Skivies (formerly the Tool Box), Topeka, Kansas
Photos of gay bars, nightclubs, lounges, cabarets, and other nightlife options in the Plains states, including Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota
Practically in the eastern shadows of the Kansas State Capitol Building, which lies just a couple of blocks away, you'll find Topeka's only gay bar, Skivies (921 S. Kansas Ave., 785-234-0482), pictured here back when it was called the Tool Box. It's a low-keyed spot, drawing an even mix of women and men, most of them from the local area - and sometimes a few adventuresome souls from the nearby college town of Lawrence (home to Kansas University), although that crowd tends to flock in the other direction to Kansas City.
Highly conservative politically, the city of Topeka is infamously home of the anti-gay Westboro Church (and the hate-spewing family behind the church, led by preacher Fred Phelps). The association with Phelps has earned Topeka a somewhat harsher reputation among gays and lesbians than it deserves - there's definitely a GLBT community here, and Topeka has become steadily more gay-friendly over time (although far less so than Lawrence and, an hour away, Kansas City). Skivies is cozy and relaxed, with super-cheap drinks, a little dance floor in back, and a friendly if somewhat cliquey crowd - in this community, locals tend to know each other pretty well. If you're looking for a stand-and-model high-energy club scene, head to KC. This is more a spot for unpretentious conversation and getting to know the locals.
Merchants Pub (formerly Teller's), Lawrence, Kansas
Although it's the most gay-friendly city in Kansas and one of the hippest and most progressive college towns around, Lawrence doesn't have an official gay bar. However, the handsomely furnished bar and restaurant Merchant's Pub (746 Massachusetts St., 785-843-4111), which occupies a vintage bank building with high ceilings and soaring arched windows, has long had a following with the city's gay community, dating back to when this space was known as Teller's. A stylish gastropub with a great selection of craft beers and a terrific menu of locally sourced, creative regional Midwestern fare, it's a nice option for drinks, socializing, or a romantic dinner date.
There's seating on the sidewalk, so on warm days it's a perfect spot to enjoy the great people watching along downtown Lawrence's main drag, Massachusetts Street - Teller's is on the north end of the strip, close to a movie theater and within walking distance of dozens of other lively cafes and shops. Serious fans of gay nightlife will want to make the 40-minute drive west to Kansas City, or in a pinch, there's a friendly gay neighborhood bar about a 20-minute east in Topeka. But if you're looking to hang out in Lawrence, this is a reliable, hip, and lively bet.
Fox Bar, Overland Park, Kansas (closed)
Note: the Fox Bar has closed
Of the handful of metro Kansas City gay bars that require a short excursion outside the city center, the Fox Bar (7520 Shawnee Mission Pkwy, Overland Park, KS) near Overland Park, Kansas is the one to make the effort for. It's technically in the town of Mission, an easy 10-minute drive from the Westport section of Kansas City, and it draws a genuinely eclectic mix of gay men and lesbians of all ages, from suburbanites for whom this is the closest gay hangout to others who simply enjoy the friendly vibe, attractive interior, and stiff drinks. Fox Bar has avidly attended karaoke nights plus a fun juke box, and there are three pool tables in a brightly lighted side-bar area. The staff is welcoming and fun, and the mood here is highly welcoming, if a bit cliquey (only in the sense that many of the patrons here know each other). Still, this is Kansas City, a remarkably easy place to make new friends.