Wichita WiFi and coffee

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Business has had me in Wichita fairly often over the past few weeks. I was telling a friend about my recent sojourn, and she replied that she'd driven through Wichita a few times and couldn't "get on board with the whole Kansas thing." I'll admit that I didn't have a high opinion of Wichita before work brought me there. And the Kansas scenery as seen from the interstate gets a bit monotonous after a while.

For most Tulsans, Wichita is a place to drive through on your way to the ski slopes of Colorado. If you were to get off the highway, you'd find shady neighborhoods filled with late Victorian and craftsman homes, historic downtown buildings both big and small, and a warehouse district (Old Town) turned into a lively collection of restaurants, lofts, theaters, and hotels. But you have to get off the expressway to see it.

That's true in general of Kansas. If you get off the interstate and drive the old roads, you'll find pretty small cities and towns with well-preserved Main Streets and shady neighborhoods -- Emporia, Independence, Winfield, Arkansas City, Lindsborg, McPherson, Abilene, Chanute, Fort Scott -- to name just a few. I can better appreciate the beauty of open farmland if it's interrupted every so often by an attractive town.

Any time I travel, I try to make the opportunity to get out of the zone of chain hotels and chain restaurants and to get to know the city. I look for locally-owned restaurants and interesting neighborhoods, and I spend a lot of time on foot seeing what a city has done with (or, too often, to) its downtown.

One of the things I look for is a place to hang out -- a place with free WiFi, late hours, and something good to eat and drink, where they won't mind me sitting around to write code and blog entries for a few hours. I could work in my room, but that gets a bit lonesome after a while. And sometimes the hotel internet access is slow, or blocks VPN, or just doesn't work, so it's good to have an alternative.

While Tulsa has a great assortment of such places -- Coffee House on Cherry Street, Shades of Brown, Cosmo, to name a few -- I've had trouble finding such places in other cities. Wichita, on the other hand, is blessed with an abundance of great late night coffeehouses. As a bonus, most of them are conveniently located near I-135, so you can easily hop off for some caffeine and internet access on your way to Breckenridge.

Here are four worth a visit:

Riverside Perk coffeehouse, 11th & Bitting, Wichita

Riverside Perk: In a pretty late-1800s neighborhood in a bend of the Little Arkansas River, there's an old two-story wood-frame building at the corner of 11th & Bitting. The ground floor had a grocery store and a drug store once upon a time; today it's a coffeehouse and a wonderful neighborhood gathering place. You can sip your coffee and work on your laptop at a big diner booth and look out the big front windows to the big front porch and shaded sidewalk tables. A smoothie bar in the next room offers bar seating with a tiki theme. Riverside offers a great assortment of specialty drinks and food, including pizza bagels and sandwiches. They're open until 10 weeknights, midnight on weekends, when they have live music. Before or after your coffee, it's a pretty neighborhood for a stroll. From the interstate: From I-135, take the 13th St. exit and head west about a mile and a half, past the spectacular art deco Wichita North high school and across the art deco Minisa Bridge to a light at Bitting Ave. Left (south) on Bitting, across another bridge, then two blocks to 11th St.

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The Donut Whole: A rooster stands sentinel on the roof of the sturdy brick building on Douglas between Hydraulic and I-135. Two rooms are connected by a narrow hallway. The room close to the street has roomy diner booths and a stage for weekend live music. The room at the back houses the coffee and the donuts, an old pinball machine ("Airport" by Gottlieb) -- two plays, five balls each, for 25 cents. A yellow Anco wiper blade display serves as the condiment table, next to a Lions Club park fountain on a pedestal. In the corner is Seeburg 100 jukebox (for sale), sitting under an old Fair-Play basketball scoreboard. Eclectic music (Django Reinhardt, The Price Is Right theme, early Beatles) fills the air. The coffee is excellent, and the assortment of donuts is astounding: choco crunch, Homer J., peanut butter cup, creamy orange, fluffernutter, thick mint, sunshine citrus crunch, peanut butter and grape, and triple bacon, to name just a small sampling. There's a cooler full of specialty sodas like Boylan's and Mexican Coca-Cola. Open 6 am to midnight, live music on the weekends, drive-thru open 24/7. From the interstate: Easiest coffeehouse to reach from the highway. From I-135, take the 1st/2nd St exit and head west on 2nd about two blocks to Hydraulic. Left (south) on Hydraulic two blocks to Douglas, then left again (east) and look for the rooster on the roof on the north side of the street. Parking available alongside the building.

Mead's Corner Coffeehouse, Wichita

Mead's Corner: This coffeehouse on Douglas at Emporia downtown offers coffee, specialty drinks, tea, gelato, pastries, and sandwiches, wraps, panini, and salads. Lots of room -- the coffeehouse takes up the entire first floor of an old commercial building -- with different types of seating, and great views of the other historic buildings nearby. Mead's Corner is owned and operated by First United Methodist Church, but it's not a haphazard "ministry" but is in fact run very professionally. (I'm sorry to say I've known of other church-related coffeehouses with very limited schedules and poor-quality coffee.) At the same time, it provides a comfortable venue for spiritual discussions, as well as the usual coffeehouse assortment of live music, poetry slams, etc. Mead's opens at 7 am Mondays through Saturdays until 10 weeknights, midnight on the weekends. Sunday hours are shorter: 10 am to 6 pm. From the interstate: From I-135, take the 1st/2nd St exit and head west on 2nd. You'll go through Old Town, under the Santa Fe tracks, then make a left on St. Francis. Go two blocks to Douglas, turn right and go one block west to Emporia. Street parking is free -- up to two hours during the day.

Poetic Justice: This one's different -- not near downtown, but in a strip center on the eastern edge of Wichita at Webb and Central on Greenwich north of Kellogg, very near the Beechcraft Hawker aircraft factory. It's also convenient to the hotel cluster near the I-35 Kellogg exit. Everything seems very new and neat. They sponsor weekly game nights (Wed), craft nights (Thurs), and open mike poetry nights (Fri). Open 9 am to midnight M-F, 10 to midnight Saturday, and closed Sunday. From the interstate: From Kellogg Ave (US 54-400), head north on Greenwich Rd; the cafe is just a few blocks north on the east side of Greenwich. Greenwich Rd is just a little over a mile east of the Kansas Turnpike (I-35) Kellogg exit. (UPDATED to reflect Poetic Justice's new location.)

Free WiFi seems to be getting more and more common. Spangles, a local '50s-themed fast food chain, has WiFi and late hours, as does Emerson Biggins, a local sports bar chain. I spent an evening at Pacific Coast Pizza enjoying a Fresno pizza and watching a TMAPC PLANiTULSA hearing on TGOV. There's a Village Inn on Rock Rd. with WiFi, new decor, and a new logo -- the restaurant's initials in lowercase sans-serif -- it ought to attract Unix developers.

Past entries on Wichita and Kansas:

The lonesome road to Wichita (alternatives to I-35)
Places to see in Wichita (including the amazing Orpheum Theater
A FUN-FUL evening in beautiful Kansas (Riverside Park in Independence)
Independence, Kansas, is FUN-FUL
A happy place in Kansas (College Hill Coffee in Winfield)

Useful sites for finding free WiFi:

IndieCoffeeHouses.com -- a Google-maps based, crowdsourced database of independent coffeehouses.
WiFiFreeSpot.com
OpenWifiSpots.com
Hotspotr.com

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Julie R. Neidlinger has written a moving account of her final farewell to the Patisserie on Fourth, a bakery in downtown Bismarck, North Dakota, where she worked as a baker for a couple of years. The Patisserie on Fourth closed permanently on Tuesday. ... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 25, 2010 11:40 PM.

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