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Bullwinkles bar gets new owners, complete renovation


I don't know that he wears a cowboy hat, but there is a new fellow in town who plans to grab one of Lawrence's more famous bulls by the horns.

We're talking about Bullwinkles, the longtime Oread neighborhood bar near 14th and Tennessee streets. The establishment has new owners, and anybody who has driven by the building recently knows it is getting a complete renovation as well.

And the place is getting fancy . . . well, by Bullwinkles standards anyway. The bar now will have separate restrooms for both men and women. It didn't previously, and I've known a few people who have said an actual bull ride was more comfortable than those facilities.

But that and other items are changing at one of Lawrence's more longstanding college hang outs.

Joe Sorrentino and his wife, Jane, have bought the building, the business, and an adjacent apartment house. They've hired Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects to revamp the properties.

"We don't want this corner looking like a run down dump," said Joe Sorrentino.

The renovations include the bathrooms, a new concrete patio, new landscaping, and a wrought iron-style fence to enclose the outdoor areas. The work also includes lifting the roof off the building to address a host of structural issues.

"The building is just so old," Sorrentino said. "There was quite a bit we needed to do to shore it up. We're doing this so it will last for another 100 years."

Sorrentino, an Overland Park businessman, is still boning up on the history of the location, but he thinks its use as a bar dates back to around 1918 or 1919. The Douglas County Appraiser's office lists the approximate construction of the building as 1900. There are also rumors that the site occasionally served as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era, but that may just be B.S. — which, as you might guess, is a common commodity in a place that goes by the moniker The Bull.

One thing that is certain is that Sorrentino plans to keep the Bullwinkles name. In fact, he's going old school with it. He found a man in Mission who has what is believed to be the original Bullwinkles sign. Sorrentino hasn't yet acquired the sign, but he's been able to copy the original logo from it — complete with the big set of moose horns. The site of that old bull moose may bring back memories for some KU alumni. (Well, they're probably foggy memories, at best.)

Sorrentino said he hopes the bar becomes more of an alumni hangout on game days and during other events. For years it almost exclusively has been a student hangout, and Sorrentino acknowledges it also has gained a reputation as an underage drinking spot. He said that likely will be the biggest change to the establishment.

He said he is doing away with the practice of hiring KU students to serve as doormen for the establishment, which he thinks will lead to stricter checking of I.D.s.

"The guys working the doors will be in their 30s and will have no relationship with KU at all," Sorrentino said. "I just don't want that type of business."

Sorrentino said plans call for the bar to be back in operation by the week of Aug. 22.


Shelley Bock 4 years, 6 months ago

Bierstube it was and will remain in my mind. For my German speaking grandparents, that was they liked best when they visited me in 1972. I remember downing 2 pitchers in 30 minutes to drown my disappointment when KU lost to UCLA in the...1971 Final Four.

Wasn't Bullwinkle's some pub located elsewhere in town that moved to14th and Tennessee sometime in the late 1970's or '80's?

Keith 4 years, 6 months ago

The Bullwinkle's I remember was where the Magic or Taste lounge is now, behind McDonalds on 23rd St. That was back in the Disco era. It was also the Billy Spears Country Playhouse, then Just a Playhouse.

Bob Forer 4 years, 6 months ago

Exactly!! ONce it was resigned as Bullwinkles it went from being a counterculture bar to a frat and sorority bar.

Jimmy 4 years, 6 months ago

That place was an eyesore, so I'm glad they're remodeling it.

akuna 4 years, 6 months ago

By August 22? There is a lot of work to do! Good luck Joe. And thanks for investing in Lawrence's history.

Catalano 4 years, 6 months ago

Why don't you host an Oktoberfest there, Wilby?

You can't run, you can't hide from Wilby!

You can't run, you can't hide from Wilby! by Catalano

MarcoPogo 4 years, 6 months ago

We don't have a Greek restaurant in town either.

Eugehne Normandin 4 years, 6 months ago

What is the Mad Greek a French restaurant ?

MarcoPogo 4 years, 6 months ago

Putting olives on flaming cheese and yelling "Opa!" does not a Greek restaurant make.

OceanStateJayhawk 4 years, 6 months ago

Ahhh Ol Bullwinkles, the bar I got my first MIP ticket in Lawrence. Glad to see they are classing it up a bit.

Randall Uhrich 4 years, 6 months ago

It'll always be the Bierstube to me. But, maybe it'd be better to get that place's reputation.

Shelley Bock 4 years, 6 months ago

Bullwinkle's sounds like Rocky is looking for a place to hang out. Blue Moose beer is their speciality?

Change it back to Bierstube and I might walk there for a beer or two. Have Staropramen on tap and show soccer games from around the world and I'd change "might" to "will"

Keith 4 years, 6 months ago

I think I read recently that they finally got upgraded from a 3.2 bar to full service.

Terry Sexton 4 years, 6 months ago

After it was the Bierstube & before it was Bullwinkle's, it was the Beer Garden & was run by a couple of small town goobers who catered to townies instead of college kids. Not exactly a well planned business model. Crazy good times, though, for some of us locals.

KUSenior 4 years, 6 months ago

Way to ruin the Bull for the majority of KU students. Door guys in their 30's, really? Dumb business move too.

jack22 4 years, 6 months ago

That's what I was thinking. Where are they going to find a 30+ year old door guy?

jennifermarti 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't think they are ruining it. Just protecting their investment.

riverdrifter 4 years, 6 months ago

Yes, they'd like to stay open year round instead of getting shut down all the time.

Haiku_Cuckoo 4 years, 6 months ago

KU students will still be able to drink there, just not the teenagers.

MarcoPogo 4 years, 6 months ago

A majority of KU students hang out at the Bull?

Clickker 4 years, 6 months ago

"The guys working the doors will be in their 30s and will have no relationship with KU at all," Sorrentino said. "I just don't want that type of business."

Good luck with that Joey!!!

Not sure the bar will be profitable with only a few patrons there now

Armored_One 4 years, 6 months ago

knock knock

The doormen will have no affiliation with KU, not that they will refuse service to KU students.

BigAl 4 years, 6 months ago

Sounds great. I am glad that someone has the ability and desire to fix her up. We always have the negative folks but this is a good deal for Lawrence.
Good luck to the Sorrentino's

Jerry Harper 4 years, 6 months ago

Finally, something about which I actually know something. I and two friends actually opened the Bierstube back in 1962 (or was in 1963). German slogans on the booths, dark beer on tap, German beer mugs, German drinking songs on the jukebox.

The name and its diminutive, i.e the Stube, lasted for close to 20 years. For most of that time, it was owned by, and helped pay the tuition of, a bunch of KU students. And kept a bunch more in 3.2 beer and pretzels.

We rented the building for $70 per month. It had been a Pizza Hut, but closed. A lot of skinned knuckles went into that remodeling job. It was about to collapse back then. Surprised its is still standing.

Melissa Allen 4 years, 6 months ago

I think Its great that someone is taking this rundown bar and fixing it up and actually making it a more respectable place for the town and KU to hang out at....its about time someone has the mind set of accountability for young KU students who some have fallen to their deaths or died from Alcohol Poisoning in their first year of college...honestly the surrounding businesses close to campus need to be responsible with their businesses especially if they are selling alcohol... especially to minors...I have seen Bullwinkle's closed for many months due to underage drinking.

johnm323 4 years, 6 months ago

Cant wait for the Bull to open up! Glad someone is turning the place around

kubball12 4 years, 6 months ago

Bullwinkles already looks better with no walls up than it did before. Hopefully this will be the new hot spot in Lawrence. I am looking forward to visiting the finished product.

Long live the Bull

hiphopsux 4 years, 6 months ago

Forget the Bull, I miss the Crossing!

rckchlk61 4 years, 6 months ago

I respect the decision to renovate the property, as it was much needed. I understand where he is coming from in terms of trying to employ responsible individuals as doormen, especially considering that majority of profits will go to MIPs if they cannot prevent the underage crowd, an expense that cannot be afforded after making an investment as big as this.

However, I'm not really sure what an "Overland Park business man" knows about running a bar in a college town. Hiring doormen in their 30s with no affiliation to the university isn't the right move. Most bars in Lawrence bring in business from their staff bringing in friends to visit them while they work. As long as you're hiring individuals who have been properly trained, have clear and set expectations, and know what a fake ID looks like, turning to 30 year olds to ID is unnecessary. He should have built the staff with experienced and responsible staff who have or currently work in local bars already that do not attract an underage crowd.

If you ask me, it's almost insulting and arrogant to the student body to say, "I just don't want that type of business" in your first public interview. Leaning on primarily an alumni base is absolutely ridiculous, considering alumni are out to the bars in Lawrence no more than two days a week on a good week. Don't forget about the fact that they will be competing with The Wheel for alumni business, and every other bar in town for student business.

Instead of focusing on what he isn't going to do, maybe he should focus on what he is going to do, like events and specials. Almost every bar in Lawrence has a night that they attempt to take over. He's on track to have a rude awakening and a failing bar within the first year if some re-thinking doesn't occur soon. I wish it the best of luck because it is a historic bar and location, but after reading this I will be taking my business elsewhere. The Bull was one of the greatest Friday drinking spots in Lawrence this past year.

-KU Student, 3.5 years bar experience in Lawrence

mbatch360 4 years, 6 months ago

I completely agree. Unless I hear otherwise, I will definitely not be heading that direction anymore.

smileydog 4 years, 6 months ago

This could be a great place for 30+ year old guys to pick up 21 year old girls. Sweet!

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