Carrie Rengers

Longtime Cotillion owners sell the venue to two well-known people in the industry

Alex Thomas, left, and Adam Hartke, two of the partners in Barleycorn’s, have purchased the Cotillion from longtime owners Richard and Catherine Leslie.
Alex Thomas, left, and Adam Hartke, two of the partners in Barleycorn’s, have purchased the Cotillion from longtime owners Richard and Catherine Leslie. The Wichita Eagle

A piece of Wichita history sold late Wednesday.

Longtime Cotillion owners Richard and Catherine Leslie sold the business and its 28,000-square-foot building at Kellogg and 111th Street to Alex Thomas and Adam Hartke, two of the owners of Barleycorn’s downtown, and some partners.

“They’re going to do great things with it,” Richard Leslie says. “They both have strong music backgrounds. They know the industry. They have a real good feel for the Wichita market in particular.”

As he, Thomas and Hartke occasionally discussed shows over the past three years, they also talked about the purchase.

“Adam and I both have a deep love and respect for the Cotillion,” Thomas says.

The venue, which has a 2,000-person capacity, debuted in December 1960 with an orchestra performance.

The round building has a maple floor and a 30-foot ceiling at its center.

“It’s the old-school ballroom,” Thomas says.

“It’s a jewel,” Hartke says. “I’m a huge fan of mid-century design. It’s just kind of a time capsule of that.”

In addition to being an entertainment venue, the Cotillion also is available to rent for events.

Initially, Hartke and Thomas don’t plan changes.

“Richard and Catherine did an amazing job,” Hartke says. “We’re going to kind of keep status quo.”

Richard Leslie says the Cotillion has about 115 shows a year.

“Anything that works that people come to we’ll bring in,” Hartke says.

He says he and Thomas may bring some acts that have been skipping Wichita.

“Obviously, we may have a slightly different approach to some shows.”

Richard Leslie says he expects the two to make changes eventually.

“It’s time for them to put their fingerprints on the place,” he says. “I think they can make some changes for the better.”

His father, the late Richard M. Leslie, was one of the original 21 investors in the Cotillion and began running it in the mid-1960s.

Leslie, who worked at the venue as a teenager, started helping his father manage it in 1977.

“I’ve been very fortunate to do something that I really enjoy doing for 40 years,” he says.

Thomas says the Cotillion is a one-of-a-kind beautiful space with a rich history.

“To be a part of that (and) carry that into the future is distinctly attractive to me.”

Thomas, who also owns Kirby’s Beer Store and Lucky’s Everyday in addition to being a Barleycorn’s partner, has always wanted a larger venue. He says he never thought about the Cotillion because he didn’t think it would be possible.

“It was one of the first big venues that I played,” Thomas says.

That was when he was in Ophil. Today he’s in Monterey Jack.

“Music has always been a centerpiece of what I do,” Thomas says. “I particularly have a knack for buying loved venues (and) bars and preserving and improving them.”

Hartke was 15 in 1995 when he saw his first Cotillion show – the Foo Fighters.

“It’s a great room to see a show in,” he says.

He and Thomas both extol the venue’s sight lines and acoustics.

Hartke says he told Leslie of his love for the Cotillion, which his grandparents worked at in the ’60s. His grandmother worked in the box office and his grandfather did lighting and other technical work.

Hartke told his grandmother he was buying the Cotillion.

“She thought I was crazy,” he says, laughing. “No, she’s thrilled.”

Leslie says the Cotillion stage has a band shell that’s one of the venue’s unique characteristics.

“It’s kind of a miniature Hollywood Bowl.”

Thomas says it’s interesting to look at old photos of the building.

“You realize that this was a facility that was like no other in Wichita when it was built,” he says. “It was regal.”

Thomas and Hartke are now looking to the future of the Cotillion.

“We found the right group of folks to make it work,” Hartke says.

He says the essence of the place won’t change.

“It’s a just a cool little venue.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers