After making the journey in the trusty Night Rangermobile, with its driver's-side window that won't roll up completely and all that frigid air infiltrating the car, we were more than ready for the illusion of tropicality. But to our dismay, upon approaching the bar at 9:45 p.m., we encountered eight very cold people in line for the nightly 10 p.m. floor show.
Fortunately, we made it inside fairly quickly and had enough time to order drinks. We got the Hurricane, which the Sandbar makes with Pat O'Brien's Hurricane Mix and rum; and the bar's signature drink, the Bahama Mama, made with orange and pineapple juices, "coconut stuff and other Caribbean things," said Manager David Johanning. Research Assistant Doug thought the Hurricane tasted like SweetTarts, but he was a fan of the sweeter and fruitier Bahama Mama. Served in pint glasses, these were the epitome of girl drinks, festooned with paper umbrellas, Mardi Gras beads, disco-ball keychains and a small rubber shark. As we carefully drank around the accoutrements, a fog machine billowed, obscuring the view but heightening the sense of anticipation.
Then it started. A woman wearing a sequined mermaid costume jumped on the bar and read a short poem. The TVs cut to breaking developments from "News Channel 69," which warned of a hurricane approaching Lawrence. Making cameos were Johanning (a pop-up bubble volunteered that he was also the KU basketball team captain in 1992) and former Mayor Marty Kennedy. A siren flashed red, the hurricane machine was turned on, and thunder sounds permeated the bar as flecks of foam and stacks of bar napkins flew around us. After about four minutes, the hurricane died down, and Johanning and other patrons stood on the bar and danced to a bastardized rendition of "Copacabana" (At the Sandbar/Sandbar in Lawrence ... ). It was awesomely cheesy and brilliant, especially after a few treasure-laden drinks. Even better was watching the inordinately friendly crowd (which was slightly older, but still a good mix of ages) dance for the rest of the night on every available flat surface.
According to Johanning, the floor show has been going on for about a year, and the bar has just debuted a new video featuring even more Lawrence celebs. As if that weren't enough, there's a new baby shark in the corner fish tank, so feedings ("We feed it shrimp from Dillons," Johanning says) take place every night at 6. Plus, all of the festivities are captured on webcam at thesandbar.com.
"I like gimmicks," the Research Assistant said, happily giving his stamp of approval to the bar. We couldn't agree more. Though there was no sultry air or sea breeze, we could almost forget that we were in Kansas.