Hole in the wall. Dive bar. Whatever you call them, small neighborhood bars are favorite hang outs for many Wichitans who want an uncrowded, cozy atmosphere to hang out with friends. In many cases, "dive" is hardly a bad thing to be called.
But what qualities help a dive bar transcend from a place you wouldn't want to be to a place you want to introduce to all your friends? For some, the atmosphere is unique. For others, the food and drinks are of a special quality that can't be found elsewhere. Sometimes a dive bar features great live music or has a niche activity that people gather around. The common thread of all great dive bars, however, is that they draw a fun, eclectic crowd that makes them fun hang-outs away from the beaten path.
While there are many good dive bars around the city to choose from, there are a handful that set themselves apart from the pack. They are destination spots because they have something other places just don’t have.
Kirby's Beer Store
Address – 3227 E 17th St. Wichita, KS 67208
Best Feature – The bands.
Probably Wichita’s most famous dive bar, Kirby’s is located on 17th St. across from Wichita State University in tiny section of a building next to a laundromat. It’s easy to miss from the street because it’s about the size of a living room. But don’t be fooled by its size, Kirby’s is one of the best places to see Wichita’s top original bands as well as touring regional bands performing right in front of your face.
It can be loud, it can be weird, but nevertheless it’s a good time. Kirby’s is generally populated by around 10 to 30 people from all walks of life – college students, artists, musicians and random bar flies. The mood is usually happy and fun, and there are always interesting people to meet and talk to. There is also an adjoining shaded patio if you want to sit outside and get to know your new friends a little better.
Harry's Uptown Bar and Grill
Address – 3023 E Douglas Ave. Wichita, KS 67203
Best Feature – The drinks.
Harry’s sits near the corner of Douglas and Hillside sharing a parking lot with Margarita’s Cantina. Harry’s is an old-style pub inside with a patio out front and has a surprisingly great food menu served until midnight. But the main reason to come to Harry’s is for the drinks.
The staff at Harry’s does not cheap out when they pour a drink. While you’re sitting at a table or at the bar in front of one of the four TVs, you’ll know you’ve got your money’s worth when your drink arrives. The crowd is a fun mix of mostly College Hill locals who call Harry’s home. It’s the closest thing to “Cheers” you’ll find in town.
Address – 845 S Christine St. Wichita, KS 67218
Best Feature – Bar cat.
The Snug is a tiny place near the corner of Lincoln and Edgemoor around the corner from N & J Café and Bakery. The little sign out front boasts “Coldest Beer in Town” and they aren’t kidding. When you enter the bar you’ll likely be greeted by people singing along with the jukebox as well as a friendly cat who lives there.
They often grill out on the patio out front when the weather is nice, and sometimes feature live music or karaoke in the game room. The pool table only costs 50 cents and they also have a tournament dartboard and board games available if you want to play. It’s a great, easy-going spot to hang that’s away from the more congested party areas in town.
The Elbow Room
Address – 1507 E Pawnee St. Wichita, KS 67216
Best Feature – The sound.
The Elbow Room is one of those places you could drive by a hundred times and never notice it was there. Located on Pawnee west of Hydraulic, it sits back off the street with only a small lit sign at the entrance. Inside it looks like an old-school cocktail lounge with big cozy booths and a checkered dance floor in front of a huge stage.
Even though it’s far from the beaten path, The Elbow Room is a great place to see live bands because the sound system is tremendous. They book a good collection of Wichita’s original music talent as well as regional touring acts that usually deliver. The crowd is mostly a fun, wide-ranging mix of regulars, musicians and random people who walk in and look confused – until they hear the music.
The Artichoke Sandwich Bar
Address – 811 N Broadway St. Wichita, KS 67214
Best Feature – The sandwiches (obviously).
The Artichoke is known for its awesome menu, but is almost equally known as one of the best places in town to see an intimate acoustic performance by any one of a large pool of great musicians who play there regularly. The front room is small, but it’s the kind of place you don’t mind sitting in close quarters with a group of complete strangers because the atmosphere is very relaxed and welcoming.
But let’s talk sandwiches for a second. The Artichoke makes you a sandwich in the same way you would make yourself a sandwich. The ingredients are choice and the combinations are inspired and tasty. It’s easy to sit there and wonder how you’ll ever decide which one to order. If you encounter this common dilemma, just order The Famous #8 and you won’t be sorry.
The Vagabond Cafe
Address – 614 W. Douglas Ave. Wichita, KS 67203
Best Feature – Coffee and alcohol come together.
Located in the historic Delano district, The Vagabond has been a mainstay for dive bar enthusiasts in Wichita for years. Part coffee house, part bar, it opens at 7 a.m. and stays open until 2 a.m. The coffee part isn’t an afterthought. They take their coffee seriously and are known for it. They also offer wall plug-ins and free Wi-Fi, making it a place you can feel comfortable losing track of the hours while you also might enjoy the excellent snacks on the menu.
The patio area outside offers a nice view of Delano and you’ll no doubt meet some interesting, well-meaning characters hanging out you’ll enjoy talking to if you’re not there to study. They also have a good selection of Kansas craft beers and a fully-stocked bar, making it one of the best places to get any kind of drink you’re in the mood for, day or night.