Gladstone is new drinking territory for me, and Tuesday night seemed just as good as any for foray to two of its watering holes. While there, I got plenty of advice from its friendly locals. Naturally, by advice, I mean "drunk talk."
Wandering along North Oak Trafficway, Research Assistant Erica and I passed a place with an unassuming brick façade and a plain white sign that read Mark & Michelle's Bar & Grill.
"I want to find out who Mark and Michelle are," I said.
"I hope they're basset hounds. It's awesome when people name bars after their dogs," Erica replied. She then reeled off her list of what makes a good bar. In addition to a doggie-based name, she continued, it should have a great jukebox, good bartenders, a trashy element and a Jäger machine.
Mark & Michelle's did indeed have a Jäger machine. The neighborhood bar turned out to be named after its husband-and-wife owners. Michelle herself was slinging drinks behind the square-shaped bar, and her 25-year-old daughter, Vanessa — who also works there — was hanging out on her off night.
We sat at the bar and ordered one of that night's specials: a $3.50 "cream soda." Made with vanilla vodka, 7-Up and a splash of Coke, it tasted remarkably like the actual thing. We also ordered a $6.75 appetizer sampler, which came in a basket and included onion rings, mini corn dogs, breaded cauliflower and jalapeño poppers. As we feasted on our state-fair-style items, Michelle told us that the bar is also famous for its pizza and hot wings. Apparently, the wings — which can be ordered by the pound — have earned raves from out-of-towners, but we were already hopped up on fried goodness.
The bar was a medium-sized place with maroon walls. Block-shaped TVs were mounted from the ceiling. A large Nebraska Huskers flag hung on one wall. It was flanked by two framed posters that advertised Beatles and Elvis concerts. Above the flag were Big 12 football helmets. A touch-screen jukebox stood by the door and played a mix that, during our visit, included ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses," Weezer's "Island in the Sun" and the Wallflowers' "One Headlight."
It was pool league night, so the two tables on the other side of the room were continuously occupied. Toward the end of the night, a few of the leaguers were engaged in a hugfest. A variety of guys were embracing two younger women in one corner. During a lull in the action, I went over to meet them. Sheryl and Jennifer, who are in their mid- to late-20s, have been friends since their days at Smithville High School. These Gladstone bar regulars lauded the friendliness of drinkers, which was evident by the number of beers that people bought for them. And hugs, too, I suppose.
I asked them to tell me about the most random thing that's happened to them in a Northland bar. Sheryl said that for one birthday party at Mark & Michelle's, her friends ordered her a stripper. He was a little person who got down to a G-string.
By that point, the bar had cleared out, so we went a few blocks down the street to Boomer's Bar & Grill. It's located in a strip mall, and as we drove into the lot, we spotted a couple making out against a car.
We walked in past a fenced-off patio area and entered a large room that was painted forest-green. Shrunken race-car hoods, TVs and replica football helmets made up the décor, along with "wacky" signs: "Free beer tomorrow" and "Hangovers instituted and served here." Dartboards and pool tables added to the sports-bar vibe.
We bypassed the Crown specials for $2.75 Bud Light bottles. Tuesday night brought in a small but lively crowd. A group of guys still in their work dress shirts and dark pants occupied one table. A couple of boisterous guys sat across from us at the bar. As one of them walked to the bathroom, he said to his friends, "It's cooler in this bar if you walk fast." Near them, a woman showed off her lower back tattoo for her friends. From outside, we heard a squeal of tires in the parking lot and saw a car streak by the windows.
I went over to talk to a group of people sitting behind us. Carrie, a 29-year-old brunette in a powder-blue Royals shirt, had plenty to say.
I asked if she had any random stories from going out in NKC. "All the boys like me and want to take me home," she replied. However, over the past 10 years, she's been burned by guys she's met at watering holes.
"If you meet a guy in a bar, you'll lose him in a bar," she said.
The guy sitting across from her snorted. "That's a bullshit story," he said.
"I met so many guys that I thought I'd marry. Guess what? They're all assholes," Carrie said.
I moved on to talk to 33-year-old Josh, one of the guys sitting across from us at the bar. I told him that I was learning all sorts of wisdom that night, such as his "it's cooler if you walk faster" aphorism and Carrie's "meet and lose a guy in a bar" remark. He disagreed with Carrie's statement and introduced me to his girlfriend, 26-year-old Jennifer. She works at Boomer's, and they'd been dating for 19 months.
"His wife cheated on him. I was actually engaged. All of a sudden, he started to look really, really nice," Jennifer said.
"Put in your notes: I had nothing to do with that shit," Josh said. "Now, let's be completely honest ... "
"Me and some good friends had a bet on who would fuck Josh first," Jennifer admitted. Her friend made out with him first, but she won.
I left the happy couple and wrapped things up. As we drove off, I thought of something for the good-bar list: the guarantee of finding talkative drinkers out and about on a Tuesday night.