From impromptu Mardi Gras parades and performing street buskers to some of the city’s best dining and entertainment options, downtown Lawrence is the heart of the city, and Massachusetts Street, named for the state from which Lawrence’s first settlers came, is its main artery.
On any given night, Mass Street hosts colorful events, like the monthly Final Fridays art walk, street festivals featuring live music or perhaps 10,000 of your closest friends crowding the streets celebrating a Jayhawks victory.
Downtown’s global cuisine, top-notch music venues and boutique stores make it Lawrence’s most popular destination, and Lawrence.com readers deemed many of them the best in their class during the 2011 Best of Lawrence contest. (Voting for this year’s Best of Lawrence contest began July 30; ballots can be filled out at Lawrence.com/BestofLawrence.)
Here’s a primer on what’s good downtown for everyone from newly arrived students to longtime residents.
Best Overall Restaurant: Free State Brewery
The menu is as expansive as the historical bus station where the restaurant is housed. It’s a got a little bit of something for everyone: A burger for Mr. Meat and Potatoes, its famous Cheddar Ale Soup or a handful of hearty salads for someone looking for a lighter lunch, and curries, fish tacos and pulled pork specials for those looking for even more.
With an American menu presided over by executive chef Rick Martin, Free State Brewery won Best Overall Restaurant — garnering nearly 30 percent of the vote.
The atmosphere is on par with the menu, alternately giving diners the feel of a tavern, fancy restaurant and a packed social club. It’s a place where it’s easy to run into friends, get to know your waiters and never get tired of the menu or feel like you’ve stepped into the same old, same old.
Address: 636 Mass.
Phone number: 843-4555
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, noon to 11 p.m.
Owner/Proprietor: Chuck Magerl
Pachamama’s, 800 N.H.
715, 715 Mass.
Zen Zero, 811 Mass.
Best Bar: Free State Brewery
The tag line is as fitting as it is well known in Lawrence, “Because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.”
And without Free State Brewery’s bar, a lot of things for Lawrence beer lovers would not go so well. With its fabulous selection of made-right-there brews, expansive menu and proximity to big flat-screen TVs, Free State Brewery is the bar to go to in town. A long list of regulars will attest to that.
Fitting, too, that the when Free State opened in 1989, it was the first legal brewery in Kansas in more than 100 years. The brewery currently has 10 locally made beers on tap, giving bar patrons a hefty homemade selection.
Replay Lounge, 946 Mass.
Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Mass.
The Sandbar, 17 E. Eighth St.
Best Place for a Date: Pachamama’s
It’s named for an Incan goddess, and any lady lucky enough to go on a date there will easily feel like one.
The decor is modern yet inviting, and anything but sparse. The lighting is dim and flattering, and when seated at a table, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only couple in the room.
Chef and proprietor Ken Baker’s American market-style menu is seasonal, meaning it is constantly using beautiful presentation to showcase the freshest in produce and high-quality proteins. The restaurant is passionate about supporting local farmers and will often use locally grown produce. And Pachamama’s large selection of wines and menu of mouth-watering desserts make it easy to create a full-bodied special night out.
Address: 800 N.H.
Phone Number: 841-0990
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Owner/Proprietor: Ken Baker
Teller’s, 746 Mass.
Liberty Hall, 644 Mass.
715, 715 Mass.
Best Place to Dance: Eighth Street Tap Room
Over the last few years, the Eighth Street Taproom, 801 N.H., has become one of the best dance spots in Lawrence, due in no small part to the bar’s affinity for booking unique local acts. In a single week, a post-punk DJ, snuff jazz, funk and soul records, and good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll can all be consumed in the Taproom’s basement. If you need a breather, head upstairs for a game of pool or grab a drink at one of its two bars.
Billed as the home of the ginger smash, the Taproom also boasts a reputable selection of mixed drinks and has both cheap and high-end beers on hand.
Be sure to stake out a spot as the dance floor can get packed early.
Address: 801 N.H.
Phone number: 841-6918
Hours: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day
Owner/Proprietor: Jeremy Sidener
Jazzhaus, 926 1/2 Mass.
The Cave, 1200 Oread Ave.
Abe & Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St.
Best Live Music Venue: Liberty Hall
The live music scene in Lawrence is an active one with a wide array of options for places to catch a show. You chose the historic Liberty Hall as your favorite place for live music in Lawrence.
With a history dating back to the 19th century, Liberty Hall has seen about every genre of music take its stage. Local, national and global acts have made a point to visit Liberty. The stage is spacious and the seating areas provides the perfect opportunity to take in the unique atmosphere. And when no live acts are performing, the place doubles as a movie theater.
The venue managers are quick to point out that promoters played a big part in the venue’s success. In the last year alone, Liberty Hall has seen performances from the Flaming Lips, the Civil Wars and Gillian Welch, to name a few.
Address: 644 Mass.
Phone number: 749-1972
Owner/Proprietors: Dave and Susan Millstein
Opened: 1986 in its present capacity
Bottleneck, 737 N.H.
Jazzhaus, 926 1/2 Mass.
Granada, 1020 Mass.
Best Coffee: La Prima Tazza
Situated on a hallowed strip of Mass. Street, between Liberty Hall and Free State Brewery, La Prima Tazza now owns the distinction of Best Coffee in Lawrence — not that it didn’t already claim to be the town’s best. Colombian, Costa Rican, Ethiopian and Nicaraguan beans are among a half-dozen estate coffees available for bulk purchase. The shop also offers just as many house blends.
For those just looking for a quick cup, the options are vast. French-pressed brews share residence on the menu with concoctions such as the exclusive Mole Mocha, a spicy take on the traditional chocolatey blend.
When the temperature rises, iced drinks such as the Grasshopper (mint and chocolate) and Moroccan (exotic spices and chocolate) make for a fine summer option. And who can beat the location? Whether you’re looking for a nightcap after a show or needing to shake a Wheat State Golden-induced buzz, La Prima Tazza’s a few steps — or shuffles — away.
Address: 638 Mass.
Phone number: 832-2233
Hours: Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 6:30 a.m. to midnight.
Owner/Proprietors: Dave and Susan Millstein, Sarah Richardson
Z’s Divine Espresso, 1800 E. 23rd St. and 10 E. Ninth St.
Milton’s Coffee, 920 Mass.
Best Breakfast or Brunch: Milton’s
Want something truly special for breakfast? Try Milton’s French toast — thick slices dipped in a brandy-spiked mixture and cooked until perfectly golden on the outside and moist on the inside.
This breakfast spot might not be very big, but if you can get a table, it’s easy to relax with one of the coffee bar’s fine drinks and a big stack of honey buttermilk pancakes or the aforementioned French toast. Not one for carbs? The traditional eggs menu includes eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and eggs, and huevos rancheros.
Address: 920 Mass.
Phone number: 832-2330
(Breakfast) Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Owner/Proprietor: David Lewis
First Watch Restaurant, 2540 Iowa.
Wheatfields Bakery, 904 Vt.
Mirth, 745 N.H.
Best Place to Watch a Game: Johnny’s Tavern
It’s not quite downtown, but close enough. Big TVs, a great list of drinks and famously good burgers make Johnny’s Tavern the place to watch a big Kansas University basketball game in Lawrence.
Johnny’s Tavern opened in 1953 in North Lawrence and has since expanded into the Kansas City market and out west to its second Lawrence location, on Wakarusa.
In 1978, friends and Johnny’s lovers Rick Renfro and Doug Hassig bought the business and added a grill, meaning Johnny’s famous burgers were born.
Each of the six locations is a bit different, but what is definitely consistent is that the crowds flock to the sports bar anytime the Jayhawks are playing. A visitor can easily tell from the rise and fall of the patrons’ voices just how the game is going — a peek at the score is unneeded.
These days, bar-goers have more than burgers to enjoy, with Johnny’s adding an expanded menu along with its newer locations. Visitors can cheer on the Jayhawks while dining on fare such as salads, wraps and pizza.
Addresses: 401 N. Second St., 721 Wakarusa Drive
Phone numbers: 842-0377, 843-0704
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Owners/Proprietors: Rick Renfro, Doug Hassig and others
Opened: 1953, 2009
Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, 1012 Mass.
23rd Street Brewery, 3512 Clinton Parkway
Set ’em Up Jacks, 1800 E. 23rd St.