Dining With Denise Neil

Old photos show Wichita’s fascinating restaurant scene from 1885 forward

Polar Bear Frozen Custard operated in 1938 on the southwest corner of Central and Oliver, where there is now a strip center that most recently held Three Pea Consignment Gallery. According to the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, the shop sat diagonally on the corner, and its designers used mortar to mold the artificial snow and ice.
Polar Bear Frozen Custard operated in 1938 on the southwest corner of Central and Oliver, where there is now a strip center that most recently held Three Pea Consignment Gallery. According to the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, the shop sat diagonally on the corner, and its designers used mortar to mold the artificial snow and ice.

The Wichita dining scene in 2016 is pretty vibrant, filled with hundreds of restaurants serving steak and tacos and pho and hummus.

But Wichita’s dining scene has a past – a long past – and it’s pretty interesting, too.

While doing research for a story I wrote last week about the popularity online of historic photos of Wichita, I stumbled across several in the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum’s collection that captured images of restaurants that operated before many of us were around.

The dining room of the Occidental Hotel in 1887, filled with white tablecloth-covered tables and elegant wood chairs. A 1926-era lunch counter in Delano, fitted with spindled stools and bow-tie-wearing employees. A neon-lit diner from the 1950s that specialized in loose meat sandwiches on oversized buns. Dairy Queen employees from the 1970s in neat uniforms, smiling near the giant soft-serve machine.

I’ve included 15 fascinating old restaurant photos with this story.

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