Kate Frick has been obsessed with the Myers Hotel since she was 15 years old.
The Lawrence native discovered it one day when driving through the rural Kansas town of Tonganoxie. It was there on Main Street, looking both a little romantic and a little dilapidated. Frick fell in love with the building, which opened in 1879 under the proprietorship of pioneer Mollie Myers.
That she was in Tonganoxie at all, taking herself for joy rides with her farm permit, is serendipitous.
“I found Tonganoxie because back then, gas was less than $1 a gallon here,” she says with a laugh. “All I did was drive around, and I would drive past this building. I love old buildings, and this one stuck with me, and I would check up on it.”
Today, Frick owns that building and has used the space to create one of the most unique and wonderful places to go on a quick drive from Kansas City. The Myers is already well-known as a bar, and with summer coming, Frick has expanded offerings to include a Saturday morning market that appeals to families looking for a little taste of farm life.
Before opening her own place, Frick built a career in Lawrence’s hospitality industry as a bartender at the 715 and was the beverage director at John Brown Underground, two of the city’s best-loved bars. She helped open John Brown, which inspired her onward.
“I realized if I could do it for someone else, I could totally do it for myself,” she says.
The building then was owned by Kay Soetart, who is also a partner in the wedding and event venue Circle S Ranch. Soetart’s number was posted on a sign outside. Frick called and asked to look inside.
“When she let me in, this place was packed to the ceiling with, like, boxes and linens and tchotchkes, and everything was brown and yellow,” Frick says. “But I could see it. I could see that it was magic. There was something about this place.”
Soetart was wary. She was looking for a buyer who wanted to throw baby showers, not a renter looking to open a bar. Six months later, they figured out a lease. Frick came in a with a crew of friends and started cleaning, painting and making plans. The Myers Hotel Bar opened in 2015, and over the two years, Frick and her girlfriend and business partner Stephanie Marchesi built a loyal following not just from local Tonganoxie residents, but from regulars who were happy to drive the 20 minutes from Lawrence and 35 minutes from Kansas City.
Frick’s cocktail program was part of the draw. She is an avid gardener and has an extensive bar garden on the property.
“I’m really inspired by sekkis, the Japanese concept of micro-seasons, because it feels the most in-tune with what’s happening outside and in the garden,” Frick says. “Here, what’s available changes every three weeks. In a larger volume bar, it would be really hard to do that because you’d be rotating inventory and changing out menus and doing so many things. But because I’m a small volume bar, I have a unique position where I can truly modify and change things up without causing stress for myself.”
(When I visited the Myers Hotel Bar for this story, Frick’s menus were hand-written with little illustrations. For example, the “Herbed AF Gimlet” features gin, thyme simple syrup, lemon-lime juice and garden herbs.)
When the lease ended, Soetart sold the property to a new owner. It looked like the curtains were closing on Frick’s little dream bar. The Myers Hotel Bar closed in mid-October 2017, and Frick started thinking about her
Hle hadn’t even finished packing the bar when she got a call from the new owner.
“He called us, and he was like, ‘I just really, really feel like you’re the steward of this building, and the people of this town want you back, and I don’t want to stop that good inertia,’” Frick recalls. “He sold the building to us at no profit. It was a really wild transaction, and then we started tearing down walls, because it was finally ours and we were like, ‘Well, now we have to do everything we said we wanted to do.’”
Frick and Marchesi crowdsourced funds to make improvements to the building, including restoring it to the original floor plan. They reopened on February 1, 2018. Today, Frick and Marchesi are committed to slowly expanding the Myers Hotel beyond a weekend bar. The ballroom hosts local cultural events, including intimate music concerts — in April, local indie rocker Kevin Morby performed a set debuting his new album Oh My God, and in June 2018, it hosted Tonganoxie’s first-ever Pride Prom. Local chefs, such as Lee Meisel of Lawrence’s Leeway Frank’s, hold pop-up food events that almost always sell out. Frick and Marchesi have recently introduced the Myers Hotel Cinema Series, where moviegoers can lounge on lovingly cared-for vintage couches — collected from Frick’s grandmother and Craigslist — and enjoy screenings of The Big Lebowski, Jackie Brown and Moonlight.
The newest extension of the Myers Hotel — and the community Frick and Marchesi hope to foster around it — comes in with the new Myers Market, which opened in April. The bimonthly farmers market features produce from nearby Crum’s Heirloom Farm. When the market made its debut, the eager public queued up early to pick from the Crum’s cool-weather crop produce: lettuce, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, chard, rhubarb, parsley, thyme, fresh farm eggs and homemade banana bread.
“[The Myers Market] feels like an opportunity to breathe new life and energy into the town,” Frick says. “Every community in other parts of the world has markets where people come together and share produce and talk about the weather and the dirt and the bugs, and those small communities thrive. It’s a great way to bring people together, and I don’t want that to get lost. I want to make sure we keep that tradition alive.”
The Myers Market is small in size, with just one vendor (for now — Frick is open to expanding), but it packs a lot of charm. Shoppers can enjoy a coffee or cocktail at the bar after they’ve made their purchases or find a spot on the grounds and picnic.
It all seems like a rather odd fit for Tonganoxie, with its population of 5,300 and its sprawling green fields and farmhouses. There’s an independent local grocery store, Brother’s Market, Gambino’s Pizza, and a little downtown area that you could walk in all of five minutes.
“Leavenworth County is a total surprise,” Frick says. “There are people who work in Kansas City and Lawrence and choose to live rural. There are executives and professors and yoga teachers mixed in with goat farmers and mechanics, and they’re all our customer base. There are a lot of really interesting and open-minded people here.”
This is the benefit of being part of a community that pushed away Tyson Foods in 2017. The company had chosen Tonganoxie to open a $320 million chicken-processing plant that would bring 1,600 jobs to the area — along with, residents feared, air and water pollution, overcrowded schools, heavy traffic and a brand of commercialism that didn’t quite fit the small-town ideals.
“Over 4,000 people put aside political and socioeconomic differences and said, ‘We’re not going to have Tyson here,’ and while the commissioners are still pissed, the town is really happy,” Frick says. “There was this super positive surge that made people have pride in their community. They didn’t have to accept stagnancy, and they didn’t have to accept Tyson just showing up.”
It’s this mentality that sets Tonganoxie apart, Frick says, and that contributes to the magic of the Myers Hotel Bar. She thinks of the Myers property, which covers around two acres and includes a large bonfire area that guests can enjoy, as a respite. There are several rooms and cozy seating areas for guests to make themselves comfortable, and the décor — a mix of antiques, mid-century modern furniture and earthy crystals — makes it feel like you’ve been invited into someone’s home.
“The space is large enough that you can wander and meander and be alone with the person you’re with, or bring a group and still have privacy,” Marchesi says.
“It’s a hearth situation and draws people in,” Frick adds. “There’s a sense of belonging, of knowing that you are so invited and you are so welcome when you get here. Especially for out-of-towners, it takes a little bit of effort to come here, and we are truly grateful for people making that effort, and we realize how special it is to have that.”
Very special, considering the Myers Hotel Bar’s limited hours: Frick and Marchesi open their doors on Friday and Saturday nights, not including special events. To supplement their income, Marchesi works full-time at Crum’s Heirloom Farm, and Frick has a full-time day job in Lawrence.
“Everything we do here, we do out of love,” Frick says. “We realize that we’re in this bizarre niche business where we are a destination bar that has been able to hold onto our local customers who want something that’s different. So, we’re trying to grow, little by little — but we want to be sure the services we offer really fit into the building and support the community.”
GO: Myers Hotel Bar, 220 S. Main St., Tonganoxie, Kan. 785-840-6764. The bar is open from 5 pm to midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Deb and Jim Crum founded their farm in 2002. Since then, Crum’s Heirloom Farm has grown from a small producer selling at farmers markets to one of the major local farms supplying some of the top Kansas City restaurants with produce. Clients include Bluestem, the Antler Room, the Rieger, Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room, Novel, Room 39 and more. For 12 years, from 2006 to 2018, the Crums also ran a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. This year, the Crums decided to focus on their restaurant sales and ended their CSA — but they found they were still growing produce that they felt others might benefit from.
That’s where Deb and Frick got to talking, and Myers Market was born.
For now, Crum’s Heirloom Farm is the only vendor at Myers, and the market is open the first and third Saturday of the month from 10 am to noon. Deb and Frick aren’t exactly trying to snatch customers away from the markets they’re attached to, but they are trying to provide a quick and local option for Tonganoxie residents and maybe give the broader population a reason to venture beyond the metro.
“Whenever you can introduce people to local produce, it’s a good thing,” Deb says. “It’s so important for the economy, and it builds the community because the money stays in the community. We always enjoy the teaching aspect of it, too, you know, letting people know that potatoes really do grow in the ground. Your regulars really become your friends, and that’s important. People say it all the time: ‘You gotta know your farmer.’”