The Bullpen: Baldwin City’s upcoming new bar


Lauren Alley

The old Baldwin City police station is being transformed into a local sports bar for the residents and students to enjoy.

After The Salt Mine closed in 2020, Baldwin City was left without any bars and many community members and Baker students were left disappointed. Baldwin resident and business owner Niki Manbeck saw this as an opportunity to give the town what it wanted: a new bar. In early October, a sports bar named The Bullpen will open for business on Eighth Street where the old police station was located.

Since the closing of  The Salt Mine, The Nook and El Patron became the most popular spots in Baldwin to grab a drink. Manbeck originally launched The Nook as a spot for book clubs to meet, students to work on homework and professors to gather after class. With the lack of options in town though, it quickly took on a different role.

The Bullpen will be more of a traditional bar but with a unique atmosphere, according to Manbeck. She said that she wants everyone to feel welcome to hang out and enjoy the space.

“We’re going to be one of a kind,” Manbeck said. “Because I don’t plan on running this place like other college bars, I want this to be a place for everyone.”

Her love of baseball sparked the idea for the name and the menu. From unique ballpark-inspired hot dogs to nachos and jumbo pretzels, the menu will be reminiscent of a baseball stadium experience.

In addition to the food and drinks, Manbeck said that The Bullpen will have numerous large TVs, a large dancefloor, pool tables and the old bar from The Salt Mine in an attempt to keep a piece of Baldwin history alive. The space can hold up to 77 people and will have outdoor patio seating.

Current Nook employee and future Bullpen manager Catherine Gerstner said that she is excited for a new life to be given to the vacant building. She hopes it will provide Baldwin a space to have a beer and watch sports while mellowing out The Nook.

“I think it’s going to be a really, really nice fit for the community,” Gerstner said. “And Niki, she’s a tremendous figurehead here in the community. She just keeps opening new businesses and has this mantra ‘I’m not going to stop until I don’t have to go to Lawrence for anything.’”

The soft-open for The Bullpen is set for Oct. 9, which will feature designated college nights and police department nights to test the menus. After the Maple Leaf Festival on Oct. 16-17, the bar will open with regular hours at full capacity.

Junior Turner Mattingly recently turned 21 and is excited to test out the new bar. She hopes that it becomes the go-to spot to hang out with friends on the weekends since Baldwin currently lacks a space like this.

“I think that sports bars like that are good for a community aspect,” Mattingly said. “It kind of brings everyone together.”

In hopes of opening a more traditional bar in a college town, Manbeck is dedicated to ensuring a safe environment for the college students who do choose to drink, emphasizing the fact that it will not be a rowdy atmosphere. She is also looking to hire of-age Baker students for the evening and weekend shifts.

“I have a heart for this town,” Manbeck said. “I want to give the town what they’re asking for, so I’m not afraid to change up my business plan a little bit; I’m not afraid to change up my alcohols a little bit. I want to listen to what the community wants, and that’s why I started it: the community needed it.”