Downtown bar Leroy’s files plans to double in size; bar in Oread neighborhood also hopes to add space

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Leroy's, 729 New Hampshire Street is shown in June of 2022. To the left vacant space at 733 New Hampshire Street is shown. Leroy's has filed plans to expand into the vacant space.

If you have been in downtown Lawrence late at night, you’ve perhaps noticed the popularity of Logie’s on Mass. During the school year there often was a line flowing out the door.

My guess is that with a name like Logie’s, the place has many unique characteristics. But one of the more obvious ones is that it is a big bar, stretching over two downtown storefronts at 728 Massachusetts St.

Now, the question is whether big bars are about to become the next big idea in downtown Lawrence.

Indeed, plans have been filed for an existing downtown bar to more than double in size.

Leroy’s — a bar/pool hall at 729 New Hampshire St. — is seeking City Hall approval to expand into the vacant space next door that used to be occupied by the Grinders restaurant chain. The move would add more than 5,000 square feet of space to Leroy’s, taking it from an already sizable bar of about 4,000 square feet to one that is around 10,000 square feet in size.

Not long ago, such an expansion of a bar wouldn’t have been possible in downtown Lawrence. Bars are a pretty regulated enterprise in downtown, so much so that you can’t just go open one in any storefront you choose. Decades ago, the city became concerned that downtown could turn into an entertainment district dominated by bars. The rallying cry was don’t let downtown turn into Aggieville, which is the bar district at K-State.

To combat that possibility, city commissioners approved a regulation that required new businesses that sell alcohol in downtown to make at least 55% of their sales in food. However, the city created a “grandfather clause” to the regulations, which allowed existing bars that didn’t meet the food sale requirements to keep operating. Furthermore, the city allowed those bars to change owners, change names and other such details.

But if one of those grandfathered bars (the phrase makes me think of a place that has a charging station for hearing aids instead of cell phones) wanted to expand into a vacant space next door, it was out of luck.

In November, though, I reported that might be changing. I reported on a little-noticed regulation change that the City Commission approved that would allow bars in that situation to expand. I wondered then whether that would make the idea of bigger bars in downtown Lawrence a likelihood.

Leroy’s proposed expansion might give us a clue of whether city leaders are excited about the prospect of larger bars downtown. While the city changed the regulation that would allow a grandfathered bar to expand, it doesn’t mean such a bar can do so automatically.

In this case, Leroy’s has to have a special use permit approved by both the Planning Commission and the City Commission. That approval is still in the process for Leroy’s. You might be thinking, why would the city change the rule if it doesn’t intend to allow bars to expand? In fairness, the regulation change applies to other businesses besides bars. There are plenty of examples of businesses that have been grandfathered into a space that they aren’t properly zoned to occupy. A commercial business on a residential lot, for example. Those businesses also haven’t been able to expand very easily.

But I think bars were very much on the mind of city commissioners when they approved the regulation changes. It will be interesting to see how much discussion the topic gets in the future. The rule change potentially creates an odd situation: An existing bar could expand into the empty Grinders space on New Hampshire Street, but if somebody came to the city with an idea of opening a new bar in that exact same space, that wouldn’t be allowed.

Back in November, then-City Commissioner — now Mayor — Courtney Shipley told me she found that scenario “interesting.” So much so that she told me then that she was open to having a community conversation about whether downtown still needed the food requirement or whether it would be fine to let new bars open there. The city hasn’t made any such change to the regulation, although it came up again in April when a developer filed plans to locate a bar/restaurant in the old Quonset hut-style building near the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence.

I reached out to Shipley today to find out if she has any plans to start a community conversation on the topic. I’ll let you know if I get word that such an effort is emerging.

As for plans that Leroy’s has for the new space it may occupy, the owner of the establishment didn’t get back in touch with me. But the plans filed with City Hall say they want to use the space to install more pool tables. “They currently do not have room for enough billiards tables to host sanctioned tournaments,” according to the plans filed by Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects.

A group led by Jon Davis owns Leroy’s. Davis has been a longtime bar owner in Lawrence, owning multiple establishments at various times, including The Hawk in the Oread entertainment district near the KU campus.

•••

Speaking of bars in the Oread neighborhood, I do have brief news about an expansion plan in that district.

Bullwinkles, a bar at 1344 Tennessee St., has filed plans at City Hall to undertake a smaller expansion. Plans have been filed to add about 625 square feet onto the small bar that is approximately 900 square feet currently.

Werner, who also is the architect for that bar project, told me via email that the expansion plan doesn’t include a request to increase the occupancy total for the bar. In other words, the expansion wouldn’t give the bar a legal right to have more people inside it at any given time. Rather, the goal of the extra space is to improve the environment and seating area for patrons, Werner told me.

The proposed expansion would be to the north of the existing bar, meaning it would come very close to house next door, which is owned by the same group that owns the bar.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission recently approved a special use permit for the expansion plan. City commissioners are expected to consider the special use permit in the coming weeks.

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