Signs of change at south Iowa Street movie theater; update on tenant for old Round Corner Drug space; west Lawrence restaurant closes
Some news and notes from around town:
• Movie theater liquor: It looks like it is coming to Lawrence’s largest cinema chain. The Regal theater chain on south Iowa Street has filed for a city drinking establishment license. I don’t get out to the movies a tremendous amount, but I don’t believe liquor has been one of the concession stand options. If the license is approved by city commissioners — all indications are that it will be approved — it is the type of license that allows for both beer and cocktails to be served. I have no word yet from Regal, though, what its plans are for the Lawrence theater. Obviously, there are numerous theaters in the area that serve alcohol. I may be mistaken, but I think Lawrence’s Liberty Hall currently serves beer as a concession option. Some of the theaters in Kansas City serve full meals and have extensive cocktail offerings. I know this because I recently signed the paperwork on the home equity loan that I used to pay off that night at the movies. There certainly has been a lot of discussion over the years about a need for the Regal movie theater to upgrade its offerings. It will be interesting to see whether this is a sign of other improvements to come. I’ll reach out to the Regal folks to see if I can learn more.
• Movie theater liquor may change the equation on whether I can afford both movie and a dinner on date night. (Questions: Will the movie theater serve the cocktails in the same cups they serve the soda? And just how much will an 84 ounce Tom Collins cost?). But, on the off chance that both still fit in the budget, it looks like there will be a new downtown dining option soon.
I’ve been telling you for awhile now a restaurant is going in the old Round Corner Drug location at 801 Mass. Figuring out exactly what restaurant, though, has been challenging. We’ve got a new clue, though. City officials have received a drinking establishment license for a new business called RND Corner Grille.
I’ve previously reported that the person behind the venture is Zach Marten, the Kansas City restaurant guy who is one of the operators of Coal Vines Pizza in the Country Club Plaza. According to the paperwork related to this drinking establishment license, Marten and business partner Bret Springs — who also is a partner in the Coal Vines business — are indeed the operators of Lawrence’s RND Corner Grille.
I’ve reached out to Marten in the past with no luck. But I’ll do so again to see if he is ready to start sharing some details about his new business. It has been a slow-moving venture up to this point. The group filed a site plan with the city in June 2014 to occupy the building, and we’re just now reaching the end game.
It will be interesting to see what concept the group pursues here in Lawrence. It has experience in more than just the pizza game. The duo also is behind the Westport Ale House, which serves a lot of beer and has a menu full of hamburgers, sandwiches, nachos, wings and other such creations.
• There is one less dining option in Lawrence: The west Lawrence sports bar and grill Legends has closed at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive. Matt Llewellyn, owner of the popular 23rd Street Brewery, was lead owner of Legends. He said Legends just never did attract the volume of business that was expected.
“It just didn’t work,” Llewellyn told me. “I’m pleased and very thankful for the guests that we had, but I just didn’t have enough of them.”
The location has proved difficult for a number of restaurants. Among some of the restaurants that have tried and failed there are Tanner’s Sports Bar & Grill, Zig & Mac's, Bambinos, and I know I’m forgetting some others.
Llewellyn partnered with longtime sports personality David Lawrence — the Jayhawk football color commentator — on the restaurant. It had a lot of KU memorabilia, and the restaurant had a strong relationship with several other KU personalities. There was even part of the menu that was created by KU basketball strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy.
It will be interesting to see whether the location improves any once the new Bob Billings interchange on the South Lawrence Trafficway opens. The interchange, which is scheduled to open later this month, is expected to increase traffic volumes along Bob Billings Parkway. The interchange really will cause Bob Billings to become a new western gateway for the city of Lawrence, and particularly for anyone wanting an easy route to the KU campus.
Llewellyn said the business tried to hold out until that opening, but said the business could not continue operating at current levels.
Llewellyn, though, said the troubles at Legends have not created any problems for 23rd Street Brewery. He said business remains strong at that microbrewery and restaurant.
“Business is still super over there,” Llewellyn said.
No word yet on what may come of the space at Bob Billings and Wakarusa. Llewellyn said there has been some interest from other types of businesses to sublease the space, but no deals have been signed.
• For those of us who must always know that there is a 24-hour supply of bacon nearby, take a deep breath. Perkins — the 24-hour restaurant at 23rd and Ousdahl — has not closed down. The restaurant has been closed a few days, but it is for remodeling and updating. A worker last evening told me the restaurant is scheduled to reopen today. No word yet on what the renovation involved, but it looked like a pretty significant amount of interior work. I’ll report back if I hear of anything interesting.
New running shop to open downtown; signs that Eldridge expansion set to begin; restaurant work begins in former Round Corner drug space
There’s a new reason for the Lawrence running community to be excited, and it is not just because my family has banned me from ever leaving the house again in short shorts. A new business duo is opening a locally owned running supply store.
J. Jenkins and Grant Catloth are opening Ad Astra Running at 16 E. Eighth St. in downtown Lawrence. In case you can’t picture that location, it is in the spot where a store known as Cindy’s Simple Life previously was located. Or if that doesn’t help, it is right next door to the Sandbar Sub convenience store at Eighth and New Hampshire.
“We really want a store that is rooted in the community and is focused on the local running community,” Jenkins said. “We want to be a store that will support the running community and their events.”
Jenkins and Catloth both were longtime employees of the Garry Gribble’s running store on Massachusetts Street. When store founder and Kansas City area running guru Garry Gribble sold the company to a Denver-based firm late last year, the duo decided it was time to do something different.
Ad Astra was born. Ad Astra, of course, is Latin for “I’ll have another.” (My apologies, I’m told that is not the Latin meaning, and my activities at Free State Brewery have not been about learning Latin after all.) Ad Astra, in addition to being the name of a famous ale at Free State, means “to the stars,” and is part of the Kansas state motto of Ad astra per aspera, which translates either “to the stars through difficulty,” or “put it on my friend’s tab.”
Either way, the store’s mission won’t change. Jenkins said the shop wants to be a “one-stop shop” for runners in the area. That means the store will carry running shoes, apparel and accessories. It also wants to be a resource for running information. Even though the store hasn’t yet opened, the duo is hosting running events out of the location. A weekly running group called Mass Street Milers now meets at the store at 6 p.m. each Thursday night, and a women’s running group also is using the store location as its meeting place.
“We believe it is the relationship that we have forged with people over the last several years that will allow us to be successful,” Jenkins said.
Renovation work on the store is just now getting underway. Jenkins hopes to have the business open in about a month.
In other news and notes from around town:
• In recent days you perhaps have noticed a backhoe digging small holes in the vacant lot next to The Eldridge Hotel. That indeed is a sign that construction work is getting nearer for a major expansion of the historic hotel.
Lawrence architect Paul Werner told me that the backhoes were digging test holes to verify the footing depths of the surrounding buildings. Werner said that was a prelude to starting construction on a major expansion of the hotel. Werner, who is the architect for the project, didn’t provide a timeline for when construction would begin but said he hoped it would be underway shortly.
In case you have forgotten, the plans for the expansion include 54 new rooms for the hotel, expanded restaurant space, and about 5,000 square feet of additional meeting and banquet space.
• Lots of folks have been asking about remodeling activity that has finally started in the former Intorno building — or perhaps better known as the Round Corner Drug building — at Eighth and Massachusetts.
Well, indeed, a new restaurant is slated for the space. At the moment, details are limited, but it appears it is connected to the same group we reported was interested in the space last summer.
The landlord for the building has confirmed a group led by Zach Marten is working on the building for its new restaurant concept. The fellow I talked with didn’t have details on what that concept involved, but I’ve got a call into Marten.
Marten, as we’ve previously reported, is part of the group that runs Coal Vines, a pizza and wine bar that operates on the Plaza in Kansas City. Marten, though, also was part of the group that opened Westport Ale House in that Kansas City entertainment district. Whether the Lawrence restaurant follows one of those concepts, I’m not sure. But I’ll keep checking in on it and let you know when I hear more.
• In the category of things I’m keeping an eye on, I’m working to find out an opening date for Port Fonda, the upscale Latin American cuisine restaurant that will be on the ground floor of the new Marriott building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The landlord for the Marriott also is the landlord for the Round Corner building. He told me he didn’t know of an opening date for Port Fonda, but said it appears to be very close. I’ve got a call into the Port Fonda folks at their Kansas City restaurant.
Plans filed for restaurant to go into former Round Corner Drug space downtown; city seeks comments on police headquarters location
I'm not sure it will involve coal, but it almost certainly will involve beer. While we could be talking about my stocking on Christmas morning, we're not. Instead, we're trying to determine the latest restaurant that will go into the former Round Corner Drug building at Eighth and Massachusetts streets.
There has been speculation the owners of Coal Vines, a pizza and wine bar that operates on the Country Club Plaza, will open a restaurant in the space at 801 Massachusetts. Well, plans indeed have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for a new restaurant to go into the space. The plans, however, don't identify the tenant, but strong indications are that Zach Marten, a KU graduate and owner of Coal Vines, is involved in the project.
I've got a message into Marten, but haven't yet heard back. But I did hear from an employee at Coal Vines in recent weeks that a Lawrence plan was in the works, but I was told it is possible the new establishment may not carry the Coal Vines name.
As for Coal Vines, if you are not familiar, its specialty is New York-style pizza that is cooked in a coal-burning oven. But it also is a big brunch spot on the plaza, serves several whole wheat pastas and, of course, a big selection of wines and beers. (I've always thought coal and beer go well together, which by the way, is evidently not the right conversation-starter to use with the HR person at the coal-fired power plant just outside of town.)
But the owners of Coal Vines also have branched out into other restaurant ventures in Kansas City. According to the Kansas City Star, Marten and his business partner are behind the new Westport Ale House that opened in March. That concept involves a sports bar theme, more than 50 different beers and a menu that includes items like hamburgers with fried eggs on them and apple pie that somehow involves bourbon. (There's also a dish that involves doughnut holes and beer, but I hardly thought that was worth mentioning. That's just called Saturday morning.)
The plans filed at City Hall don't give a good clue to what the concept may be in Lawrence. The plans simply state the establishment will provide Lawrence with a "unique dining/drinking experience not otherwise available."
The plans do show one feature, however, that will be interesting to watch. Architects are proposing that a new window system be installed on the ground floor of the restaurant. The plan calls for large tilt-up windows that would basically open the dining area up to the fresh air of Massachusetts Street. It also would allow for a big walk-through area between the bar and a new sidewalk seating area that is proposed for the Massachusetts Street sidewalk in front of the business.
There have been other downtown establishments that have proposed similar ideas of creating an open-air space along Massachusetts Street. The former Mexican restaurant Tapas is the one that I remember most. That plan, however, never got approval, so it will be interesting to see how city planners view this proposal. Like pretty much all downtown redevelopment, the plan must pass muster with certain historic preservation guidelines.
In other news and notes from around town:
• All right, you caught me. I'm still thinking about a hamburger with a fried egg on it. Dempsey's Burger Pub, 623 Vermont St., long has offered that combination. Well, there's news out of that restaurant. It is continuing to become one of Lawrence's larger exports.
Dempsey's owner Steve Gaudreau told me recently that Dempsey's is set to open its third location in the region. He has signed a lease to open in the College Hill area of Wichita. The location is in the Clifton Square development of the district. It is a bit of a homecoming for Gaudreau. He grew up just blocks away from the location. Gaudreau, who is probably best known in Lawrence for being the founder of Quinton's, opened up a Dempsey's in Lincoln, Neb., last year.
The opening of a Dempsey's in Wichita squares with what Gaudreau told me back then. He said he thinks the upscale burger trend is one with staying power because a whole new generation of foodies is looking for an affordable way to eat gourmet.
"The future is having a chain of Dempsey's," Gaudreau told me last year. "I want to go where the market takes me."
Gaudreau tells me that he currently is looking for a location to open a Dempsey's in Kansas City.
• Some of us have hamburgers with fried eggs on our minds, while others have thoughts of a potential $30 million police headquarters building on theirs. City officials want to hear your thoughts on the latter. They have set up a website to take comments on locations for a potential headquarters building.
Earlier this month, city commissioners said they wanted to study four locations for the headquarters building:
— About 15 acres of city-owned land in VenturePark, the new industrial park that formerly was Farmland Industries. The property is along Kansas Highway 10 on the eastern edge of the city, near the Douglas County Jail.
— About 29 acres of city-owned property at Overland and Wakarusa drives. The property is essentially behind the Walmart on Sixth Street. The site is near Free State High School and once was considered to house a city recreation center.
— About 47 acres of property on the east side of McDonald Drive, north of the school district's administrative building. The property is near the west Lawrence interchange of the Kansas Turnpike. It's currently listed for $3.2 million, more than double what the city has budgeted for land acquisition. But the site also is much larger than the 15 acres needed for the project. City officials have said they would look at the possibility of selling off parcels of the property to recoup some of their costs.
— Up to 50 acres of property along West 31st Street between Ousdahl Road and Louisiana Street. The property has some floodplain concerns but would be adjacent to the new South Lawrence Trafficway.
You can go to lawrenceks.org/police-facility-comment to give your opinion about the potential sites. The city will accept comments until July 1.
There may still be one wildcard to consider with the police headquarters location, however. I'm hearing some discussion about potentially expanding the facility to house Municipal Court. Currently the city pays just under $95,000 a year to lease the building at 1006 New Hampshire St. that currently houses Municipal Court.
In recent days, the city has renewed that lease with Berkeley Plaza Inc. But instead of renewing for the standard three-year term, the city renewed for only one year. That was done to give city officials flexibility in case a decision is made to incorporate Municipal Court into the police headquarters building.
The idea is getting some consideration because police officers do have to spend some time testifying in Municipal Court. Having the court as part of the headquarters may create some time savings for officers.
I don't think the addition of Municipal Court would require a significantly larger site, but it would mean that the site would be visited by members of the public more frequently. City Manager David Corliss, though, has said in the age of smartphones and GPS, he's not too worried about choosing a site that residents will have a hard time finding. All four under consideration seem pretty easy to find anyway.
We'll see where the conversation leads. I expect a lot of discussion in July about how much this police headquarters building should cost and what type of tax increase should be presented to voters in November.
More LJWorld City Coverage
If your March Madness party included plans of Meatball Madness or Marinara Madness or, heck, even 15 pounds of Lasagna Madness (alliteration is overrated), you now have one less option in Lawrence. Intorno, the downtown Italian restaurant at Eighth and Massachusetts streets, has closed.
Already, the rumor mill is churning about a Kansas City restaurant company coming in with a new eatery in the space. If you remember, a few weeks ago I briefly mentioned in a column that there was speculation Coal Vines pizza and wine bar was coming to downtown Lawrence.
Coal Vines has a location on the Country Club Plaza, and features some upscale pizza, wine and cocktails. Well, the second part of the rumor I had heard back in February, but didn't report, was that Intorno was closing and Coal Vines was going to take its spot. Half of that rumor has come to be, so it will be interesting to see if the other half does as well.
I called down to Coal Vines' Plaza location in recent days. An employee there told me he indeed believes a downtown Lawrence venture is in the future for the company, but he said the restaurant may not operate under the Coal Vines name. So, maybe it will be a pizza place, or maybe it won't. He also didn't give any details on a specific location. He referred me to an owner of the company, but thus far I haven't had luck in making contact.
It appears the ownership group does other things than Coal Vines. The Kansas City Star recently reported that Zach Marten and Bret Springs, owners of Coal Vines on the Plaza, recently opened Westport Ale House in the popular Westport district of Kansas City.
But again, all of this is just speculation, so take it for whatever you think it is worth. The folks at Intorno did seem to believe another restaurant was slated for the spot, but they didn't have details.
As for Intorno, chef and owner Jim Vaughn said the restaurant — which was in the spot that formerly housed Esquina and before that was the longtime home of Round Corner Drug — just never could produce the needed volume of business during its run of a little more than a year.
"We just couldn't fill the seats, and the overhead was just too high," said Vaughn, who previously was part of the successful Charlie Gitto's Italian restaurant in The Hill district of St. Louis. "It is really stiff competition on Mass. Street. It seems like the staples are busy, and the other guys get to try."
It has been a bad couple of months for Italian restaurants in Lawrence. As I briefly mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Bambinos Italian restaurant in West Lawrence also has closed.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Downtown murals have been in the news lately, but here's a new twist to the idea: A rolling mural. It looks like the city of Lawrence is going to introduce the concept to us. City commissioners are being asked to approve a partnership with Van Go to paint a mural depicting Lawrence's history on a 20-foot transit bus.
The idea is that Van Go, which is a nonprofit agency that uses art to work with youth, would design and paint an extensive mural that would then be placed on the bus via a vinyl wrap.
I don't have a picture of the proposed mural, but according to information from the city, it sounds multifaceted. The hood of the bus would include several images important to American Indians who populated the area, including a white buffalo, sunflowers and other vegetation. The back of the bus would have an image of John Brown emerging from storm clouds. (That may get your attention while texting and driving.)
The passenger side of the bus will include images of Quantrill's Raid, and an image of a river evoking the idea of a broken heart. The passenger's side of the bus would have wagon trains, the railroad, the underground railroad, a steamboat, and a path that leads to a hill and familiar KU buildings.
Van Go has received some grant money to help create the mural, according to a city memo. The city is proposing to spend about $4,000 to have the vinyl wrap produced and applied to the bus.
I haven't heard a timeline for the project, but I'll keep an eye out for it. Really, I will. I don't want to be surprised by John Brown at a stop light.
Fitness center near Ninth and Iowa undertaking major expansion; group working to create a local currency
I've been trying to tell you this: I'm a trendsetter. I'm ahead of the times. For decades, I've been spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Now, it is the hot new thing in the world of exercise.
If you don't believe me, check out the work that is underway at Lawrence's Body Boutique. The women-only gym near Ninth and Iowa streets is undergoing a $700,000 renovation, and a big part of it is to add a new indoor cycling studio.
Lorinda Hartzler, the gym's owner, told me Body Boutique is expanding into 8,000 square feet of vacant space in the Hillcrest Shopping Center that is between the gym's existing location and Crimson & Brews, a local tavern where I have perhaps spun my wheels once or twice.
The expansion will have several elements, but a big part of it will be a new 30-station indoor cycling studio that will feature the brand-name Spinner bikes. The studio also will feature a large video screen that will give riders the sense they are traveling through scenic areas, such as a trail up Mount Everest or along the path of the Iditarod dog sled race. (A word of caution on that one: I've found that my polar bear-lined biking shorts often cause chafing.)
The expansion project also will include:
— A tripling of the gym's weight room and fitness floor space;
— An expanded child care area;
— Additional room for barre training. (It is different than the type of bar training at Crimson & Brews.)
— Space for a nutrition club called Total Body Nutrition;
— An area for a new youth fitness program that will provide training for both girls and boys ranging from toddlers to teenagers.
"We have a program now that is more of an active play program, but we really want to have a program for children who feel like they are not athletic," said Hartlzer, who has owned the gym for the last 20 years. "They may never be on a soccer team or a swim team or a wrestling league, but we want them to understand they can still be healthy and fit and strong, even if they don't feel athletic."
Work has just started on the expansion project, and Hartzler hopes the new space will be ready to open in June. Hartzler said without the expansion the club was going to have to start capping its membership. She said the fitness movement in Lawrence remains strong, and said it has grown to be about more than just a physical workout.
"When I built this existing space 10 years ago, people just wanted to get in and get out," Hartzler said. "But our members are becoming more social than they've ever been. We're designing a lot of space just for people to socialize."
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps I've been a trendsetter in another way too: I've long tried to pay for things with something other than dollars. My success rate has been a bit limited, but perhaps I just haven't figured out the right system. There is a group of Lawrence residents who are trying to figure out how to create a Lawrence currency.
The Lawrence Community Currency Initiative is meeting at 6:30 p.m. today at the Delaware Street Commons common house, 816 E. 13th St. The meeting will feature a presentation by Ali Rosenblatt, who has helped launch a local currency program in Los Angeles.
The idea behind local currencies is that businesses and individuals agree to accept something other than U.S. dollars for goods and services and wages and such. There are communities that have them, and, of course, bitcoin is an example of alternative currency that has been getting a lot of media attention.
If you have been in Lawrence long enough, you may remember that Lawrence had a local currency for a time in the 1990s. It was called Lawrence's REAL Dollar. There were some businesses that accepted it, but it eventually faded away as the places where you could spend the REAL dollar were a bit limited.
Lawrence resident Michael Almon was around for the REAL dollar effort, and he is part of the current initiative. Almon said the options for creating a local currency are far greater today than they were in the 1990s. The idea of having an electronic-based currency, for example, is much more feasible.
Who knows whether this idea will get off the ground in Lawrence, but if it is going to get off the ground anywhere in Kansas, we're probably the place. Almon said about 10 to 20 people have been attending meetings of the group.
"The idea isn't to replace the dollar," Almon said. "It would be complementary. We think it would tend to support more local businesses and might help businesses who are dealing with local suppliers."
• Speaking of trends, perhaps one trend will be upscale pizza in downtown Lawrence. We reported recently on plans for a local group to open Limestone Pizza Kitchen & Bar. Well, now I'm hearing in certain downtown circles that another pizza and wine bar restaurant is seriously considering downtown Lawrence. This is still unconfirmed, so take this for whatever you think it is worth, but I hear that Coal Vines, a pizza and wine bar that has a location on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., among other locations, is strongly considering opening a spot in downtown Lawrence. In fact, I hear they've settled on a location, but I want to get more on that before I pass it along. I'll let you know when I hear more.