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In October 2010, 24-year-old Brian Euston was fatally punched outside the club after leaving Kelly's. Until Euston's death, most of the fights and trouble at America's Pub had been confined to its own patrons. But it's front-page stuff in Kansas City when a young, white male is killed in a major entertainment district by a black man.
Prior to that event, cries that Westport was unsafe largely came from white people in the suburbs who read something in the police blotter or saw some thuggish-looking people the last time they were at Kelly's after a Big 12 game. Nobody takes those people seriously — they're afraid of everything. But the death of Euston, a Missouri kid raised in the Brookside area, shook a different, less fearful community and gave considerably more credence to the idea that Westport had indeed become a dangerous place to party.
Westport can't afford such bad publicity these days. Once the only game in town, it now competes with the Power & Light District, a shinier, newer destination that's municipally subsidized to the tune of $10 million to $15 million a year.
"I have basic faith in Westport, but without real attention from the city and people who can affect public policy, without that loving attention, Westport will fall further behind," Wilder says. "Power & Light essentially has an entertainment monopoly. It's not fair. It's not right."
The city's liquor bureaucracy is fresh on Wilder's mind as America's Pub struggles to relocate. P&L isn't an option. ("Ridiculous, one-sided leases — a client would have to fire me before signing a Cordish lease," Wilder says.) And it's just about impossible to secure a 3 a.m. liquor license outside the P&L District unless you inherit one at an existing location.
Which is what may happen at 510 Westport Road, the now-former address of America's Pub. "We've had two or three people look at it," says Doug Krtek, property manager of the space. "Some nightlife, some retail and office. At this point, nothing's official."
Wilder is less guarded on the topic. "Another entity is in discussions with Manor Square to come in and be grandfathered in, and we'd pass our 3 a.m. license at the site on to them," he says.
And then a new day will dawn in Westport, or so seems to be the thinking. The former Chili's, across from America's Pub to the west, vacant for more than two years, will look more attractive to tenants, now that there won't be men in long white T-shirts and women in skintight garb loitering across the way. Things will start to snowball. People will start to feel safe in the area again, and bigger crowds will start trickling back.
It's certainly something to root for. But in the event that this doesn't happen, it will be interesting to see which direction the fingers point with America's Pub out of the picture.
"It's hard to get into other people's heads. I really don't know what Manor Square is thinking," Wilder says. "We wish them well. It's hard to understand a landlord walking away from a stable, well-paying tenant. But clearly they have other plans."