened on Sunday, October 18th. The business was awesome, but we faced a lot of challenges educating the public what "Craft Beer" was. When the Brewery opened, Spaghetti Warehouse was across the street and O'Briens was on the other corner. WAY down on the East end of Bricktown was Piggy's BBQ( it later closed and Crabtown went into that space). Hockey came back to the Myriad when the Blazers were born and that was a HUGE draw. Imagine 10,000 fans and there only being three places to eat before a game. If the Blazers weren't playing, lunch business was great, but dinner was a challenge. The Brewery had to hire off duty police to sit in the parking lot (there was PLENTY of FREE parking) so the public would feel safe at night.
Back in the fall of 1992, there was a lot of talk that Bricktown was going to become like the West End in Dallas. Eventually I started hearing rumors about some big project the Chamber and The City were working on. Jim Brewer started talking about stuff that just seemed impossible to imagine, but he had so much passion for Bricktown, maybe it could happen? Could Bricktown and Okc some day be a cool place like Dallas?
In December of 1993, MAPS passed by a very narrow vote. There was some cautious optimism about Bricktown and the future. I traveled to Denver and met with the owner of the Wynkoop Brewpub. John Hickenlooper's brewpub was the first in Colorado and it had two floors in an old warehouse in a really cool area call Lo-Do(for Lower Downtown Denver)! Billiards and games were on the second floor. The decision to expand the Bricktown Brewery was made and we used the Wynkoop as our model.
In June of 1994, the Bricktown Brewery expanded and grew to 30,000 square feet of Food, Billiards and Diversions. We started doing bigger productions of live music (no more acoustic duos) and kicked things of with a promotion called "College Nights" with a national band, The Smithereens. The first weekend of the expansion, we hosted a Reggae Festival and that was the start to many Outdoor Block Parties. National touring acts like The Doobie Brothers, The Dave Mathews Band, The Nixons, Eddie Money, The Dixie Chicks, Huey Lewis, Lisa Loeb and Cheap Trick, became part of the Bricktown Brewery Brand!
Within a couple of years, I had an opportunity to become a minority partner in the business, then in 2001 I bought out the McLain family and owned it by myself. I eventually sold the business in 2007 to the current owners. I went on to run the Bricktown Association, but watched Emerging Brands ownership spend much needed Capital to remodel and upgrade the furniture and fixtures. My strength was the marketing side of the business, so it gave me great satisfaction to see that as they opened other places, they kept the name "Bricktown Brewery". Now they have 12 locations all over Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Texas.
Restaurants don't usually last 25 years. The Brewery is now the oldest restaurant in Bricktown and one of the oldest in all of Okc. From what I have heard, the owners plan to continue to grow the concept even more over the next few years. Craft Beer popularity is at an all time high. What used to be an area with just restaurants and bars, Bricktown now is full of Hotels, housing, offices and museums to make it a true entertainment district. It is proof that MAPS worked and continues to work and it makes me think of that phrase from my Dad, "Gawlee, can you believe it?" Cheers Bricktown Brewery!