Nestled just outside of Old Town proper in a photography-studio-turned-nightclub, Steel Bar has become a mecca for all things weird and wonderful.
The crowd at Steel on a typical weekend night is far from the crowd at most Old Town bars: tattooed flame-twirlers, hula-hoopers, electronic dance music DJs wearing gas masks, and hair of all colors – pink, blue and teal, just to name a few.
That diverse crowd has made the unique bar thrive in the roughly three months it’s been open at 221 N. St. Francis.
“We kind of wanted to stay away from the same scene that everybody’s doing downtown,” said Levi King, director of marketing and promotions at King Productions, which supports Steel. “You go to any bar downtown, you’ve got the same DJs, the same concepts going on everywhere, except one’s been here for 20 years and one’s been here for 10.”
Through a strong Facebook presence (including Facebook Live videos documenting its crowds on weekend nights) and King’s contacts in the Wichita nightlife scene, Steel Bar has become one of the most talked-about bars in town this summer.
‘All different walks of life’
The owner of Steel Bar, Andrea Weidner, bought the old iPortrait Studio building at 221 N. St. Francis in 2016 and set about to renovate it as a bar and restaurant.
The bar officially opened on May 27, and while the restaurant has not opened yet, the bar has grown in the roughly three months it’s been in business.
One reason for Steel’s success, according to King: It caters to a unique crowd that, prior to Steel’s opening, had few places to go and party.
“The EDM (electronic dance music) crowd has really taken ahold of us and just loved us. ... That’s honestly where our success has come,” King said. “The people that have come here have enjoyed themselves, and they’ve really taken ahold of us and welcomed us to Wichita.”
Weidner and King made a sort of promise to the EDM community (specifically the “ICT Rave Crew,” a group of roughly 300 EDM enthusiasts and ravers in the Wichita area) when Steel opened: The bar would provide a safe place for them to come and enjoy electronic music in a judgment-free zone.
“We do have people from all different walks of life that come in, so it’s very interesting to see the crowds that come in,” Weidner said. “It’s not just like everybody looks the same ... you’ve got the younger kids, you’ve got people our age – in their 30s – and we’ve had older.”
No fights have broken out at the bar since it’s opened – “everybody’s so loving in that crowd,” King said.
Steel prides itself on welcoming those from different walks of life, King said, as “diversity is a big key.”
We wanted everybody to kind of feel like they could belong here.
Andrea Weidner, owner of Steel Bar
“We didn’t want to just be like the rock band bar or the top 40 bar,” Weidner said. “We wanted everybody to kind of feel like they could belong here.”
The people you’ll find
One of the main draws to Steel is its patio. The bar is the only one in town that has declared a focus on EDM music.
EDM, or electronic dance music, is a term that references electronic music by artists such as Skrillex, deadmau5 or Moby.
Lindsey Dunlap, who formed the ICT Rave Crew, said Steel has a “much more inviting vibe” than other bars in Old Town.
“The reason we like going there is because in almost every other big city, there’s at least one EDM bar,” Dunlap said in a text to The Eagle. “So it was nice when Levi was cool with taking a chance and leaning more towards EDM. ... It’s like a home for all the ravers in town that feel like they have nowhere to hang out.”
The philosophy of Steel Bar jibes well with those of the Burning Man festival, so it only makes sense that you’ll often see burners at the bar.
“Burners,” in general, are people who adhere to the “10 principles” of Burning Man, which include such things as “radical inclusion,” “radical self-expression,” civic responsibility and “radical self-reliance.” Burners go out to celebrate “art and nature, and at the end we burn an effigy in celebration of life,” said Raven Trosper, a Wichita burner. You can see Trosper fire-spinning both on Steel’s patio and rooftop regularly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
The Wichita Burners are about a few hundred strong, she said.
Trosper, 22, said fire-spinning is a unique, if not slightly dangerous, pastime.
“It is an amazing hobby to have,” Trosper said. “It keeps me in my community of friends, I get to learn new tricks, new talents, and it’s really nice to put on a show for people who appreciate it. You do get burnt, you do have your fails, your mistrials, but it’s just a community that knows you how to lift you up. They never put you down for it.”
The bar is currently working on erecting a 4-foot-tall platform for fire-spinners to perform on, to give them a better performance space and to separate them and bar patrons.
Alex Martinez, who DJs under the name Karetaker, is the resident DJ for the Wichita Burners, so he often DJs at Steel and at the Burners’ Final Friday performances in Old Town Square.
Since he started DJing at Steel in early June, he said crowds have grown from about 30 per night to about 180 to 200.
There’s actually a really big hunger for (EDM) in Wichita, but a lot of the bars adhere to old formulas.
Alex Martinez, aka Karetaker, regular DJ at Steel Bar
“There’s actually a really big hunger for (EDM) in Wichita, but a lot of the bars adhere to old formulas,” the 29-year-old Martinez said. “EDM hit the scene 10 years ago and now all those kids are grown up, and they want a place to go to hear it and no one’s doing it. I think that’s why Steel took off so quick. There’s no other EDM in Wichita.”
What’s next for Steel
Weidner, Steel’s owner, said she is currently working on introducing more food options, with the goal of eventually opening as a lunch spot.
She hopes to install a kitchen in the building within the next few months. Currently Steel serves “whatever I can put in the cooler,” she said with a laugh.
She plans to add paninis and hot sandwiches to the menu.
“I don’t really want to do the fried foods thing,” she said.
On most weekend nights, Steel draws between 100 and 150 people, King said, and those numbers are growing.
For a while, King worked hard to promote Steel and book events at the bar. In the past month, however, he hasn’t had to work nearly as hard: people are calling him because they want to be at Steel, he said.
“I’m booked up for, like, three months,” he said. “I’m not having to make very many phone calls anymore because (Steel) has grown so much in the past month.”
Where: 221 N. St. Francis
What: Eclectic bar that plays host to electronic dance music aficionados and Burning Man adherents.
Hours: 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily