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As the alcohol and caffeine started to kick in, I formulated a plan: I'd embark on a quest for the smokiest bar in Kansas City. It seemed imperative to commemorate this declining era.
So I loaded up on Febreze and gorp and set off on this journey. I developed a scientific formula for measuring the smoke particles in clothing (hello, Nobel Prize); it consisted of stuffing my stinky clothes in Tupperware containers and having them smelled by world-famous wine guy Doug Frost. I bought a $15 smoke detector from Target and hid it in my purse. And I talked to fellow barflies to enlist their help picking the finalists for our smoky sojourn. Not surprisingly, many of my favorite KC watering holes made the list of smoky places to visit. Perhaps the "research" for my quest wouldn't be that bad except for the smoke-immersion part, that is.
As in a word-association game, one's instinctive response to hearing the phrase "smoky bar in Kansas City" is usually "Buzzard Beach." So Buzzard seemed like a natural spot to begin the quest. During a visit when Friday night turned into Saturday morning, I ventured in, armed with the smoke detector and an orange cashmere sweater to test the smokeworthiness of the place. As usual, the sharp cigarette smell stung my nostrils upon entering the bar. In the bathroom, a woman from Lawrence complained about the noxiousness of the smoke.
After my eyes adjusted to the dim interior, I spotted two bearded, scruffy guys leaning against the Golden Tee upstairs, cigarettes in their hands. I was surprised to hear that they were fine with the ban. "I hope it'll help me quit if it goes through," said 27-year-old Eric Howard.
His friend, 30-year-old Tim Hopping, agreed, but only to a point. "If I were a nonsmoker, I'd hate coming home reeking of smoke," he said.
Both guys talked about what influenced them to pick up the habit years ago. "It looks cooler. Chicks dig it. It's the James Dean effect," Eric quipped.
"It was Stand by Me," Tim said. "What would Corey Feldman do?" Well, really, what wouldn't he do? In any case, WWCFD is truly a question for the ages.
On the bottom level of this Westport dive, the ceilings are low, and the fluorescent light over the foosball machine illuminates the foglike cigarette haze that hangs over the room. The upper level is just as odoriferous, though a wooden deck provides some fresh air as well as a good perch for watching the drunken antics of the duders and duderettes as they stumble through the narrow alleyway outside the bar.
I tried to waft some bar air into my open purse to see if the smoke detector would go off. Nothing happened.
Then I found some dissenters to a smoking ban, including 36-year-old Ed Lynn, a Buzzard bartender for nine years. Buzzard has the distinction of being the least Westporty bar in Westport. Its clientele usually consists of local rockers and service-industry folk, the tattooed and the pierced, and Those Who Dye Their Hair Black. Ed said he had worked both the upstairs and downstairs bars at Buzzard Beach. "For restaurants, I don't mind. But for bars, I don't agree [with the ban]," he said.
But, I explained, city officials say smokeless bars are ostensibly for your benefit. The idea is to protect bartenders and others who spend their days with their heads in a cloud of smoke exhaled from a bunch of barflies.