Carrie Rengers

Iconic Wichita restaurant gets major overhaul

The entrance of the Scotch & Sirloin now features eye-catching curves on the ceiling and a glass chandelier.
The entrance of the Scotch & Sirloin now features eye-catching curves on the ceiling and a glass chandelier. The Wichita Eagle

Restaurateur Mike Issa says customers gave some helpful advice when he bought the Scotch & Sirloin in 2014.

“Don’t mess it up.”

Little by little, though, Issa has braved some alterations in the three years since. He’s made changes big and small, including a major renovation he’s finishing now.

The Scotch, which today is on Kellogg between Oliver and Edgemoor, opened on Nov. 6, 1968, back when a KC strip was $6 and a filet mignon was $4.50.

Through the years, it’s been known for a dining atmosphere so dark it could be hard to read a menu. It’s been the place where good ol’ boys met and did business at lunch and dinner with lots of cocktails in between. And, to be frank, it’s a place that’s had some attention for its waitresses and what they wore, or sometimes didn’t.

Issa has changed much of that while keeping the flavor of the restaurant.

“We have the old, but we modernized the restaurant.”

In describing the new look, Issa, who is known for his passion for wine service, says LK Architecture took inspiration from his signature Riedel curved decanters that he uses with each wine pour.

“The first thing, if you notice, is the entrance,” he says.

The hostess stand is curved, and the foyer’s ceiling design features two curves in the shape of the letter “S” for Scotch & Sirloin.

The ceiling of the main dining room undulates with curves, and the ceiling of the bar is curved to resemble the inside of a wine barrel.

A wine room just off the lobby, featuring 1,100 bottles, was one of the first additions Issa made.

He’s most proud, though, of the wall of wine that now separates the main dining room from the bar.

“The LK architects are genius,” Issa says of how they created a suspension system that makes it look as if wine bottles are floating in the air.

He says Wichita’s Hopper’s Glass specially designed a glass encasement for the suspension.

“Wherever you sit anyplace in the restaurant, you have to see wine,” Issa says.

That’s why he installed windows with mirrors in the lounge off the bar to reflect the wine near the entrance.

The bar has been rebuilt with new granite, a stainless steel mosaic and new bar stools, though Issa kept the dining room’s chairs and booths and simply recovered them with new leather.

“We kept the same old look of the Scotch,” he says, “to keep that legacy back here.”

Paramount Construction did the work during overnight shifts.

“You cannot close one day of the Scotch, because you cannot change people’s habit,” Issa says. “The Scotch has a lot of loyalty.”

For the main dining room, he commissioned aviation photographer Paul Bowen to shoot black-and-white photos of iconic Wichita scenes, such as the city’s original airport, which is now the Kansas Aviation Museum. There are other styles of photos featuring signature Wichita airplanes for an aviation-themed private dining area.

“Everything we felt we need to have local,” Issa says.

That extends to the Cargill beef he serves. Issa has added a lot of lighter fare to the menu and a children’s menu, too, and continues to make changes in an effort to please more palates.

“Our goal is to cater to everybody in the city.”

He says you can see that’s succeeding just by looking around the restaurant these days.

You’ll be able to see the new diners, too, because Issa has turned up the lights, though not all the way.

Some menu items have not changed, such as the baked potato soup that’s a standard on Thursdays.

Since it’s the Scotch, Issa says he now offers close to 100 single malt Scotches.

Carpeting was one of the first things Issa replaced when he took over. Even though it didn’t need replaced with the latest remodeling, Issa did it anyway.

“We went to a completely higher level,” he says. “I always say, ‘If you’re going to do something, come over the top, or don’t do it.’ ”

Issa won’t say how much he spent on the changes.

“You don’t look at the money. You look at value.”

LK Architecture president Dennis Smith says he was attracted to the project for the “opportunity to do something to an iconic club like that as well as for a friend.”

He says it’s every architect’s dream “to put a change on a piece of history” and “to have an impact on a lot of people.”

Issa says he won’t make substantial changes to the building in the future.

Like a fine painting that wouldn’t be replaced, Issa says, the remodeled Scotch “is truly an artwork.”

Along with some minor additions and changes, this year Issa will add a patio off of one of the Scotch’s banquet rooms.

Stan Andeel, whose late brother, Lindy, was the longtime majority owner of the Scotch, says he can’t say how his brother would have reacted to the changes but that he likely would have approved.

“My brother was very much into making improvements and renovations every few years,” Andeel says.

Andeel is a lawyer and oversaw the Scotch’s sale to Issa. He says Issa and his restaurateur brothers, Ty and Ali, are close friends of his and were of Lindy Andeel’s as well.

“The sale of the Scotch to the Issas was one of the easiest transitions I’ve ever been involved in.”

Andeel says he’s impressed with the remodeling.

“It’s a very classy look.”

Mike Issa says it was important to make upgrades while keeping the tradition of the Scotch.

“You know, Scotch has a history,” he says. “We kept it the same, but we made it better.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers