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Bullwinkles bar gets new owners, complete renovation

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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.

Comments

smileydog 8 months, 1 week ago

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

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rckchlk61 8 months, 2 weeks 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

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oneeye_wilbur 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Why is the Crossing any more memorable than The Ark?

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hiphopsux 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Forget the Bull, I miss the Crossing!

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kubball12 8 months, 3 weeks 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

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johnm323 8 months, 3 weeks ago

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

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Melissa Allen 8 months, 3 weeks 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.

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JerryLHarper 8 months, 3 weeks 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.

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Edward Coan 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I was glad to hear they are catering more to alumni. I think it will have even more business if the alums stop by before or after a game.

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BigAl 8 months, 3 weeks 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

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Clickker 8 months, 3 weeks 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

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oneeye_wilbur 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Octoberfest is a great idea. Run it for ONE full week. I could make those guys money they never saw in Johnson County.I want full control for ONE week.

If wilby was able to run an officer's club, this place at 14th and Tenn is a piece of cake.

These new owners might steal the idea, but like most other business people in Lawrence, it will get screwed up from the get go.

So Catalano, you got a visual of wilbur in Lederhosen? Crank it out and post it.

If the property taxes on the building had not been so exorbitant, might have considered the investment with some others. But given the taxes are going up and Commercial is 3x residential, sure would not want the overhead on that place. But some fun could be had in October. These Sorentino's prob don't want a "theme" once in a while.

After all, Mazeppa humped it with a trumpet, Tessie Tura with veils and Electra with lights. You gotta have a gimmick and not ONE bar or restaurant in Lawrence has it.

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KUSenior 8 months, 3 weeks ago

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

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CWGOKU 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Just plant some new trees and shrubs outside and I'll be happy.

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rockchalker52 8 months, 3 weeks 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.

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Steven Gaudreau 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Tilted Kilt is as imaginative as Hooters or Twin Peaks. Sorrentino......could become his second location for a strip club in town. What's funnier is when the planning commish reviewed plans for the rec center, one person from the fire dept showed up. At Bullwinkles review, four showed up.

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oneeye_wilbur 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Can this place operate without serving food, as opposed to downtown bars? Don't quite understand how that works. Food-Liquor , liquor only or what?

I would have made the place a mini Tilted Kilt bar!

Again, imagination is lacking in Lawrence. Status quo continues. What about the Mad Hatter?

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Shelley Bock 8 months, 3 weeks 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"

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Randall Uhrich 8 months, 3 weeks ago

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

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OceanStateJayhawk 8 months, 3 weeks ago

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

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oneeye_wilbur 8 months, 3 weeks ago

And to think, Lawrence has a sister city in Eutin, Germany and not one German place in town. Sorentino's missed the boat on this one.

As for making money with alums on game days, go for it. But what about rest of the time?

The guys working the doors will be in their 30s? German bar with bouncers in Lederhosen. Make the place a destination, no imagination from the new owners. Serve up a good german meal one in a while.

But then parking is limited. As for the outside, let's see how much trash accumulates. It's like the new shopping centers. All new shrubbery, plants and a year later, weeds.

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akuna 8 months, 3 weeks ago

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

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Jimmy 8 months, 3 weeks ago

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

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