Monday, November 29, 2010

A Night in Wichita

The Vard family traveled to my hometown of Wichita for the Thanksgiving holiday. We got down there Wednesday afternoon and set up camp at my parents' house. After dinner with my parents at a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant called Adrian's (good not great, they were a little heavy handed with the mint on my braised lamb shank, but my mom's pork loin was great), not to be confused with the Adrian's in Overland Park. As we ate dinner the cold hit Wichita. The temperature, which was mid 60's when we hit the city limits dropped into the 40's in the time we were eating. We froze most of the way back to my parents' house listening to Mike Kennedy call the WSU vs. Virginia basketball game on the radio. We watched the rest of the basketball game while the kids played with all of the toys from my youth and once the game was over, Stella and I left my parents to put the kids to bed because we were going out for a night in Wichita.

We headed first to The Anchor, Wichita's beer bar. I didn't say best or use any other modifier because, to my knowledge, The Anchor is the only beer bar in town. Anchor has 48 taps, soon to be 60, with many more bottles. It's located just outside of the bar district in town, Old Town, by the tattoo parlors and across from the drunk QuikTrip (I call it the drunk QT because it's literally across the street from Old Town and is full of drunks from midnight to 2 am). It reminds me of Harry's Country Club without the roadhouse schtick, maybe a Harry's Country Club if placed on Metropolitan in KCK.

We quickly found a seat along the wall and had a waiter on us immediately. He brought us a food and beer menu and left us alone. The beer menu was printed on unlaminated sheets of paper, presumably from Word, with beer names and lengthy descriptions of each. The beers were separated into styles. I quickly found the saison section and chose Big Sky Elephant Rock Imperial Saison, which I had never heard of and obviously knew nothing about. Stella decided on a simple Nutcracker on tap. Of the 48 taps, only about 5 of them were something out of the ordinary. But, for Wichita, having those 5 beers on tap would definitely make the Anchor a destination. We placed our order with a waitress different than the waiter who brought us the menu. She seemed shocked that we weren't going to eat anything.

While we were waiting for our beers to arrive another waiter, different than the other 2 asked us if we were going to order food. We told him no and he took away our menus, including the beer one. I went to Untappd on my phone to log my beer and was surprised that it wasn't on there, so I added it, but I either misremembered the name or the menu was wrong. I logged it as Slow Elk which is really Big Sky's Imperial Stout. I'll never know if my memory is faulty or the menu was wrong. It doesn't really matter though because I really enjoyed the Elephant Rock. It was sweeter than most saisons and did pack a punch at 11% ABV. It almost had a shandy quality to it with the lemon flavor, but it was much better than any shandy I'll ever drink.

Unfortunately for us, the wind coming from the north was blowing straight in through the door every time it opened which had the effect of lowering the temperature at our table 20 degrees and blew the smell of the food at the table next to us right into our noses. We were all of a sudden cold and hungry and really hoping no one else would enter the bar.  We drank our beers pretty quickly to escape the cold which was a shame because The Anchor was a pretty great place. Had we known the back room existed we may have stayed for another beer.

Next up was my favorite bar in Kansas, Mort's. Mort's was only a block north of The Anchor and our parking place, but the north wind was so cold that we opted to drive the block. Mort's started out as and could probably still be described as a cigar bar. They sell cigars, but no one was smoking them on this night. Mort's should more accurately be described as a martini bar and, by far, the best one in Kansas. We found a seat away from the main door but right by the other door. Mort's is a very small place, probably an indoor capacity of 50. They have a pretty big patio which could probably seat another 50 and on a summer weekend night a seat could not be found. But, on a cold Wednesday in November the indoor part was only half full including a one man guitar band.

The martini menu is extensive with probably over 100 concoctions. These aren't highbrow martinis in most cases. Many of them utilize Apple Pucker, Goldschlager and the like. But, they are cheap, barely a martini over $7 and on this night a whole section of martinis, The Walk on the Wild Side ones, were $2 off making each of them around $4. If Mort's had an online martini menu I could tell you what we had for the first round, but they don't and it probably doesn't matter. They were both wonderful, although Stella's tasted like Kool-Aid.

Mort's also has popcorn that you can serve yourself. The star of the popcorn is the jalapeno seasoned popcorn. Stella mixes it with the regular (which is a basic movie theater style popcorn) because it's a little hot. I like the jalapeno straight up, it has a sweetness you wouldn't expect, but it does get a little hot. We must have eaten 8 trays of the stuff.

For our second round I had the martini I have cloned in the Bar du Vard, a concoction called Kentucky Martini. I make it with equal parts Maker's Mark and Amaretto di Saronna. The actual recipe is unknown to me, but my version is just as good as the Mort's version. The one man guitar band was playing songs like "Linger" and its ilk from the 90's. It seemed as if nothing about Mort's had changed since I spent nearly every weekend there in the late 90's. Even the prices remained the same as our tab was $20 even for 4 martinis and all the popcorn we could eat.

I don't know if a better time can be had in Wichita. I'm no longer an authority on Wichita. But, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better 2 bars in town within walking distance of each other and quality drinks. If you ever find yourself stuck in Wichita for an evening or weekend, The Anchor and Mort's shouldn't be missed.


  1. Please tell me you went to Goebels.

  2. Or Global. It's on North Woodlawn, right next to Hog Wild BBQ. They have some deal with Goebels where he runs their beer dept. That, and the fact it was a mile from my house made it my go to when I lived in the ICT. We were there Friday and I picked up some Hoppin Frog B.O.R.I.S. and Double Pumpkin. While I was paying I noticed a bottle of Boulevard 21st Anniversary sitting on the counter. I snagged it. Evidently it was their last one. Since I had a hard time finding it in TX, I was pretty happy.

    I assume you didn't make it to Dolci and Joe's. I hit them up on Saturday afternoon. The twins loved their panini pressed grilled cheese and the hand cut salty sweet potato fries were every bit as good as I remember, but while hand formed and perfectly cooked, my Bada Bing burger wasn't seasoned to my taste. Next time I'll try the Blue Ribbon.

  3. Flying Saucer's Other MattNovember 29, 2010 at 11:46 PM

    Oh Morts! That place's existence is singularly responsible for me feeling OK about going back to Wichita for Christmas. I can hardly wait!

  4. Tad and John, We didn't have much free time Wednesday to get to Rob's World of Beers. We were staying on the East side by Tad's childhood home and had no reason to head out west for anything.

  5. There is NEVER a good reason to go to West Wichita. Bull, if you're in Wichita for Christmas, you might check out Burgardt's on Pawnee and Hillside. It's a little sketch over there, but they have a pretty good selection. They also buy up pallets of beer that the distributors can't sell and discount them. Last spring I was able to get sixers of two of my favorites, Bridgeport Beer Town Brown and O'Fallon Cherry Chocolate for $5.99/sixer. The bad part is that they had let it get warm, and the Cherry Chocolate really didn't keep well, but the Beer Town brown was still quite good.

  6. Tad, I know the Burgardt's, I've been there many a time and experienced the same phenomena as you.

    Now, you're comments about the west side are unfounded. I lived on the west side as an adult and only came east to work. The east side has built up since I left but growing up as an east sider, aside from our high school, was probably a disservice to us.