We learned three valuable lessons while working on our first-ever Lawrence bar guide:
When it comes to pickles in Bloody Marys, the more, the better.
Grape Kool-Aid tastes great with vodka.
There’s no such thing as a “typical” Lawrence bar.
In one day in Lawrence, you can chug cheap beer on the patio at Harbour Lights, sip rosé from an award-winning wine list at Minsky’s Pizza and geek out over classic cocktails at the Bourgeois Pig.
You can lose yourself in a sweaty dance party in the basement of the Eighth Street Taproom, annihilate your friends in a beer-fueled Mario Kart tournament at the Burger Stand or get blasted by Dirty Banana shots and indoor hurricanes at the Sandbar.
Lawrence has a pub where you can watch soccer games with a craft beer in hand (Dempsey’s) and a crimson-and-blue sports bar that was named one of the best college bars in America by USA Today (the Wagon Wheel).
Mass Street’s many music venues — the Granada, Replay Lounge and Jackpot Music Hall, to name a few — book so many bands that it’s possible to see live music on any night of the week.
Romantic date night destinations abound (see Star Bar, 715 and Henry’s Upstairs). So do strip clubs on the outskirts of town (the Outhouse).
Point being, Lawrence has something for everyone. And it’s just 40 minutes west of Kansas City.
We know what Missourians are thinking:Hell no, I’m not setting foot in Jayhawk territory . But you know what? Quantrill’s Raid happened exactly 150 years ago. It’s time for Kansans and Missourians to come together (preferably over alcohol) and bury this whole Border War thing.
Here are six drinks that will make you feel like a local, no matter where you’re from.
NoLaw Bloody Mary
Used to be, if you wanted a cocktail at brunch, you had two options: Bloody Mary or mimosa.
The Roost, a new breakfast and lunch spot at 920 Massachusetts St., might inspire other bars to step up their brunch cocktail game. The menu includes Tequila Sage ($7), an eye-opener that mixes sage-infused tequila with ginger beer and carrot juice.
The Perfect Tomato ($7) dilutes Grey Goose vodka with water squeezed from tomatoes. And the Deadwood (also $7) proves that Old Overholt rye whiskey, when tempered with orange bitters and honey, pairs surprisingly well with biscuits and gravy.
The Roost also serves a handful of sparkling cocktails and five (yep, five) varieties of Bloody Marys. The NoLaw Bloody Mary ($6) is made with exactly 10 ingredients. Among them: Spicy V8, vodka, minced garlic, Crystal hot sauce, Cajun seasoning and local pickles. (The NoLaw name is a reference to north Lawrence.)
The NoLaw Bloody Mary is like a meal in itself, but you can’t order one without also getting the Roost’s signature French toast ($5 for a double order), which is drenched in an off-the-charts good, brandy-spiked custard before it’s seared to golden perfection. Cheers to that.
On nice days, a seat on the patio at Bourgeois Pig can be about as hard to get as a ticket to a Sunflower Showdown at Allen Fieldhouse.
In the morning, the pint-size European-style coffee shop and bar at 6 E. Ninth St. is packed with java junkies downing PT’s Coffee as they stare deep into their laptop screens. By late afternoon, the Pig (as locals call it) starts attracting day drinkers looking to laze about on the tree-lined sidewalk.
The Pig pours a wide selection of beer (from cans of Tecate to Lindemans Framboise Lambic and Boulevard Tank 7 on tap) and the bartenders know their way around classic cocktails like gimlets, Horse Feathers and Manhattans. There’s also a menu of alcohol-free cocktails.
Shirley Temples are great and all, but there’s nothing more refreshing on an August afternoon than a Moscow Mule. The Pig’s version ($7, or $4 on Mondays) ices down vodka, spicy ginger beer and a squeeze of fresh lime in a chunky copper mug. The mugs aren’t cheap, so if you order a Moscow Mule, you have to leave a photo ID and credit card with the bartender. You get the cards back when you return your mug.
The minor hassle is totally worth it: As the ice-cold drink chills the copper mug, beads of condensation start to drip down the sides. Somehow, the sight and feel of the glistening mug make the drink that much more restorative. Plus, it looks insanely cool on Instagram.
You can’t go bar-hopping in Lawrence without stopping for a beer at Free State Brewing Company. It’s simply not done.
Along with Boulevard, Free State helped pioneer the craft beer movement in the Midwest. Both breweries opened almost 25 years ago, in 1989, and both remain awesome to this day.
A few years ago, Free State started bottling flagship beers such as Copperhead Pale Ale and Ad Astra Ale and selling them in liquor stores. At the brewpub, 636 Massachusetts St., you can buy those beers straight from the tap in growlers. And you can also try a bunch of new, more experimental beers that head brewer Geoff Deman has been working on. Lately he has been brewing a lot of India pale ales to please hop-hungry customers.
Free State’s Stormchaser IPA has a citrusy hop character and a crisp, dry finish that make it a good gateway IPA for people who don’t like bitter beer.
If you’re into that strong hop flavor, order a Cloud Hopper Imperial IPA or an Imperial Black IPA, which Deman says is “very, very hoppy” with a slightly roasty flavor.
Deman also recommends the Brightwater Saison, a light-bodied, effervescent beer that tastes a bit like sauvignon blanc wine, and Andre the Giant, an American strong ale with a wallop of flavor from plenty of (what else) Columbus, Chinook and Cascade hops.
Most Free State beers cost $4 per 14-ounce glass unless it’s Monday, when select beers go for $1.75.
On the food menu, you can’t go wrong with the Thai Noodles ($8.95), thick ribbons of egg noodles tossed with sauteed squash, snap peas and microgreens in a sweet and spicy miso sauce. Free State’s BLT ($7.95) is also pretty stellar thanks to fat slices of fresh, perfectly ripe tomato sprouted from rich Kansas soil.
There are few things sweeter than floating on an inner tube down a lazy river on a hot summer day. Especially if you have a refreshing (and stiff) drink in hand.
The next best thing to actually being on a float trip is drinking one. Star Bar, 800 New Hampshire St., makes its endlessly summery Float Trip cocktail ($8) by muddling orange and rhubarb-scented Aperol (an Italian apertif) with fresh blackberries, then adding fizzy soda and a snowy dallop of fromage blanc ice cream.
The uber-rich ice cream is made at Pachamama’s, the fine dining restaurant that houses Star Bar. The chefs at Pachamama’s also make the limoncello and pickled watermelon that give the Limoncello Margarita ($9) its sour snap.
If you’re into savory cocktails, don’t sleep on the Sweet Summer Sleep ($8), a Hendrick’s gin drink bursting with garden-fresh dill and cucumber flavor. Star Bar also serves Boulevard’s elusive Dry Stout on tap and has an eclectic, easy-to-navigate wine list.
Bar manager Kenny Pingleton can point you to patio-perfect selections such as a pear and passion fruit-scented Viognier from a Virginia vineyard. Looking for a deal? Go on Tuesday, when all wine by the glass is $5.
Star Bar also serves some of the most craveable bar food in town. You can’t go wrong with the grilled cheese ($7) — house-baked sourdough oozing with melty cheddar, Manchego and blue cheese. There’s also skillet cornbread ($5) with local butter and lavender-infused honey.
“If you’re going to go for it, get the Murder Burger,” Pingleton says. The $9 monster is last-meal worthy: Picture a country-fried burger patty smothered with bacon gravy, Gorgonzola-avocado mash and pickled radish. Yep, it tastes as ridiculous as it sounds.
Since it opened four years ago, 715 has become known for serving up some of Lawrence’s freshest, most creative cocktails.
The Green Line ($9) vodka cocktail spikes cool cucumber and mint with spicy serrano pepper. The Bee’s Knees ($9) sweetens beautifully bright, small-batch Leopold’s gin with local honey and a hint of lemon and hibiscus. And the cult classic Hog Wash Sazerac ($9) pairs pork fat-infused rye whiskey with Peychaud bitters and orange.
But one of the most popular drinks isn’t on the menu at 715 (at 715 Massachusetts St.). Lean in, because we’re going to let you in on a secret that Lawrencians have been keeping all summer: The Basil Rickey.
The $9 off-menu cocktail is available only when 715 has an abundance of fresh, local basil. Thanks to all the recent rain, the Basil Rickey is having a heyday.
To make the drink, bar manager Margie Hogue muddles basil with housemade lavender simple syrup, then pours in gin that has been infused with cucumber and fennel. Orange bitters and lime juice top off the Basil Rickey, which tastes like afternoon sunshine in a Ball jar.
Hogue is also working on adding spiked slushes to the menu. The $6-$7 drinks top shaved ice with spirits and syrup sweetened with peaches, beets or pineapple.
“I mean,” Hogue ssays, “who doesn’t like a pina colada?”
Go to 715 during happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. daily) if you’re looking for a good deal. The bar serves charcuterie plates alongside $1.25 cans of Miller High Life and “Rosé Tall Boys” for $7.15 a pop. That’s a 10.5-ounce glass filled almost to the top with chilled house rosé. Because 715 is classy like that.
Say you don’t want leaves or pickles floating in your booze. Say you want to drink big, cheap cans of beer (ideally in a koozie) and play pinball with your friends in a dive bar across from the railroad tracks in north Lawrence.
Frank’s North Star Tavern at 508 Locust St. has you covered. The 2-year-old bar north of the Kaw River from downtown is one of the most comfortable hangouts in town. Picture comfy couches huddled around a faux fireplace, a pool table and a patio with sweeping views of a grain elevator and the aforementioned railroad tracks. (Tip: Ask the bartender for a Train Wreck shot when you see a caboose roll by).
Frank’s also has a cavernous basement for dance parties, burlesque performances and impromptu concerts. A few weeks ago, Mates of State played a last-minute show there before opening for the Postal Service at the Midland in Kansas City.
Because it’s laid-back and off the beaten bar path, Frank’s has become a haven for locals looking to avoid crowds (and higher drink prices) on Mass Street. Frank’s serves $1.75 cans of yard beer daily, and tallboys are $2 on Tuesdays.
Looking to splurge? Plunk down $3 for a Grape Drank. The mixed drink (calling Grape Drank a cocktail feels wrong) is made with a healthy pour of vodka and a top-secret ingredient that may or may not be grape Kool-Aid. OK, it’s grape Kool-Aid. From a plastic jug in the fridge. And it tastes as delicious as it did when you were 12.