We weren't sure about a Plaza destination until we saw the soccer guys.

Chain Reaction 

We weren't sure about a Plaza destination until we saw the soccer guys.

On a recent Saturday evening, we were puttering around Night Ranger Headquarters when we got a drunk-dial voice mail from a friend.

"Jayyyy Ceeeee!" he bellowed. "It's, like, 6:47, and I've been drunk for approximately three hours and riding around in cabs in Chicago. Why the fuck are you in Kansas City?" Click.

Well. He might have been in the big city doing city-slicker stuff, but, hey. We were going to what we heard was the hottest bar in Kansas City later that night. Yep, that's right -- we went to Brio Tuscan Grille.

We're not really into the majority of Plaza bars -- they're usually filled with pretentious types who won't hesitate to elbow you in the kidney as they fight their way to the bar. So why did we even bother going? Well, we had heard that Brio's upstairs bar was packed on weekends, and the heckle potential was high. We called Research Assistants Cece and Alfredo, and on a balmy Saturday night after 10, made our grand entrance.

The place -- which we like to call "Cheesecake Factory West" -- was indeed crammed with the stereotypical Plaza bargoer -- the tube-top brigade and the spiky-haired, striped-shirt-wearing, gay/not-gay guys mingled with the toupeed and the Botoxed. The décor was kind of cool, if you like drinking in a Pottery Barn (and who doesn't?).

The Night Ranger managed to find a niche at the bar in a rare, clear area between the bar stools where one could stand and order drinks. (OK, because of our history-dork background, we dubbed this space the Polish Corridor -- after the strip of land that gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea after World War I.) Uh, anyway, because the bartenders were absolutely harried (though polite and attentive), we decided not to bother with any of Brio's froufrou drinks and ordered Jack and Cokes. Doubles. We needed some stiff drinks to get through the night. Chris, 34, and Deron, 40, were sitting on the stools next to the Polish Corridor. We asked if they realized they were in prime pickup territory, where they could chat up all the women who came to the bar to get drinks. Because of the height differential, they could also look down some cleavage as well.

"I hadn't noticed," Deron said. Hmm. We didn't quite believe him, but he seemed earnest enough.

"I will say this," Chris interjected. "Kansas City loves its chain restaurants." A little too much, we thought.

We moved on to chatting up Brian, 37, who was wearing a maroon long-sleeved shirt that laced up at the neck.

"Hey, did you get your shirt from International Male?" we asked. He did not; he purchased his about three years ago at Kenneth Cole. (For those of you unfamiliar with International Male, all we have to say is: Best. Catalog. Ever. It's your source for puffy, pirate and poet shirts. In fact, from the IM Web site, you can have the catalog sent to your friends -- or, if you're evil and bored, you can send it to the workplaces of various "local celebs" around town, such as Fox 4's Steve Shaw. Uh, not that we've done this or anything.)

Anyway, we weren't done with the shirt yet. "Did you know there's someone else wearing your shirt in white?" we asked.

"That's my friend Mark," Brian said. "It's not the same shirt by any means. His is terry cloth." We felt up both shirts but couldn't really tell a difference. We also gently heckled him for matching with his friend, which he took good-naturedly. "It's a pirate shirt. We watched Seinfeld at the same time."

We moved on and asked him about the pickup possibilities at Brio. "There are no good fucking pickup places in KC, period," he replied. He later told us he's been in a relationship for a year, so we asked if he was going to propose. Sadly, the answer was no.

"I've been down that road a couple of times and couldn't pull the trigger," he said. "I'm struggling with commitment ... kind of like when I find a shirt like this one, I'll go back two times and buy it."

Just then, a woman walked by, so Brian stopped her.

"Let me tell you something," the unidentified woman said. "He's very cheap. He wouldn't buy a drink." But Brian protested that he wasn't going to buy a round for her and her friends.

"He only paid $4 for a beer, and that's all it cost," the woman added. "He didn't leave a tip."

"No, I tip every time," Brian protested. "Are you crazy nuts?" Though their banter was kind of playful, we also detected some tension -- the kind that could result in pirate-shirt neck strings being pulled or bed -- or both.

"Look at you. You shouldn't be that way," the woman scolded. Then she walked off.

Apparently, other connections were being made that night, though in a less contentious manner. Speaking of international males, we ran into Italians Francesco, 25, and Nino, 24; Miki from Yugoslavia, 31; and Dino, 28, from Macedonia. They were clad in suits and had accessorized themselves with new friends Irma, 21, and Chelsea, 21, who were in micro minis (aka crotch skirts). Miki and Dino told us they play for the Comets. We were kind of swooning from the cologne and their Euro good looks, so all we could think was, hmm. Perhaps indoor soccer isn't as lame as it sounds. Maybe we should even check out a game. But that was the same plan we had with the Outlaws, and, uh, apparently we drove them away with our nonattendance after just one season (quitters!).

We asked the guys what positions they played, and after they answered with the predictable "69," we tried to think of more soccer-related questions.

"So, uh, you like Juventus?" we asked Francesco, throwing out the only Italian soccer team we could remember. That resulted in the NR being engulfed in a hug as he cried out, "Bella! I love you! That's my team! They kick ass!" We felt like we did our part to improve international relations, especially later in the night, when we tried to convert Francesco's traditional cheek kisses into something more. "Oooh, you're dangerous," he said before leaving with his chippies.

Alas. But meeting the soccer guys and many others from different ethnic backgrounds that night was pretty cool. It kind of made us forget for a brief second (emphasis on brief) that we were in KC. Until we walked outside and saw more horse carriages than cabs, that is.

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