Anyhoo, we've been meaning to go to the Free State for quite a while, not only because of the cheap brew but also because we're absolute nerds who are obsessed with William Quantrill, the bastard who led the Lawrence Massacre back in 1863. For those of you nondorks out there, here's a basic primer. In the mid-1800s, Missourians (Bushwhackers) conducted raids into the Kansas Territory to rob and pillage. Kansans (Jayhawkers) returned the favor. Hence the Border War, which raged for years before the Civil War engulfed the rest of the nation and lives on in the KU-MU athletic rivalry. Until last fall, that is, when the jackasses in charge at both schools issued an announcement that said the rivalry would now be known as the Border Showdown, because it would somehow insult our forces engaged in the war in Iraq to refer to a sports contest in the same terms. Yeah, that must have really been weighing on the minds of Marines in Fallujah. Score another victory for mindless political correctness.
But we digress. The Border War was really all about whether Kansas would be admitted as a free or slave state, which by law would be up to the citizens who lived there. Thus began the rush to settle Kansas by proponents of both sides. In 1854, Lawrence was one of the first communities to be established. Named after the guy who helped anti-slavery families move to Kansas, it soon became a symbol of the abolitionist movement.
In the summer of 1863, Quantrill, a guerrilla Confederate leader from Missouri, led about 500 men over the border to sack Lawrence. "Kill every man, and burn every house!" was his rallying cry. Quantrill's gang massacred 185 men and boys and burned most of the buildings on Massachusetts Street as well as many of the homes in town. The raiding party also boozed it up during their rampage but still somehow managed to get their drunk asses back to Missouri safely.
Heavy shit, we know. Anyway, because we also like themes, we hauled over our own drunk asses on the day after the last KU-MU men's basketball game and met Research Assistants Mike and April. The friendly Lawrencians offered no resistance as we drank our way through the beer specials. (The sale beers rotate every week.) The Copperhead Pale Ale was a little too bitter for our delicate taste buds, but we greatly enjoyed a Chocolate Cake shot, which was concocted from just Ketel One, Frangelico and lemonade and tasted astonishingly chocolatey. And we were pleased to see a John Brown ale on the list. (Owner Chuck Magerl is also a fan of history.) Out front, on the Free State's cool (though small) patio, there's a plaque commemorating one of Brown's speeches, which took place about 60 feet east of the building.
More important, though, we wanted to scout out the pickup possibilities of a different town. We love Lawrence; we're generally fans of many of its bars, plus we've met many laid-back, amiable folks while out and about. The Free State is no exception; its Monday nights draw a lot of hippies in tie-dyed shirts and white-person dreadlocks (neither of which we're attracted to), and a hipster element (mmm ... curly, dark-haired boys with black glasses) co-exists with preppy types, gutterpunks and those who grew up in L-ville.
In fact, this friendliness manifested itself on a visit a few weeks back. We met a hipster type who confessed, upon learning our secret identity (and after many beers), "Oh, my God. I've had the biggest crush on you. From your writing, that is." (Can we just say we LOVE the drunken confession. In fact, we've made a few of those ourselves. Just ask the Night Ranger about the time she slurred out, "I find you very attractive" -- a cringeworthy statement in and of itself -- to a guy who made out with one of her male friends later that night. Not her finest moment, but oh, well.)
We soon met Samantha, 21, a baseball-cap-wearing KU junior who told us that picking up wasn't really rampant at the Free State.
"There are some pretty attractive guys here, but it's not really the place to do so," she said, explaining that more people go in groups and just talk to their friends. Damn. Just like in KC.
"We've seen better [guys]," interjected her friend Katie, 21, a pretty brunette who looked somewhat out of place in the grunge-leaning crowd; she had long, straight hair, wore heavy eye shadow, and was toting a Dior purse.
Alas. We refuse to believe that a copious quantity of beer isn't the social lube it usually is, but according to a few others, the crowd that night wasn't up to full strength (though it was lively), and people started filtering out way before the midnight closing time. We chugged on, though, and started chatting with Tonya, 34, and Carrie, 28, who were dancing with each other by the bar. In keeping with Lawrence's crunchy vibe, they belong to a group called the Goddesses, which meets at the Free State every Monday night. "A lot of us have children, and a lot of us don't," Carrie told us. "We just enjoy each other's femininity."
"Hey, is it like my former book club, where we discussed the book for 20 percent of the time and talked about guys for 80 percent?" the Night Ranger asked.
Apparently not; they discuss mainly politics, spirituality and religion, they said. Sounds cool, but we're still at that shallow stage where we just want to drink and overanalyze dating quandaries. Is that so wrong? We moved on to our next question.
"If you were Quantrill, what's the first thing you would sack after getting into town?"
"I'd sack that entire block," Tonya said, gesturing across the street where The Gap and other chain stores stand.
"It took away the sun," Carrie said, explaining that the sunset used to be visible from the Free State's patio. "Plus, it's all corporations."
No sun on a patio that's ideal for beer-drinking? Now that riles up our blood, Quantrill-style.