Coffee and cocktails, have there ever been two things more simpatico? They are two sides of the same coin, the yin and yang of meticulously crafted imbibements. They are the uppers and downers helping the working stiff ramp-up- to/survive/wind-down-from the fat part of the daily grind’s bell curve. Over the past few years, both have experienced a similar rise in popularity as folks have begun putting a premium on quality over convenience in their preferred vices. Now, more and more establishments are cropping up that offer both beverage types under the same room. One such emporium of crafted drink is Hodges Bend, the newest bar from our partners at Topeca Coffee Roasters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Part coffee shop, part cocktail and wine bar, Hodges Bend is helping assuage that bell curve’s more bellicose parts.
Situated on the northwest corner of 3rd Street and Lansing Avenue, Hodges Bend resides in a green and gold-trim building constructed in the 1920s. The name “Hodges Bend” is a callback to the neighborhood’s moniker from when the building was originally erected, back before it became known as the East Village. Topeca owners John and Margarita Gaberino teamed up with Hodges Bend co-owner and General Manager Noah Bush to meticulously design a space befitting the 90 year-old building. The interior feels like it is from the 1920’s, just not Tulsa in the 1920’s; the finish out is plucked directly from Prohibition-era New Orleans or Chicago. “John had wanted to open this type of concept since their first café, but it wasn't until Hodges that he was able to put together the team of talented individuals needed to execute it successfully,” Bush told me. “There are a lot of cafes with food or restaurants with mediocre coffee, but no one, in our opinion, had been able to create an environment where high quality coffee and craft drinks were the main focus.”
Upon entering Hodges Bend, the most striking feature is the stamped tin ceiling, whose tiles dimly reflect light from the three glass-bottle chandeliers hanging over the bar. Even with all the natural light coming in through the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows on the southern wall and various smaller windows running along the longer eastern wall, the interior feels dimly lit and inviting. This is thanks in part to the warm tones from the reddish-hued exposed brick walls, riveted leather furniture, and dark-colored wood around the bar. “Noah Bush and Mason Remel [Hodges Bend bartender and former head barista] put a lot of hard work into the layout and design of the space,” Mitchell Murry, Brand Strategist for Topeca, stated. “They were hands-on throughout the construction and build-out phase and worked closely with our interior designer to create a warm and inviting cafe. There is a lot of intentionality in the finer details of the bar.”
Wrapping around the western wall is the white Italian Carrera marble countertop, a direct homage to the turn-of-the-century New Orleans cocktail bar. Closest to the entryway is the coffee bar. A three group La Marzocco Strada MP is stationed to the left of a silver Compak K-10 grinder, serving Topeca’s Hodges Bend blend for all espresso drinks. Facing toward the entryway, the manual brew station peeks out from behind the cabinet containing pastries from Heirloom Baking Company, a sister company of Topeca run by Margarita. Using a black Compak R-80 grinder and Modbar's pour over module, baristas can brew any of the coffee offerings through a customer’s choice of Hario V60, Chemex, or French press. During my visit, they were brewing an Ethiopia Aricha as well as an El Salvador Manzano Pacamara from Cuatro M, a producer with which Topeca has a special relationship.
Back in 2001, John and Margarita Gaberino started Topeca to help keep afloat Margarita’s family coffee farm in El Salvador, the 150 year old Finca Ayutepequ run by her brother Emilio Lopez, by cutting out the middle man and taking coffee directly from farm to consumers. Their efforts were a success, eventually leading to the purchase of nearby Finca El Manzano and the creation of Cuatro M by Lopez, who played an integral part in Laila Ghambari’s 2014 United States Barista Championship winning routine.
Further down the lines of white marble and riveted barstools is the libations area of Hodges Bend. Behind the bar is dark wood inset shelves storing three dimensional layers of alcoholic tinctures, framing both sides of the patinized Hodges Bend logo mirror. A collection of jazz records sits under the mirror to complete the look. The end of the bar is capped off with even more inset shelving, these holding various wines selected by their four sommeliers.
The cocktail program is Helmed by Noah Bush, a level 2 sommelier who is also one of two Q-graders on staff. The cocktails takes full advantage of the coffee bar, creating some pretty unique and delicious crossovers. One of the cocktail menu mainstays is the Wake Up Call, an espresso-based drink made with rye, Cointreau, maple syrup, and chocolate bitters. And Bush is serious about combining the worlds; this isn’t just a cursory blending just to say that they did. In fact, Bush won Judge’s Choice at Mix 2014, a cocktail competition put on by the Philbrook Museum of Art, with a coffee-infused drink. His entry, Chairman Mao’s Revival, is a Tiki-style rum drink made with various citrus juices and coffee syrup.
The combination of coffee and cocktails under the same roof is having positive effects on the community at large, introducing an entirely new set of the population to specialty coffee that wouldn’t otherwise seek it out. More than just consumers, many of those catching on to the craft movement are other restaurateurs around Tulsa. According to Ian Picco, Topeca’s Director of Coffee, “the craft coffee boom has really taken off in Tulsa over the past few years. Since Hodges Bend opened, it has been a notorious hang-out spot for industry folk, and we've seen a huge increase of interest from Tulsa area restaurants and bars.” And it's not just social cross-pollinization–Pico said that “many restaurants in town are now considering coffee as a serious menu item instead of just a back of the house expense.”
The growth of coffee and cocktail cultures in smaller cities like Tulsa indicates that the whole craft movement has legs. It goes to show thoughtfulness in preparation isn’t just relegated to metropolises with populations in the multi-millions and that taste and subtlety of flavor aren’t just for high-density cities. It unquestionably proves once and for all that so long as there are inhabitants, there is a need for really well-made coffee and a really good drink. And for Tulsans, as long as Hodges Bend is around, they won’t have to go too far for either.
Photos by Cara Michelle Smith for Sprudge.com.