Johnny’s was established in 1953 and has been “Serving Up Tradition” ever since. Today, what was once just a workingman haven with cold beer and a jukebox has become a local favorite for sports fans and families – with 13 great locations and counting.
1910 – 1940: Before It All Began
Way back in 1910, Charles Robinson, the founder of Lawrence and first governor of Kansas, purchased the land from the Delaware Indians where the original JOHNNY’S TAVERN in Lawrence stands today. J.D. Bowersock, a successful businessman with a mill across the Kansas River, added four walls and a grocery store with a hotel above were born. It is in that building at401 N. 2nd Street that JOHNNY’S TAVERN was to open some years later.
From 1910 to the 1930’s, the evolution from grocery, to pool hall, back to grocery, then to gin joint occurred with the help of a little experiment called “prohibition”.
In the 1940’s, tractors and other farm implements were on tap when Slim Wilson (Johnny’s dad weight in at a mere 325 pounds) became the proprietor of the establishment. Cold beer and gambling were just a sideline at Slim’s place until the real deal began thirteen years later.
1953 – 1988: The Beginning
In 1953, Mr. John Wilson stepped in and JOHNNY’S TAVERN was born! It became a haven for the workingman with plenty of cold beer and C & W music on the jukebox. The original red arrow and giant beer mug sign still hang out front today. It was the beginning of what is now the “LONGEST RUNNIN’ TAP IN TOWN”.
In 1978, fellow rugby players and fledgling bar keeps Rick Renfro and Doug Hassig took over ensuring a place for teammates to partake in suds and song. The ‘boys’ added a grill behind the bar and started serving up what are now “JOHNNY’S WORLD FAMOUS BURGERS”. The bar served 3.2 beer, burgers and chips, and pickled eggs for the old timers. It opened at 7:30 am just in time for the shift workers to get a cold one after work and closed according to state law at 12 midnight.
In 1982, Louie Riederer, friend and fellow rugger came on board. With another partner lending a hand, it was in the cards change the old hotel rooms upstairs into a private club that could serve “spirits” and stay open ’til 2:00 am. Behold, the “UP & UNDER.” This upstairs bar- a private club until 1987 when Kansas adopted liquor by the drink, has the look and feel of a speakeasy. Look for Jimmy Cagney’s eyes peering through the speakeasy window at the top of the stairs. The Up & Under is a perfect place for private parties. What goes on upstairs, stays upstairs.
Because behind every great man stands a great woman, 1988 became the year of “BETTY’S”. While the ‘boys’ were expanding the tavern to the North, the grave stone of Betty Gailes that had washed down the river during a flood was unearthed. The employees picked up on it and called the new addition “BETTY’S. With this last expansion of Betty’s and the patio out back, JOHNNY’S has become a truly diverse establishment, home to local, college students, families and suits, a true melting pot. Oh yea, there was another milestone in Lawrence that year—Danny and the Miracles won the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship!
1991 – 1996: Growth Continues
In 1991, with JOHNNY’S, the UP & UNDER, and BETTY”S well established, the boys looked East to Kansas City. In an effort to bring the tradition of JOHNNY’S to the many KU grads who moved back to the “Big City”, Pat Roberts joined the ‘boys’ with the opening of JOHNNY’S at 119th & Glenwood in Overland Park.
In 1996, after five great years in O.P., the ‘boys’ decided it was time to expand again. Shawnee’s reputation for independence and frontier spirit made it a perfect place for JOHNNY’S in Shawnee, “out West” on 63rd and Pflumm.
2000s & Beyond: A New Era
In 2001, the ‘boys’ expanded again with our old friends now invested as our new partners. Sean Haydock, Kyle Witherspoon, and David Allen all raised with care at the JOHNNY’S in Lawrence, are now the backbone of JOHNNY’S in Kansas City. Our loyal customers in O.P. and Shawnee made us such a success that we opened another location in a “new” area at 135th and Quivira. This one had a new twist, Overland Park’s first NONSMOKING SPORTS BAR.
Just before the year ended in 2002, we added a new location- JOHNNY’S in Prairie Village at 83rd and Mission Road. Always striving to give our customers more, Rick opened the first PIZZA KITCHEN in Lawrence. The pizza recipe was researched well. We now proudly serve the best pizza in town.
In 2003, JOHNNY’S celebrated 50 years of serving up tradition to our loyal friends and neighbors across the Lawrence – Kansas City area. Here’s to 50 more years of fun memories!
Onward and upward- In 2006, we opened another JOHNNY’S TAVERN, complete with a patio, private party room and a pizza kitchen at K-10 and Ridgeview. Our friends in Olathe can now enjoy the Best Pizza in O-Town.
Happy 3oth anniversary to everyone who took the reins back in 1978 to keep this dream rolling! Johnny himself would be proud. Our JOHNNY’S family has grown from two single guys to eight partners with families of our own. It is our hope that we continue serving up the strong JOHNNY’S tradition and friendship to you and your families for generations to come. Here’s to Taylor, Spencer, Nick, Logan, Mason, Landry, Lily, Samantha, Ian, Jack and Alex!
Oh, did I mention the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship with Mario and the Miracles? It was a good year wasn’t it?
Why stop a good thing! The “Border War” is finally over for the Johnny’s family of Taverns. We’ve built another JOHNNY’S TAVERN at the Power & Light District at 13th & Grand. Come on over for a cold one when you visit to the Sprint Center. We’re right across the street. See you in the “Living Room”.
We didn’t stop there! Johnny’s West in Lawrence is born form the purchase and remodel of the old JB Stout’s restaurant. It’s Lawrence’s grown up Johnny’s out in the burbs off of 6th and Wakarusa complete with indoor/outdoor party space.
Just as summer came to an end in 2011, we added yet another Johnny’s Tavern in Overland Park at the corner of 95th & Antioch. Complete with that neighborhood feel, private party room, and TV’s everywhere (including all the booths) for all the sports fanatics. We quickly became well known as the place to watch the “Big Game”, grab a cold one and a bite to eat with all your friends and family. You’re sure to have a good time with our fun and friendly staff.
Building on our ties from the Downtown Power and Light location we took Johnny’s further East. Lee’s Summit was the perfect fit for our laid back family atmosphere. Things quickly took off at 50 Highway and Todd George Road, both for Johnny’s Tavern and on the baseball diamond as the Royals took home their 2nd World Series Championship in October. Many memories were made and Champagne sprayed all over the walls. Don’t worry though, we cleaned it up and are ready for years of more celebrations.
It was a great year in Blue Springs for 2 reasons. The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes and Johnny’s Tavern opened up its 3rd location out east at the crossing of 7 highway and 40 highway. In his first full year as a starter MVP Pat Mahomes put up over 5,000 yards and 50 TD passes. Fans filled our doors to cheer on this memorable season. Johnny’s Tavern Blue Springs likewise had a great first full year, kicking off our first Annual Blue Springs Guns and Hoses event on our patio. We also made great ties with the local school districts and proudly supported the first of our annual donation weeks for both Blue Springs and Blue Springs South High Schools. These ties to the community have been the backbone of our success for over 65 years.
In August of 2019 Johnny’s ventured to the West and opened our 11th location in Topeka Kansas. The Capitol City welcomed us with open arms and hearts to their community with a super successful grand opening! The party kept rolling straight into 2020 as our Kansas City Chiefs won their second Super Bowl in team history. The fun continues with Washburn University and all of our local schools helping to make us a hot spot for catching the game, grabbing a beer with the crew, or having a dinner with loved ones. Johnny’s Tavern Topeka is ready for the next 60 plus years and the next party!
In March the Original Johnny’s and Up & Under in North Lawrence underwent a massive and extensive remodel. The new Up & Under still hosts private events during the week and is open to everyone on the weekends. Check out the Instagram wall, sip on a Trashcan Tea and make some new friends at the only speakeasy in NOLA.
Expansion was on the horizon again and this time the Johnny’s family joined the Northland. Johnny’s Tavern Parkville, located off Interstate 435 and 45 highway, established roots in the community and became the local hangout where friends and family could meet, eat, and enjoy their favorite team. This was perfect timing for the start of college basketball season, where our favorite local university won their 4th NCAA Championship the following spring. Cheers and friends were made as the University of Kansas celebrated its 2022 National Championship. Johnny’s Tavern Parkville quickly became the place for teams and families to gather after ballgames at the local fields. Our 2 party rooms helped everyone celebrate their victories together. Friends also enjoy the outdoors and beautiful sunsets off our patio as well as the cool evening air around our oversized fire pit with viewing of all our outdoor TVs.