Back in Episode 4, I promised to give you a summary of the bar scene at the Big 12 tournament from the perspective of an ISU fan, so here we go. Kelly's is the gold standard that the entire Big 12 experience should use as a comparison. Kelly's, located at the corner of Pennsylvania & Westport Road, actively recruits ISU fans, and ISU fans keep coming back in droves to return the love. During the two years the tournament was in Dallas, some ISU fans drove to Kansas City to watch the games from Kelly's. Now that's dedication.
I've always heard that the two weekends a year that "pay the bills" for the owners of Kelly's Westport Inn are the Big 12 basketball tournament and St. Patrick's Day. My wife was in Kelly's on Thursday afternoon, and she had a chance to talk to the owner. He thanked the entire ISU fan base for making his establishment a part of their Kansas City experience, and told her that he loves the fact that ISU fans treat Kelly's like it belongs to them. "The ISU crowd is great, we never have any problems with them; but the St. Patrick's crowd gets rowdy and can really tear things up." One thing I love about Kelly's is that the prices don't go up, even though they've got somewhat of a captive audience. The drink prices are mounted on a sign that's there year-round, and unlike certain tall, pink hotels in the Westport area, the prices don't go sky-high during tournament week. The staff is great, the beer is cold, and the pizza served in the back at Joe's is pretty darn good. The renovations to the men's room several years ago corrected the biggest problem I had with Kelly's – back in the mid-90s you couldn't wear good shoes into Kelly's and still consider them good when you went home on Sunday afternoon. Even though I still remember the pictures from the Water & Wastewater treatment class showing the results of third world waterborne diseases and parasites, I always tried to blot them out of my mind with the rationalization "Hey, all the alcohol that gets spilled on this floor SURELY kills any pathogens that could be dangerous."
The bar North of Kelly's on Pennsylvania is a country-western (as in "honey, we've got both kinds of music here……") dance bar with a mechanical bull in the Southwest corner away from the door. Yeah, I know: drunks and mechanical bulls. It's like monkeys and revolvers, or Chicago Cubs and hopes for the World Series – nothing good can come of this. We've had our share of injuries here. My favorite moment was in 2000, when a drunken ISU fraternity guy was in line in front of me to ride the bull. He was climbing the railing around the foam pit surrounding the bull when the operator, a guy in his late 20's wearing a KU hat, asked him "Excuse me, but can I get you to give me a "go Jayhawks" when you get up on the bull?" He responded with an expletive, and the operator turned to me, smiled, and said "Watch this." He turned the bull's controls up to about 90%, and gave the guy a quick jerk & reverse. Have you ever seen footage of a trebuchet? You know, one of those medieval siege engines that uses a falling counterweight and a rope sling to lob objects like the rotting corpses of farm animals or 200 pound stones over a castle wall? It's the closest thing in real life I could use to describe how this dude exited the top of the bull, but I guess the closest example would be when Wile E. Coyote goes over the cliff and hangs in midair until he can do the calculations of the force of gravity in his head. The operator and I bonded laughing at the frat boy, and he had mercy on me when I refused to say that wretched phrase on the next turn. I only flipped over seven or eight times before I landed head first in the foam scraps. This is a great bar if you catch it on the right night, but unfortunately, when our group went there Friday night, they had a punk band playing there, followed by a Latin Dance Experience. If you enjoy country music and longneck bottles served painfully cold from immersion in water troughs filled with ice, this is the place for you. The music is loud, but not too loud to overpower conversations among patrons.
The bar West of Kelly's used to be called "Stanford & Sons", but now it's "Johnny Dare's". I couldn't remember where I knew that name from, but my buddy from college who lives in Lee's Summit reminded me that Johnny Dare is a morning DJ in the Kansas City market. That figures, a bar with a revolving Harley Sportster over the entrance and waitresses dressed like Catholic School Girls just HAS to be associated with someone in radio. I'm not talking about "Alecia Silverstone in old Aerosmith videos" – type schoolgirl outfits: I'm talking about outfits that would be adopted by the Catholic Church once they elect Bob Guccione as Pope. There were the usual number of shaved heads and tattoos you expect to see in a biker bar, but those are becoming as mainstream as navel piercings and expensive custom choppers as fashion accessories for those who wannabe dangerous. If Steve & Bill ever decide to hire me as a cultural commentator for this site, I promise that my first column will be devoted to taking a verbal chainsaw to the part of our culture that wants to make the motorcycle into a cultural icon for the "faux loser" group that wants to dress up and pretend to be edgy on weekends, instead of treating bikes like the moving sculptures and monuments to mechanical innovation that they should be. Suffice to say that I wasn't overly impressed with the bar, but I think the waitresses will be able to moonlight as cheerleaders if the XFL ever makes a comeback – and they won't even have to purchase additional uniforms.
Right across the street from Kelly's at the SW corner of Pennsylvania & Westport is a bar that I can never remember the name of. My wife just gave me the map of Westport, and I see that it's called "Harry's Bar & Tables". It's a nice little place, although it gets little traffic during tournament time, which caters to those with refined tastes. The last time we hung out over here was back in '96 when ISU won the last Big 8 tournament. "Mr. X", one of our regulars who has fallen off lately, is a big muckety-muck with an international houseware products company, and he offered to put the tab on his corporate credit card (hence the alias). Of course, we reacted like a bunch of drunken slobs in their late 20's would when confronted with a corporate American Express. We proceeded to indulge in our favorite vices, but now with enough financial backing to see how the other half lives. I wanted to have a $20 glass of scotch and a $25 cigar, just to see how it compared to the "Sandy Scot" scotch I sampled once in High School and the Swisher Sweets that make up most of my relatively rare indulgence in cigars. One of the guys kept ordering "double Bombay gin & tonics", and he was the one who asked for a menu. As soon as we saw it, we knew what had to be done. ESCARGOT. Munching on snails and washing them down with premium scotch is something you should try at least once in your life. Needless to say, our group doesn't frequent that bar much anymore. We're more of a "lukewarm beer & pizza" crowd.
Buzzard Beach is a bar that is located about a half-block directly South of Kelly's and it is the bar you want to take a rookie "Big Twelver" into if they complain about the cleanliness of Kelly's. Buzzard Beach is self-described as "Westport's only five star dive", and they're right. The place is absolutely filthy, but it's a GOOD filthy, if you know what I mean. The clientele there is also "colorful" – piercings, tattoos and every type of alternative fashion you can imagine is on display here. I try not to stare when I come here, but hey, if you're gonna wear some of that stuff, you can't complain when people look at you. My advice: stop here for a beer or a shot when you're down in Kansas City, but try to use the bathroom somewhere else before you go there, and hold your water until you're ready to leave. Their selection of beer is truly wonderful; everything from Harp and Bass to cold cans of Hamms. I like it, but I'm up to date on my tetanus shots. Be forewarned and enjoy yourself.
Harpo's is the bar considered to be the home base for Missouri fans, probably because it's a chain that is also located in St. Louis and Columbia. It's located about a half block South of Kelly's on Pennsylvania, and it's a smaller bar compared to Kelly's, but it has a great patio out back. They serve food here, and the drinks are reasonably priced. Harpos is the scene of our group's greatest feat of stupidity - it's freakin' legendary. Back in the early ‘90s before I started coming down (I think it was '93, but it could have been '92), one of our regulars was sitting at the bar next to a group of young women who left their keys on the counter while making a trip to the powder room. He noticed that one of the keychains held a bottle of pepper spray, and being naturally curious, he gave the bottle a couple of squirts to see just how powerful this whole "pepper spray" thing is. Uh Oh. The spray didn't effect him too much, but he happened to be sitting right below an intake opening for the ventilation system, and the spray was dispersed throughout the bar, causing several of the more sensitive clientele to react violently. He managed to act innocent during the evacuation of the bar, and simply wandered off while the fire department were in the bar trying to figure out what happened. This is hilarious because it happened before 9/11: can you imagine what would happen if this occurred nowadays? Whoa.
Chili's isn't technically a bar, but we go there often enough that I should give them a shout-out here. It's about a block & a half West of Kelly's on Westport Road, and located close to The Quarterage hotel. We eat there at least once during each trip to the tournament, usually as a big sitdown meal before a night of debauchery. The food is good, if not unique, and the drinks are always cold.
The bars down by Kemper are cool, but we usually don't frequent them except on gamedays when ISU is playing. The Golden Ox has good food, and they always set up a tent between their restaurant and Kemper where they serve pulled pork & brisket sandwiches along with cold Boulevard beer. Connie's Genesee Inn is another place where the beer is cold and the food is very good. It's located right across the street from the Ox. Both of these bars are good, and if you're in the neighborhood a couple of hours before game time, you should give them a try. Unfortunately, with the new arena being built downtown, these places will probably have to move or die, unless Kemper finds a regular tenant that will bring them enough business to live on.
Tanner's is a bar located West of Municipal Auditorium downtown, and we've only been there once, back in 2000 when the women made their title run. The food was pretty good, and their specialty is shots of liquor where you can keep the shotglasses after you drink the hooch. We've got about two dozen of them sitting in a cabinet at home. If you're looking for a place to have a drink & something to eat downtown, it's pretty good.
Our group has a tradition going back to the mid-90's of making our noontime meal on Saturday an enormous batch of fried chicken from the Popeye's on Broadway Avenue, about 6 blocks from the Embassy suites. We usually spend anywhere from $40 to 70 dollars on chicken, biscuits and side orders and take them back to the hotel where we wash them down with cheap beer. We missed this one this year, but only because Saturday was Max's 40th birthday and we wanted to avoid the after-effects of a stomach full of greasy fried chicken & biscuits meeting a flood of cold beer.
My wife's brother-in-law is part of our group, and we met up with our wives for dinner on Friday night. We decided to get a bite at McCoy's public house just East of Kelly's across Pennsylvania. It's a brew pub that has pretty good food and very tasty beer. They had a raspberry beer that went down great with my fish at dinner, and everyone else had good things to say about their beers and food. This is the first year that we've been down here and been to McCoy's, I think it was a strip mall the last time the tourney was here.
Our group hit the racks hard Saturday morning. One of our missing men was my wife's bro-in-law, and his excuse was that he was sitting up with his sick wife, which I GUESS qualifies as a good excuse. The other guy wasn't sure where he was that night; he was just lying on the foldout couch when we woke up. He stayed in bed until about 4pm, and others from our group spent the entire morning in bed recovering from "self-inflicted" wounds. Most of our group went down to Kemper to sell their 4 remaining tickets for Saturday & Sunday's games, and they ended up in the Golden Ox's tent drinking beer & watching the games. I went to Harpo's for lunch with an old college buddy who lives in Lee's Summit. He brought along a fascinating piece of technology that may get me into trouble in the future. It's a universal remote control that's about the size of a car's alarm remote, and it can scroll through commonly used frequencies for television remotes. When you find the frequency for the TV in question, you can lock it in and mess with the mind of the person with the "real" remote for this TV. I can see it now: three seconds left in the national championship game, and the team that's down by one drives the lane and goes up for a……………………………nothing – the TV goes black. This could be trouble.
I think this will be the end of my Big 12 commentary, unless anyone specifically requests articles on particular topics ("rent-a-rant"?). It's been fun, and I hope to do this again. Good luck to the ISU men's & women's basketball teams, and good luck to the UNI Panthers too. They're not in our bracket, so we can afford to be gracious.