I'd been here two weeks. The closure of Niener's Bar and Grill meant fuck-all to me. I didn't lose my virginity on the pool table. I never danced on the bar. I could barely find the place after L.I.E. singer Tim Lyons tipped me off to the bar's Last Stand. I imagined the evening would be one final rip-off-your-clothes-drench-yourself-in-Jagermeister-and-rub-feces-on-the-wall kind of farewell, with three bands sending the seminal rock club boldly into that good night.
It was to be the last feather in the cap of a venue that was the hard rock scene for years. I looked forward to a good hurrah. One night only. Open the bar, crank the amps, smash the windows, dance naked, wrestle a badger in a kiddy pool filled with habañero sauce until the police come. Then burn the place down. Niener's did, after all, bill itself as KC's "True Home of Rock."
I blew past Niener's the first time without seeing it. And the second. And the third. Somehow, I found myself at the gates of the Sisters of St. Francis convent. I passed Church's Chicken several times. Then I circled the Community of Christ World Temple, a spiraling building that looks vaguely like a Dairy Queen soft-serve with an erection.
Downtown Independence was dead. The only discernible activity was near Main Street, where four police cars had convened at skewed angles in the middle of the street. A handcuffed man was sprawled across one cruiser while the platoon surveyed the situation.
I was close. I crept up the street like my grandma trying to park a 747 at Thriftway. Finally, I found it. I also found out why it had been so difficult to find. It was closed. The parking lot was empty. The bar was dark. Nobody was there. The curtain had already fallen.
The strip mall Niener's had called home was likewise deserted. The business next door had a "For Lease" sign in its window. As did another. And another. Apparently, the only thriving establishments were Kelly's TV/VCR Repair and Planned Parenthood.
Location, location, location.
Despite its locale, Niener's was a second home to many who are now struggling to cope with its closure. In cyberspace, a message-board poster calling himself The Evil One called for musicians to bring their plight to public consciousness. The idea -- stay with me here -- was to organize a ceremonial bonfire, around which musicians would have their excess locks lopped off with "a corn knife or a broadnax or something." The event would be taped and peddled to the media.
The shorn hair would be placed into bags labeled "Niener's Tragedy," and the club's logo would be affixed to the inside of wigs made from the hair and given to charity. "Maybe The Today Show could pick it up or something," wrote The Evil One. "Do you know anybody with a broadnax...?"
Huh? Put down the pipe. Just say no. Crack is wack.
Starvation in war-torn Sierra Leone. Preteen prostitutes in Thailand. A toddler falling into a wood chipper. The cable going out during I Love the '80s. Those are tragedies. This is not.
Clubs come and go. Some are memorable; many are not. The memorable ones are filthy, obnoxious, beautiful places. But others take their places. Niener's was memorable. But now the lights were out. The doors closed. The mailbox crammed beyond capacity. A postcard from Bank of America peeked out from the overflow. "Looking for a better business checking account?" it asked.
Such is the life and death of a rock club.
I could imagine what Saturday night was like with beer flowing, smoke drifting and music roaring. But the taps were idle. The bar stools were vacant. The stage was dormant. There was only one light visible from the doorway: the red glow of the "Exit" sign.