Scenes from downtown Lawrence as fans fill bars and restaurants to watch Jayhawks in Final Four game

photo by: Nick Gerik

Massachusetts Street is shown filled with pedestrians on Saturday, March 31, 2018, as the city cleared the roadway of traffic and parked vehicles in advance of the University of Kansas basketball team's game in the Final Four.

Follow along as we provide glimpses of downtown Lawrence during tonight’s Final Four matchup. Massachusetts Street has been closed to vehicular traffic, and our reporters on the street are finding that nearly every bar and restaurant in downtown is at capacity.

UPDATE 11:40 p.m.: Lawrence police reported that despite large crowds and a game that caused plenty of frustration for KU fans that they made only two arrests in the downtown area. The department said via Twitter that it arrested one person for trespassing and one person for driving under the influence.

UPDATE: 10:40 p.m.: The experiment of closing Massachusetts Street to vehicular traffic will soon end. Douglas County Sheriff’s Department said it is now working to get pedestrians off the street so it can open Massachusetts Street to traffic. It actually will be a busy morning in downtown on Sunday, as downtown churches host Easter services crowds.

UPDATE 10:15 p.m.:

UPDATE 10:05 p.m.

The game is over and the crowds are beginning to leave the bars. Heavy police presence in downtown Lawrence.

UPDATE 9:35 p.m.:

The bladder theme seems to continue in downtown Lawrence.

UPDATE: 9:30 p.m.:

UPDATE: 9:15 p.m.: If this game doesn’t improve, there may be a lot of people looking for strong, black coffee tomorrow morning.

UPDATE: 9 p.m.: Despite the rough first half, KU fans are remaining in place for the second half. There are several bars with crowds that are flowing out onto the sidewalk.

UPDATE: 8:50 p.m.

UPDATE 8:45 p.m.: With an ugly first half for KU fans, this is a storyline to keep an eye on tonight. Lawrence police are already urging fans downtown to keep the emotions in check.

UPDATE 8:25p.m.: No doubt about it, there will be a strong law enforcement presence in downtown Lawrence tonight. This was earlier in the evening, as officers from throughout the region prepared to hit the streets.

UPDATE 8:15 p.m.

KU fans had something to cheer about early. Here is a look and listen to the tip at a jammed-pack Liberty Hall.

UPDATE 8 p.m.

UPDATE 6:15 p.m.: At about 5 p.m., two hours before his shift was scheduled to end, Lawrence police Officer Jay Bialek said things had been uneventful on downtown Massachusetts St., which has been closed to vehicle traffic all day. Fans were focused on Kansas’ Final Four contest against Villanova and enjoying the game-day atmosphere, he said.

“It’s been fun and festive,” he said. “I think people are just enjoying themselves.”

A steady steam of pedestrians filled the sidewalks on both sides of Massachusetts Street late in the afternoon, and lines began to form at the entrances of downtown bars.

Shortly after 4 p.m., any guests leaving the Red Lyon Tavern were immediately replaced by those waiting outside. David Workman, of Lawrence, still had three people ahead of him in line, but he was confident he would soon get into the tavern, which has been his game-day destination since 1993.

“They have to let me in. I have the second-half salsa,” he said of the sauce he carried in a plastic container.

The Kansas Sampler store at 921 Massachusetts St. was just as popular as the bars. Its aisles were filled with shoppers browsing the latest Final Four gear.

“Today, that cash register was just crazy,” Kansas Sampler clerk Jirick Hunter said. “We don’t usually have all four cash registers open, but we did today and everyone was ringing.”

Not all stores benefited from the pedestrian-only traffic, however. Ellen Edmonds, an employee at Delaney & Loew Kitchenalia, said business was slower than usual.

“It’s been interesting,” she said. “It would be dead and then pick up. We’ve had people come in and look around. I think people are too nervous about the game to buy anything.”

UPDATE 4 p.m.: Shortly before 2 p.m., Waxman Candles employees Jodi Moore and Chloe Lawson took smart phone photos of each other standing in the middle of the empty 600 block of Massachusetts Street.

“We kept seeing people doing it while we were working, so we decide to try it,” said Moore, a KU senior from Lawrence. “It’s kind of like it’s against the rules, but it’s not. It’s a silly Midwest thing, I guess.”

Lawson, a KU junior from Lawrence, and Moore said they would watch the KU game from their homes. If KU won, they would return to downtown to share their joy with other Jayhawks.

“Oh yeah, I won’t miss that,” Lawson said.

A block to the south, 2008 KU graduate Chris Munoz, of Chicago, was scrawling “Here for the cheers, beers and title!!” with chalk on Mass Street near the 700 block crosswalk.

“I come back for March Madness every year,” he said. “I was here for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and returned for the Final Four.”

He would watch the game at his college hangout of Harbour Lights, Munoz said.

“I watched the 2008 championship game there,” he said. “I was standing on a pool table when we won. There was beer thrown everywhere.”

There might be a bit of superstition involved in his return to watch the game at the bar, Munoz said.

“I still have my 2008 T-shirt,” he said.

Sitting on the patio of Jefferson’s for a noon meal, 2017 KU graduate Kelsey Akin said she and two friends also had returned to Lawrence from Chicago for the Final Four. They meet up for the semi-final game with another friend from Omaha, Neb., and two from Kansas City, Mo. They were all former teammates on the KU Ultimate Frisbee Club squad, she said.

Akin was drinking a glass of water, cup of coffee, beer and a shot with her lunch. She and her friends would pace themselves through the afternoon by taking in a dog Frisbee competition in South Park before watch the game at Liberty Hall, she said.

Akin said she would be rooting for Loyola of Chicago in its semi-final game against Michigan, which beat KU 87-85 in overtime in the 2013 Sweet Sixteen.

“It would be great to play Loyola for the championship,” she said. “I remember Michigan from 2013. I don’t want to play them. Wait, maybe I do. Revenge.”

Jefferson’s was already full by 1 p.m. unlike most downtown bars. Many had yet to open their doors to waiting customers like Chris Stoddard, of Lawrence, who was first in line for when the Red Lyon Tavern, opened its doors at 4 p.m.

“I always get here early to make sure we get a table,” he said. “There will be four of us. We’ve been here every game since 2008.”


Laura Howard and her father Richard Howard had the usual Saturday morning breakfast today at the Roost Restaurant, but the outing wasn’t routine.

The Howards couldn’t drive to the restaurant at 920 Massachusetts St. because of the closure at 4 a.m. this morning of Massachusetts St. from Sixth to 11th streets for the Kansas Jayhawks Final Four 7:49 p.m. game against Villanova.

“We walked,” Laura Howard said at about 10:30 a.m. “We only live eight blocks from here.”

Laura Howard, a 1984 KU Law School graduate, and her father were wearing Jayhawk gear as was nearly everyone else strolling the sparsely populated downtown.

“I think it’s nice,” she said. “It kind of makes you see what it would be like if they made it a pedestrian mall.”

Working the intersection of 10th and Massachusetts streets, Lawrence Police Sgt. David Hogue said no cars were towed when the city set up barricades to close Massachusetts St. Hogue was one of 12 officers working the early shift. Additional officers would arrive downtown at 2 and 5 p.m. with the big contingent of 200 plus arriving at 7 p.m., he said.

It was a rare Saturday morning with empty tables at the Ladybird Diner, 721 Massachusetts St. Customers weren’t showing up because of the lack of parking, said owner Meg Heriford.

“We would generally be packed, but it’s a super fun day,” she said. “Everybody is in a good mood.”

Business was good at stores selling Final Four merchandise.

“It’s a good environment,” said Ryan Owens, manager of the Jock’s Nitch, 837 Massachusetts St. “We have enough T-shirts for everybody and have things ready to go for the next round. Lets just beat Villanova and keep it going.”