Big changes have arrived at Nostalgia Room, Lawrence’s nonalcoholic bar. Increased seating, accessibility and lighting are part of a new expanded lounge. Morning coffee and brunch cocktails are available, too, with the addition of barista Becca Dreyfus.
Less than six months after owner Emily Kate Johnson launched Nostalgia Room, she has moved into what she considers the ideal space to expand her temperate bar.
Nostalgia shut down while Johnson and Dreyfus moved all the unique glassware, trinkets and photos that filled Nostalgia’s space above Repetition Coffee. Their newly renovated rental space is just one block west at 412 E. Ninth St., next to Do’s Deluxe hair salon in East Lawrence.
An immediate bonus of the new space: no stairs. The new Nostalgia Room offers ground-floor seating and lots more of it.
On a recent morning, Johnson and Dreyfus sit in the middle of the lounge surrounded by sunlight, vintage furniture and the sentimental photos, art and mementos that formed Nostalgia Room’s aesthetic. The familiar smell of Repetition’s roasted coffee hangs in the air, but there are new elements to consume, too — like the mirrored “Pharmacist” plaque and the one-of-a-kind bar top the pair bought on Facebook Marketplace. They later realized it had been designed and built decades ago by a friend’s father for their home in Johnson County. Johnson called it kismet.
The brown floral couch Dreyfus sits on came from the Myers Hotel Bar in Tonganoxie, where Johnson and her husband hosted their wedding reception. They slept on this couch on their wedding night.
“Talk about nostalgia. It doesn’t get more nostalgic than that,” Johnson said.
Dreyfus wears green work coveralls and Birkenstocks. She looks like she could grab a toolbox and fix something.
“I’ve been a barista and then lived in Portland for about four years managing a coffee shop and then moved into espresso technician work, which I used to fix espresso machines as a career,” they said. “On a side tangent, I’ve been riding and building motorcycles for almost the same amount of time.”
Most recently, Dreyfus worked in Kansas City, where they crafted beverages and marketing strategies for Blip Roasters. Like Johnson, Dreyfus grew up in Lawrence. Both are artists who also rooted themselves within the service industry of their hometown.
The two reconnected recently while Dreyfus recovered from a concussion at her parents’ home. Johnson’s vision for expanded coffee service at Nostalgia Room then came into focus.
Johnson said she wants to meet a customer where they’re at, whether they’re a self-professed coffee nerd, a farmer who wants to come in and sit around a table drinking coffee with other farmers, someone writing their next book, or none of the above.
While Nostalgia offers milk, oat milk and sugar as coffee add-ins, it can’t possibly offer everything a customer might want for their coffee, Johnson said. She’s already encouraged some regular customers to bring their own sweetener packets and flavored creamer. She’s also thinking about ways the business might branch out into food service down the road.
“Whatever way you’re going to enjoy it, we’re here to push … quality and those kind of boundaries in a cool way for people that are interested in that but not force that on anybody,” she said. “That’s how the bar feels also, which is like, how we would like to do food in the future, accommodating, but not making the accommodation feel like a big to-do.”
Johnson views Dreyfus as her equal and someone she’s excited to collaborate with in crafting nonalcoholic drinks.
“When you find somebody else that has a palate and an understanding of flavor the way that Becca does, it’s kind of unreal,” Johnson said. “And that understands, like, really understands the concept of what we’re doing at the bar, which is not just necessarily these one-to-one translations of things, or replacements for, but actually like tearing down and rebuilding a drink.”
Last weekend, Johnson and Dreyfus welcomed customers to the new Nostalgia Room with bar offerings Saturday night and coffee Sunday morning.
The duo plans to formulate hours on a week-to-week basis for now. They recommend customers follow Nostalgia’s Instagram page for schedule updates and especially to stay aware of popup events.
Planned for this weekend are coffee service from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and coffee and brunch cocktails from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Bar hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Johnson called the former space above Repetition Coffee “intimate and lovely,” but it quickly proved itself too small for a nonalcoholic concept that was wanted and needed in Lawrence.
“So many people had really cool experiences there,” she said. “But there was something incredibly liberating about — everybody was here all at the same time when we opened our doors this weekend — people that normally would have had to shuffle in and out or sit downstairs at Repetition. Like, every part of being here is the experience. And it just feels really, really great.”
Intentional and slow expansion have been crucial to the business’s success so far, according to Johnson. She’s mindful about growing the business too quickly, and she hopes the public understands. While Dreyfus and Johnson plan to eventually grow their staff and might even feature “guest” bartenders and baristas, for now it’s the two of them.
“When you truly run a business, lean and mean like this, burnout is so real, and it can happen so fast,” Johnson said. “If people want this space to remain open and when they come here for it to feel good, you gotta be patient with me, because I’m also in recovery.”