Jennifer Bohlander moved the needle on the revitalization of Topeka’s creative scene.

Some artists perfect a singular stroke. Jennifer Bohlander masters two. In her tattoo parlor, Matryoshka, she inks intricate works of body art. On walls, she splashes paint into murals welcoming people to NOTO (North Topeka), the once neglected neighborhood she helped transform for herself and other creative entrepreneurs. Throughout the district, more than 50 pieces of outdoor public art, galleries, eateries and shops rejuvenate NOTO. Here's how Bohlander recommends exploring.

noto topeka mural
Credit: Courtesy of Noto Arts District

Find Art

When I opened my shop in 2014, it was definitely sketchy here. I had to walk nervous customers back to their cars! Today, they are happy to park blocks away and stroll around. It's phenomenal how many people come on weekends to take pictures in front of Greetings from Topeka (painted by me!). Stop by Studio 831 for some of the region's best painters. It's a working studio, and the artists love chatting with people. Amused is another cool artist collective. Even my tattoo shop has a gallery up front with locally made works. 

Take a Lunch Break

I go for the jalapeño popper cheese sandwich at The Wheel Barrel, founded by me and my husband. It's sweet and savory with a mild spice to it, and has jalapeño jelly and bacon. Norsemen Brewing Company serves Trenchers (Scandinavian open-face sandwiches) with house-made beet chips. But my go-to there is salmon salad with quinoa and citrus vinaigrette. It just feels healthy!

Stop By a Bookstore

I count on family-owned Round Table Bookstore for a good book. When they recommend a title, you know they've read it. They also have a coffee bar. Paper June children's bookstore is fantastic, too, with a curated selection and fun activities, like art classes, story time and parties. 

Fun and Games

One of our most colorful businesses, Studio 62 Art Bar, hosts drag shows at night and sip-and-paint classes during the day. My friends unwind at FootPool—played by kicking soccer balls on a giant outdoor pool table. I stick to tamer activities and like escape rooms, especially NOTO Escapes, where the lady owners design their own challenging rooms, unlike others anywhere. 

Welcome to Noto

Here's what to know about this growing neighborhood.

How It Started

Founded as the small town of Eugene in 1865, the area was ultimately annexed by the south side of Topeka. Although buoyed by Union Pacific Railroad expansion and thriving commerce, North Topeka faced devastation from historic floods, the collapse and rerouting of a bridge, and suburban retreat. 

How It's Going

A little more than a decade ago, a citywide plan proposed an arts district in the deteriorated north end. Dubbed NOTO, the neighborhood began renovations on its 1800s buildings, painted massive murals and cleared green spaces.  

Hit the Highlights

Start at the NOTO Arts Center, housed in a former 1938 Classical Revival post office. Then see murals, sculptures and streetside decor from Redbud Park. Head down alleys to find tucked-away murals, including a sunny row of sunflowers, a mosaic masterpiece and the thoughtful young girl in Verity (Jennifer Bohlander's favorite work).

On the Calendar

Workshops, artisan markets and weekend concerts mark Redbud Festival, a month-long celebration in April. During First Friday Artwalk, crowds come out for street-corner cellists, folk bands and shops that stay open late. Keep track of third Fridays, too, for the Summer Concert Series. And mark your calendar for Arts-tember in September.

jennifer bohlander headshot
Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Bohlander

Get to Know Jennifer Bohlander

Grew up in Illinois and Ohio. Joined the U.S. Army right out of high school; assigned as a Russian linguist in Berlin. Ended her military stint at Fort Riley, Kansas. Passionate about elephants.