(by Becki Iverson at Thrillest Travel) Since the 2016 election, much attention has been paid to the cluster of states in the middle of the US known condescendingly known as flyover country; it seems the more glamorous coastal sisters of the country forgot that so many people still lived in the middle. For years—nay, decades—a large portion of America’s identity has been clumped together in the unconsidered manner of the kitchen junk drawer: no rhyme or reason, no real pattern, just jumbled all together because it’s too much work to sort everything out. 

As a proud Minnesotan, I call BS. I’ve lived in this middle my whole life, and there’s a lot more to it than small-minded rural politics and country roads. My husband and I have a goal of visiting every state at least once. The best way to accomplish this on a limited budget and even more limited vacation time has been to take short weekend trips to wherever the price is right. That is exactly how I had the unexpected pleasure of falling in love with Oklahoma City last March. Between sips of hoppy beers on sunny 60-degree rooftops to sinfully flavorful eats to eye opening museums, we realized we were dead center in a city that’s completely defying your typical Oklahoma stereotype: A place overflowing with art and culture and at the bleeding edge of a full-blown culinary renaissance. 

Not part of the Midwest, often excluded from the Southwest region, and too far West to be part of the Southern belt, Oklahoma as a whole has been easy to overlook for too long. It’s the middle, defined. To the unknowing, it conjures dusty tumbleweeds, Pioneer Woman devotees, and Rodgers & Hammerstein pastiche. In reality, it’s a place where a robust, thriving population of Vietnamese immigrants has brought a welcomely delicious, affordable treasure trove of Southeast Asia to this slice of middle America. Where cowboy-classic steakhouses live in harmony with upscale innovators. Where art and film history converge on the shores of a river alive with boats and water taxis. From cutting edge dining to great beer and a cultural renaissance that embraces forgotten histories, here’s why you should give Oklahoma’s quickly re-developing capital a fair shake. 

Oklahoma City’s neighborhoods embrace the past while adapting for the present

From the infamously decayed facades studding Detroit to the quieter (but statistically higher) population desertion of former urban giants like St. Louis, much has been made of the decline of American industrial cities. But don’t assume the narrative of population atrophy and business communities slowly wasting away applies universally to all such cities. Oklahoma City is actively fighting back by shining a light on its unique history while redeveloping for the modern world. 

Take Automobile Alley, the oldest thoroughfare and one of the first to revitalize in Oklahoma City. This neighborhood began as a stretch of pioneer businesses but quickly transitioned into a bustling automotive industry hub shortly after Oklahoma became a state in 1908, even building automotive inspired designs into the brickwork on storefronts which are preserved today. The area is now a vital center of commerce with retail, art, exercise studios, restaurants, and a developmental blueprint that has been copied in other historic districts. 

The booze and bar scene is also top shelf

Oklahoma City’s singular approach to entertainment and neighborhoods is even more pronounced when it comes to bars and breweries. Take The Sanctuary Barsilica. This church-themed bar in Film Row takes irreverence to the highest level, serving communion shots and choir-robe karaoke with a straight face. Neighboring Flashback Retropub is a 1980s-themed bar with 60 vintage video games for drinkers to play. Water’s Edge Winery not only makes their own wine on-site but helps guests to create their own vintage with a custom label to fly home with them. Sidecar Bar is the stop for cocktail lovers; while the original is located in Automobile Alley, you can enjoy their wares in three other neighborhoods around the city. The enormous list of liquors means there is truly something for everyone, but pay special attention to the custom-casked section, starring a cask-strength Maker’s Mark barrel that Sidecar finished for nine additional weeks with specially fitted wood-finishing staves. Read more on Thrillest.