Local entrepreneur to bring two stories of indoor minigolf to downtown Lawrence, with complete bar and restaurant
photo by: Courtesy Sinkers Lounge
Lawrence, you’ve certainly said you want minigolf.
“On the Facebook communities and stuff, you are always hearing people say, at least once a quarter, ‘someone should do minigolf,” Lawrence entrepreneur Matt Baysinger told me.
Well, Lawrence, soon you are going to get two stories of it.
I reported last week that Baysinger and his Kansas City-based company Swell Spark had signed a deal to buy the Signs of Life building in downtown Lawrence to reopen the ax-throwing entertainment business Blade & Timber. I also noted that there were signs that Baysinger might be looking to locate another one of his company’s concepts in the large two-story building at 722 Massachusetts St. — Sinkers Lounge, a minigolf-themed bar and restaurant.
Indeed, that is happening. In fact, Sinkers will be the biggest part of the new development, although Blade & Timber will be the first component to open. Baysinger told me that Blade & Timber and its six ax-throwing lanes will occupy about 500 square feet of the first floor of the building, while Sinkers basically will consume the rest of the 7,500 square feet of the building, including all of the second-floor space.
The space will have nine holes of indoor minigolf, next to a full bar and restaurant, and 18 holes of what Baysinger calls tabletop golf.
In other words, Baysinger is going big on minigolf.
He thinks it is a real need in Lawrence, and not just to satisfy people’s desire to putt-putt around. Baysinger, a more than 20-year resident of Lawrence who was a track star at KU who remained in the community, said he became pretty concerned about downtown Lawrence in recent years.
“Lawrence went through it pretty hard in the pandemic,” Baysinger said. “I was worried about downtown’s ability to push through that.”
In his view, downtowns need a mix of traditional retail businesses and “experiential” entertainment businesses that allow people to be active. The traditional retail businesses have been hurt by online shopping and other consumer trends, but Baysinger is convinced they can benefit from being next to destination type entertainment businesses.
“You can buy stuff online, but experiences you still have to go to them,” he said. “What’s really neat is every data point would show that when you add destination type of entertainment, it makes all of the retail around it get better.”
photo by: Courtesy Sinkers Lounge
Baysinger’s company has 12 destination experience businesses in its portfolio — about half are in the KC metro — and he’s seen sales at nearby retail establishments increase because visitors often will decide to add some shopping to their night out.
Baysinger has been in the entertainment business in Lawrence before. He brought the idea of breakout and escape rooms to Lawrence, although he no longer is an owner of the Breakout Lawrence business on Massachusetts Street. He also was a founder of Mass Street Soda, and has played a role in the opening of 1900 Barker Bakery & Cafe and Taylor’s Donuts. But his last big venture in Lawrence was Blade & Timber. He got the ax-throwing concept started in Lawrence, but the business closed after a fire in 2019. Baysinger said he’s wanted to have a business in Lawrence ever since, and had been trying to strike a deal for the Signs of Life building for several years.
In the meantime, though, Baysinger was busy developing the Sinkers Lounge concept. He opened the first Sinkers Lounge in the Kansas City Power & Light District last year. The Lawrence location will be a bigger version of the KC location.
The Lawrence location will have nine holes of minigolf created by a longtime minigolf designer. While the holes may be more compact because of the need to contain them inside a building, Baysinger said they’ll be fun and challenging for adults and teens who are looking for a fun night out with putter in hand.
That night could include a big beer and cocktail menu for those who want to add that component. The Kansas City location features about 20 beers and a classic cocktail menu that includes everything from a Bahama mama to a tequila sunrise. The Kansas City location also includes a menu with many flatbread offerings, gourmet hot dogs, sliders and multiple appetizers. Baysinger said the Lawrence menu is expected to be similar.
But a third part of the business has really emerged in the Kansas City location — and is expected to be big in a new Manhattan location that the company recently announced. That’s tabletop golf.
“People have kind of lost their minds over tabletop golf,” Baysinger said of the reaction in Kansas City, which is why the Lawrence location will feature 18 tables of the game versus the nine in KC
As for what tabletop golf is, I think I’ve played a version of it. (Enraged, rather than lost, minds is the description I would use, and my pro tip is a ball in the mashed potatoes requires a firm follow-through.)
Actually, Baysinger’s version is quite different. He describes it as a cross between minigolf, shuffleboard and billiards. My understanding is you use a stick that is part pool cue, part shuffleboard stick, which allows you to push a ball around an elaborate putting green tabletop to score points.
“It is hard to wrap your head around, but once you play it, it is addictive and is one of the most exciting bar-type games imaginable,” Baysinger said.
Lawrence, though, is going to have to wait just a moment before it can experience it here. Baysinger said he hopes to have Sinkers ready to open in the spring of 2024. Blade & Timber is expected to open in the next few months, likely in September, Baysinger said. Also in the mix is some retail space that will feature some items from some of Kansas City’s popular boutiques, but that idea is still in development, Baysinger said.