For decades, Wichita has built a reputation on aviation. Now restaurants, sleek shops and a major new ballpark are elevating Kansas’ biggest city.

By Timothy Meinch
February 24, 2020
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An 1,800-pound pile of squashed blackberries oozes next to the patio at Jenny Dawn Cellars, just hours before the grand opening.

“You smell that? That’s fermentation happening,” Jenny Dawn McDonald says through an enormous smile.

Her bright new bar is Wichita’s first urban winery, and the space highlights the process—like the sticky berry mountain outside, which will yield 180 gallons of juice. She wants you to smell the slow transformation in tanks the moment you step into her wine bar: “When you open the door, you can tell it’s going.”

The same could be said of exiting Interstate-35 and driving into Wichita— something’s brewing here. With nearly 400,000 residents, this is no small town. For years, aviation has fueled the economy. A few tall buildings mark downtown, and a pretty museum district tucks into the Arkansas River’s leafy curves.

Keeper of the Plains, a 44-foot-tall sculpture by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin has become one of the most photographed sites in the state. Cross the suspension bridges to get up close, and plan to visit after dark for the nightly Ring of Fire show.
| Credit: C2 Photography

What’s cool, though, is that the city seems to be coming of a new age. She’s seeing what’s happening in other cities’ Instagram feeds and eagerly populating her own. (Literally. Check out @wichitaflag with nearly 10,000 followers.) Murals color alleys, and people like Sarah Leslie, chair of the U.S. Barista Guild, have moved from New York to open a gorgeous coffee shop.

“Slowly it’s progressing,” says lifelong resident and bartender Jordon Grant.

McDonald’s winery opened last fall as one of the first storefronts in the renovated Union Station. Another complex houses shops and dining in shipping containers. And this spring, a $75 million stadium will debut along the river, home to the new Triple-A Wind Surge. The timing feels ripe. It’s a new decade, and this city is ready to play ball.

Go

This music venue has staged Wu-Tang Clan, The Flaming Lips and Gov’t Mule since opening in late 2018. But it’s also home to a farmers’ market, an indoor-outdoor bar with lawn games and Adiós Nachoria—a restaurant that’s exactly what it sounds like. Check the schedule for karaoke nights, yoga pop-ups and a Mexican brunch.

Wave offers an unforgettable live-music experience.
| Credit: Courtesy of Wave

Affiliated with the Miami Marlins, the team takes the field for their first-ever home game April 14, putting Triple-A pro baseball in the heart of downtown Wichita.

Along a commercial stretch northeast of downtown, reclaimed shipping containers house Little Lion Cafe, a barber shop, Prost restaurant, a German market and other chic shops. Known as Revolutsia, the spot opened in 2018. Come at dusk to savor the courtyard’s firepit and string light ambience.

Enjoy the outdoors at the Revolutsia courtyard.
| Credit: C2 Photography

A remodeled entry, lobby and other display spaces debut this spring. Visit by September to experience Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight, combining glass art, film and sound.

Taking in an exhibit.
| Credit: Ryan Donnell

Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from this Wichita State University outfitter on the Arkansas River. Wichita Park and Recreation also organizes guided seasonal floats, including a Glow Tour after dark.

Taste

This female-powered shop adds more than a caffeine boost to the historic Delano entertainment district. Savor the natural light, plants everywhere, tiled floor and tin ceiling, plus divine avocado toast. (The secret’s in the balsamic pickled mustard seeds.)

The incredibly Instagram-worthy Leslie Coffee.
| Credit: Courtesy of Leslie Coffee

The European menu dives into Italian and French roots: flavor-packed roast duck, Osso Bucco with a Chianti vegetable sauce and stone-oven pizzas.

In five years, the home winemaker has moved from first-place showings in California to launching a brick-and-mortar spot in downtown Wichita. Her sangria has won over a loyal following And you can buy bottles of her reds and whites to take home.

Service at this Revolutsia restaurant is top-notch. Walk past the wall of steins and head upstairs for the beer hall lined with colorful flags and an outdoor bier garten. To accompany the German beers, try Kartoffelpuffer mit Apfelbrei (crisp potato pancakes with applesauce) and bratwurst—even a vegan variety.

Personalized steins at Prost.
| Credit: C2 Photography

The city’s most elaborate Prohibition-era cocktails are shaken, stirred, ignited and smoke- infused in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel. The dessert-like Old Smoking Cody combines egg, a blood orange sour liqueur and torched brown sugar.

Stay

Filling the 14-story Union Bank Building downtown, the Ambassador is a comfy Marriott Autograph Collection property with a nice Italian steak house and a speakeasy in the basement. The building has a fascinating history. In 1958, the Dockum Drug Store on the first floor was the site of one of the first lunch-counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement. Led by students, the protest successfully spurred the desegregation of a chain of drugstores across Kansas.