A Taste of Nostalgia: Emily Kate Johnson’s homage to bar craft and sobriety

Photo Wall Corner

Nostalgia Room.

The Nostalgia Room is a lounge born from a woven community and family. A love letter to those with us, entranced in a homely atmosphere and conversation, and those we remember sitting idly in our countertop picture frames or loveseat mementos. Owner Emily Kate Johnson ties these themes together through years of industry experience and healed trauma.

Johnson found her passion for bartending at a very young age. She began waiting tables at 17 years old and found herself going out to drink with friends after her shifts. Johnson had gotten a taste for the industry way before she should’ve. But it was this introduction to serving and bar-hopping that eventually led to her love of making cocktails.

“Making drinks is a love language for me,” she says. “If you come to my house, that’s how I show love. It’s how I host. I love standing at the bar and making people laugh, and holding space for them to cry. It’s just always been part of who I am.”

She faked her age to get into bars until the lie had become apparent. She came to accept that she wasn’t ready for these spaces. But by that time, Johnson had already grown up in bars. She wanted back in and waited till she was of age to rejoin from the other side of the ice well. 

Grateful to re-enter the culture, finally bartending at 21, Johnson’s choice had come at a price that she had not anticipated. She continued her profession, drinking habitually, unable to break the pattern, surrounded by a society that reinforced her relationship with alcohol. 

Years of abuse boiled to a point where she was confronted with giving up her passion for her health. “I think that everybody’s recovery story is incredibly unique and what works for them is also really unique,” says Johnson. “I was about to lose everything in my life. And I was like, ‘Okay, you’re either gonna die this way, or you’re gonna live.’ And I just made a choice.”


Courtesy Nostalgia Room

After a decade-long battle with alcohol, Johnson made the choice to quit drinking and to continue doing the work she loves by reassessing what it means to serve in the industry.

With two years of sobriety under her belt, Emily Kate Johnson opened the Nostalgia Room, a fully temperate bar and lounge handmade and tailored to any guest’s watering hole needs. Johnson brings an intentional assessment of care learned from her time in the service industry, as well as a modicum of moderation and reimagination gained from her newfound sober-minded clarity. The snug, congenial feel of the bar and its soulfully crafted menu stand as a testament to the artistry in mixology without the confines of its alcohol content. 

The stunning menu of delicacies ranges from the sweet fragrances of chamomile calendula and lemon in the Corner Post cocktail to the savory finish of a green tea vermouth and plum vinegar wash mixed in the Literal Interpretation. 

Within each item lies the magic of shifting the focus from consumption to a bar’s natural tendency to glue a community together.

The bar is littered with family souvenirs, collected lovingly over time to share with its guests. One such piece is tucked to the side of the bar: a rose-vase painting standing in the corner of a room. The painting depicts a scene that Johnson grew up with—one of her grandfather Robert “Bob” Johnson’s regularly gifted red roses to his wife, Verla. “She stayed through the bad times, so she’s entitled to the good times,” Bob would say. He also struggled with alcohol addiction. With a new baby on the way, he was confronted with a decision. In 1961, Bob locked himself in a bathroom and emerged hours later, choosing to find his sobriety—a wake-up call similar to Emily Kate Johnson’s journey. 


Courtesy Nostalgia Room

The bar sits in a cozy nook above Amy Pope’s Repetition Coffee and spills into the main room of the warehouse. It was friends like Pope and Tyler Lau who were able to empower Johnson through the bar’s concept and execution. After a decade in the making, Johnson was able to form her vision of owning the first fully temperate bar in Lawrence, Kansas.

Nostalgia Room is designed as a resort for the sober and sober-curious. Careful scrutiny is implemented with each concoction, dedicated to the absence of mind altering substances. This way, all guests are welcome to enjoy a night out without the anxiety or consequences of intoxicative ingredients. The omission of alcohol within a social-drinking atmosphere sanctifies the “Teetotaler” experience. 

The term “Teetotaler” refers to temperance advocates who were Totally opposed to alcohol, with “a capital T.” Lasting effects of prohibition-era laws have left many Kansans with a bad taste, rebelling against the notion of sobriety like a defiant adolescent. Its quakes cause a rippling social divide between those who drink and those who don’t, even today.

The Nostalgia Room puts this philosophy into practice even beyond the lounge. Johnson actively promotes sober alternative accessibility by providing non-alcoholic alternatives for bars like Saltwell Farm Kitchen and Juniper Hill Farm and Table.

Johnson poses the question: what happens when a sober-empowered populace gets together?  The result is intentionality that facilitates meaningful interaction and imbibing of thoughts, ideas, and drinks alike. 

You can follow Emily Kate Johnson’s story on the bar’s Instagram (@nostalgia__room) for more updates on temperate experiences.

Categories: Food & Drink