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 10 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. Manned with a highly researched recipe, we now 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 30TH ANNIVERSARY JOHNNY’S TAVERN! 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 “Boarder 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 is serving up out trademark burgers, pizza and friendly neighborhood attitude on the West side of Lawrence at 6th & Wakarusa. Reminisce about the old college days in this “grown up” JOHNNY’S.
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 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.