The beauty of Kansas City suburbs is that no two bars are ever that far apart. It's kind of like a nonchain version of the Starbucks effect, only with alcohol. For example, right after work on a Tuesday, I was sitting at Spivey's in Overland Park when Research Assistant Erica bustled in.
"I was driving over here and saw two bars we have to go to," she said.
Thanks to her bar radar (bardar?), we embarked on a drinking tour of 87th Street strip-mall watering holes.
We began at Spivey's for some predrinks. The maroon-walled, drop-ceilinged bar offered $2 Tuesday specials. I stuck with Bud Light; Erica ordered a $3 Jäger bomb. The bartender blended the ingredients instead of serving the shot separately. "It's a noninteractive Jäger bomb," Erica said.
A medley of Foreigner songs came on the jukebox. Nothing against Foreigner — I've always maintained that "Hot Blooded" is the rockinest cheeseoid song ever — but the progression of power ballads was our cue to flee.
We headed over to a bar near the Johnson County Central Resource Library. Arizona's Sports Bar and Grille had a concrete patio with yellow awnings that looked out onto the parking lot. I should have gleaned, by the e on the end of "Grille," that the inside aimed for an upscale-sports-bar theme. A polished, horseshoe-shaped, cherry-wood bar and a flagstone floor dominated the main room. Wooden walls and tables took up a side wing. Flat screens hung all over. One jarring note was the massive Bud logo painted on the ceiling. Off to the side was a little VIP nook filled with three black-leather sofas. A flat screen and two side TVs in there were hooked up to a Wii sports package. Beyond the VIP area was a game room with pool tables and dartboards.
We sat at the bar and ordered that night's special: $2.50 Corona bottles. Across from us was a woman in a pink baseball cap. "I love your manpurse," she said to her friend, who had picked up her bag, cradled it against his face and stroked it as if it were a baby. Next to us were two guys. One was boisterously telling a story. "Fuck you, motherfucker. Fix that spot," was one thing I overheard. The bar was starting to fill up with groups who came to compete in the live trivia contest. Apparently, the DJ on weekends makes the bar kind of a duder hangout. But it was lovely for a weeknight drink.
After doing a walk-through, I started talking with a guy sitting near us. Donoven, who kind of looked like Brett Favre, is from Gallatin, Missouri ("It's way the hell up north"). His mom lives nearby, and he works in town doing concrete finishing.
He talked a bit about small-town life. "Everyone knows you. Everyone messes with you," he said. He's gotten into fights — once, he was jumped while he was peeing in a bar bathroom. He fought back, kicked the guy's ass and broke a toilet tank along the way, he said — without getting arrested. "If someone's attacking you, what are you supposed to do?" he asked.
"Cowboy up," said a nearby man. "Don't lay there and bleed like a little bitch."
Right on, random guy! Then, 36-year-old Donoven started telling us about a deer he once killed with a bow. He offered to show us his antlers. No, that's not a euphemism for anything dirty — he really had antlers in the back of his pickup. Erica and I clamored to see them. We went to his truck, and he got the rack out of the back. They were smaller than I expected. He said the deer weighed about 160 pounds. He also told us that he sometimes makes plant stands out of antlers by interlocking them and weaving pheasant tails and fake flowers and greenery around them.
After that craft tip, we headed across the street to J.J.s Cool Change Bar, a fantastic, L-shaped place with one pool table in front and a couple more in the back. The floor was covered in a flat, grayish carpet. Large, framed sports logos, such as the Chiefs arrowhead, hung on the walls. Behind the short wooden bar was a mirror with the bar's logo — a dolphin silhouetted against a full moon — etched onto it. A framed black-and-white picture of Rudy, the owner's golden retriever, kept watch nearby.
We ordered $2.50 Coors Lights, which came in frosted pint glasses. Our bartender, a guy with an endearing smile and a mop of brown curly hair, sported a white guayabera shirt, shorts and flip-flops. "I'm always in a Florida state of mind," he said. So was the women's restroom, which was decorated with seashells.
Near us at the bar, a woman and a man debated the theory of relativity. The rest of the bar was filled with pool-league guys in their 40s and 50s. I met a 36-year-old named Toby, who was all about promoting the sport of pool. I asked if he'd made any cool changes lately. He said he recently changed jobs. He went from a high-stress position as a warehouse manager to being a blackjack dealer at Harrah's. "I want to have fun, to have a good time with people," he said.
Then Susan, the tall, thin blond owner, came in. She's had the place for nearly four years. I asked her about the bar's name. The J.J. comes from the original owners. She added the words "Cool Change" because she and her brother used to listen to Jimmy Buffet and the Little River Band while boating. Her brother's favorite song was the LRB's "Cool Change." He died, and she named the bar after him. She pointed out that, under the bar's logo, the sign reads "rock on, my brother."
Rock on, indeed. It's good to know that over on that corner of 87th Street, going to the library can be a great euphemism for getting a drink.