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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.

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