Sunday, March 06, 2005

5 Weeknights in the Bars of Kansas City

It has been a rugged week of bar-hopping. This week was my last full week at my current job, with the result that a lot of friends have been wanting to catch up.

First off was a visit to Boozefish with T (names redacted to shield privacy - since I'm not Phill Kline). Boozefish is a cozy spot on Westport Road but west of the main entertainment area. They have a great winelist, which T enjoyed, and I partook of a fresh-brewed ESB, from McCoy's Public House just up the road. Good beer, good wine, good atmosphere - a great choice for a happy-hour visit. They also deserve support because they joined with others to make the Second Annual Kansas City Wine Opener for Cystic Fibrosis a big success.

Tuesday night, I ventured to a classic dive with L - a former boss and wonderful reference who helped me get the new job. Gilhouly's (no link - what kind of classic dive would have a website? - but they are listed among the hotspots at is a dark slice of life. A crazy guy at the table behind me talked to the wall after the bar maid yelled at him to stop staring at her (she was definitely somebody to stare at, but manners are manners, even at a dive bar) - and his "ghetto cigarette" almost caught the table on fire after he finally left. The beer was great - Guinness and Fat Tire drafts for me, Rolling Rock longnecks for L, the popcorn was free, and the place was as far from pretense as possible. Gilhouly's is as real as it gets.

Wednesday night is too big for just one bar. I take a class on Wednesday evenings from 5:30 to 8:15, so D called and suggested that we meet M for drinks at around 4:00 - Grand Street Cafe's happy hour to celebrate the new job. The jump from Gilhouly's to Grand Street is a shock to the system that could kill a less resilient man, but I made the leap. M had the good house white wine for $3 a glass, D went for her signature vanilla vodka with diet cokes, and I went for the rich, malty Irish Ale from the local Boulevard Brewing Company. Great stuff, and the reduced-price appetizers (Smoked Chicken Flatbread and Red Chile Garlic Shrimp were our choices) were outstanding. Grand Street is a totally different environment than Gilhouly's - the crowd is far tonier, the atmosphere is light and beautiful, and there aren't any pool tables. But if you want glitz instead of grit, Grand Street is a great choice.

But, like I said, Wednesday night is too big for just one bar. After class, a bunch of us took over the big round table at The Peanut on Main. The Peanut is great for so many reasons, it's hard to know where to start. The chicken wings are the best I've ever had. Their BLTs are the best I've ever had. I've heard that their reubens are the best I'll ever have, but why eat a reuben when you've got those wings and those BLTs?? But food was not the point of the evening - though the table went through 18 of those wings without my help. This was an evening of getting to know classmates and a few of their friends with whom I only had nodding acquaintances. What's the point of taking classes if you're not allowed to act like an undergrad once in a while? Pitchers of Boulevard Pale Ale flowed (they were out of vanilla vodka, so D wound up drinking Zima XXX Orange - man, I'm glad I like beer!), as did the conversation. I didn't see the young woman behind me flash the guys at the bar, but the reaction of S was priceless.

The only sour note was Thursday evening, with J and W at "The Fox and Hound English Pub and Grille" in Overland Park. While the company was great, the Fox and Hound is proof that even a great beer list is insufficient to make a good bar. TVs mounted everywhere distract from conversation, the faux english atmosphere can't overcome the fact that you're stuck in a strip mall that was a soybean field a generation ago. The tables are covered with thick lacquer, and that's how the place feels. Even a quite good guitarist performing live music couldn't make this place feel comfortable and welcoming. The Fox and Hound serves as proof that a great bar is much more than a sum of its parts. Live music, good appetizers, and a great beer list should be enough to make a place fantastic. But, at the Fox and Hound, all those elements combine to make a flat, soulless experience - mostly because it tries so hard to be something it is not. Bars have personalities, and the Fox and Hound has the personality of a pathetic poser who wants desperately to make you like him.

Finally, Friday evening was a going-away party at the 75th Street Brewery. Great beer (their Dortmunder is wonderful!), lots of friends, and good food afterward with Robin, R and J. After a weeklong odyssey of Kansas City bars, it was great to come home, where they know my name and have a large mug waiting for me.


Blogger Brian Stayton said...

Oh man you're killing me.

(But I did play golf in 70 degree weather Saturday morning, and shot an 89 -- which sucks, condsidering the 37 putts in the round).


3/06/2005 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Ryan, after that list of bars and drinks over five weeknights, I've made you a reservation at the Betty Ford Center. ;) Sounds like you might need it!!


3/10/2005 2:02 PM  
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