Kansas is home to many interesting places and things, like the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, or S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden in Lucas. What if I told you that some of Kansas’s most interesting attractions are located just beneath your shoes. Don’t believe me? Check out these six unique places located below the Kansas prairies.
1. Strataca - Hutchinson
Since the Permian Wellington Formation was first tapped into in 1887, the salt industry in Hutchinson, or “Salt City” as it has come to be known, has shaped the town. For nearly 95 years the salt has been mined for commercial uses, but the mines have also proven to be valuable as storage for important documents, records and maybe the original tapes of some of your favorite movies and television shows. Today a portion of the mine has been preserved for tours and portions of the mine serve as a gallery, museum, and even an event space. Take the mine shaft lift 650 feet below the Kansas’s surface to begin your Salt City adventure.
2. John Brown’s Underground – Lawrence
Housed underneath an old bank building on 7th Street, sits John Brown’s Underground. Like any true speakeasy, the establishment is not marked by a sign, but don’t let that prevent you from coming in. Named after Kansas’s very own infamous abolitionist, a parodied version of John Steuart Curry’s A Tragic Prelude bearing the figure’s likeness is displayed on a wall next to the bar. Sit at the bar or one of the many tables supported by large whiskey barrels, or sink into one of the two armchairs located by the door. Seasonal craft cocktails and a unique array of bar food only add to the “Underground” experience. A stop to the establishment is sure not to disappoint, but as stated on the John Brown’s Underground webpage says “Please do not speak of the Underground to Untrusted Acquaintances.”
3. Underground Tunnels – Ellinwood
When the town of Ellinwood was being laid out, the German immigrants settling in the area decided to put underground walkways and business just below the two block business district they had mapped. At one time this underground town bolstered 11 saloons. In the 1920s and 30s the town’s population began to decline and become more modern. The underground businesses began to serve as basements for the businesses above. In 1982 the Ellinwood replaced its sidewalks and filled all but three sections of this underground city with sand. Two of these sections are open for tours. One is located under the Dick building, which housed a harness maker, barber, and bathhouse. The other is a row of storefronts located under the Wolf Hotel. Tours are offered of both these tunnels and the Wolf Hotel for $10, but make sure to call ahead.
4. The Big Well – Greensburg
Originally built in 1888 to serve as the town’s water supply, The Big Well was and remains the biggest hand dug well in the world. A visit to The Big Well Museum and Visitors Center allows visitors to descend the spiral staircase and admire the pioneer ingenuity. While there, view exhibits that showcase the town of Greensburg and its effort to rebuild as a sustainable community after a devastating tornado in 2007. Another attraction found in The Big Well Museum is the ‘Space Wanderer’ Pallasite Meteorite. Weighing 1000 pounds, it is the largest pallasite found to date. If you are interested in traveling 106 feet below land to see something out of this world, visit The Big Well!
5. Auntie Mae’s Parlor – Manhattan
In the late 1920’s Edgar Walters passed away, leaving his business, Walter’s Plumbing, to his wife Dora “Auntie” Mae. In the height of both the Great Depression and prohibition Dora, as the Auntie Mae’s Parlor website so eloquently put it knew “This dust blown, down-on-its-luck, little town needed a drink.” And drink they did in the basement under Walter’s Plumbing for four years until Prohibition was abolished. Auntie Mae’s Parlor was reopened in 1974 and has been continuing to protest prohibition since. The bar offers craft beer and cocktails, and on any given night you can participate events like Trivia SmackDown or Bad Movie Night. Located in the Aggieville shopping district, Auntie Mae’s is a must visit when in Manhattan.
6. Luis’ Place - Topeka
On the corner of 5th and Kansas in Topeka you will find a set of stairs that leads you into a well with narrow brick archways. It is in this well that you will find a door to Luis’ Place, a restaurant and private club. Though the restaurant is private it is Luis’ Place is open to the public on Friday’s for lunch and sells tickets for events such as wine tastings. Luis Guillen, the restaurant’s owner, chef and from whom the business is named after, uses the restaurant as the headquarters for his catering business. Though Luis’ Place only opens once a week and the menu varies, the restaurant continues to receive rave reviews from its patrons. Often being called “Topeka’s best kept restaurant.” To find what’s cooking at Luis’ Place this week or to find out information on their upcoming events check out the restaurants Facebook Page.
7. Pretty Boy Floyd’s Steak and Shine – Ellsworth
Break into a former boy’s club while experiencing “premium dining six feet under” at Pretty Boy Floyd’s in Ellsworth. The current location, accessible from a back-alley entrance, was once a men’s only area from the turn of the century. The true origin of the establishment might lie in the early 1900s, but the current setting is more reminiscent of a 1930s speakeasy. When brainstorming concepts for a restaurant theme, the owners wanted to avoid the western theme that the former Cowtown is known for. The one area the owners allow their cattlemen roots to show is in the quality of their steaks. It couldn’t be called Pretty Boy Floyd’s Steak and Shine without the “Shine.” Moonshine martinis are a specialty of the restaurant, they also serve regular moonshine in a variety of flavors. From the quality of the ingredients that go into their food, down to the fake bullet holes in their menus it is the detail that makes Pretty Boy Floyd’s the perfect place to stop when in the mood for “Steak and Shine.”
Just below land level or several hundred feet down, these six locations prove what lies under Kansas is just as exciting as what is on top of it. Want to experience more Kansas attractions? Check out the 2017 Kansas Official Travel Guide for hundreds of great travel ideas and road trip itineraries.