That night was the opening of Karma, which recently replaced Johnny Dare's trailer-trash-themed biker bar. Karma, according to the Buddhist monks we've shared Jell-O shots with over the years, is the notion that your actions affect your next life. It's a lot like those New Year's hangovers. So we checked out Karma with Research Assistant Cece on that snowy night to see if this cycle of rebirth applied to Kansas City bars.
Despite the number of revelers in Westport, the scene at Karma was kind of dead when we arrived near midnight. At first, we felt as though we were in Johnny Dare's again. The white-guy-heavy crowd clustered around the bar as KQRC 98.9-type music blared from the speakers. Cowboy hats mixed easily with leather blazers. We headed to the bar for Jack-and-Cokes, then walked around to get the lay of the land.
We liked the décor of the place, with its red walls, black booths and hardwood floors. Red, tulip-shaped glass lights hung from the ceilings, and a series of TV screens played videos to accompany whatever metal song was on the speakers. The side room, with its slanted ceiling and warm, intimate lighting, contained high tables and chairs; the back room was lined with plush benches and sleek coffee tables. It felt comfortably loungey, a vibe Westport has historically lacked. We also were fans of Karma's 3 a.m. closing time and its lack of a cover charge.
We then checked out the upstairs, nearly burning our eyeballs on the harsh fluorescent and neon lights in the upstairs room. The long, narrow space with a few scattered tables was still an improvement over its former incarnation as Whiskey Tango, a fake trailer home complete with wood-paneled walls.
After that field trip, we headed back to the main room and snagged the huge-ass booth in back, which used to be a raised platform with a stripper pole. (Now it's a fantastic booth, lined in a soft, leathery material, that could easily seat 10.) From our vantage point, we kept an eye on the comings and goings. Thankfully, things picked up a little after midnight. The crowd became more varied, and the jock rock gave way to a more random mix of music, including Smash Mouth's "All-Star," and the bane of our existence, the Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)."
In the meantime, the bartenders were the most lively people in the room. We spotted one of them flipping a bottle that spewed fire. The Dalai Lama says that flaming liquor is good karma, so we went over to check it out. Jonas the bartender, a guy with a long, blond ponytail, offered to blow fire for us. He took a swig of Everclear and spit it through the flame coming from the end of the bottle. A big puff of fire trailed from the bottle. Impressive! Another bartender a guy with what looked like thighs for arms strutted his stuff by hoisting a skinny bartender blonde over his head. Hmpfh. Show-off.
After seeing those party tricks, we started chatting with two guys and a woman sitting together at the bar. We had noticed the guys when they first walked in; both were clad in striped shirts, and one had left one shirttail untucked. We wanted to ask him what was up with that particular trend. Sadly, we encountered a karma-less language barrier. Zliocio, the 21-year-old with the half-tucked-in shirttail, was from Brazil, and his English was a bit limited. His 40-year-old friend Simone, who was half-Italian, half-Brazilian and fluent in four languages, became our contact person.
She told us that Zliocio and the other guy, who requested that we call him "Edge," moved to KC to open a Brazilian wood floor business. She came to KC for love. "I was in love with someone," she said. "I'm not in love anymore." Zliocio is her brother's best friend, she said. She translated Zliocio and Edge's concerns about Karma's wood floor. The hot Brazilians pointed out its flaws, noting that it needed some sort of finish. Yeah, we wanted to polish some wood ourselves, but we weren't sure of the Portuguese translation.
Finished with this Home Depot conversation, we moved on to a lively group sitting nearby. We asked if they had any stories involving karma. Had anyone been bitten in the ass or experienced some good fortune? Linh, a pretty 28-year-old Asian chick with wheat-blond highlights, chimed in with a story about her two dogs, which run away all the time.
She and her husband live near KU Med, and after her two escape artists flee, they apparently head to drinking establishments. "They've been found at bars all the time Fric & Frac, Harry's in Westport, Gilhouly's. They're assholes," she said. "Someone always finds them and calls, though."
"Is that good karma or bad?" asked her husband, George.
"It's good!" Linh replied. Tonight she had the chance to repay the favor. She was standing outside Karma when she saw a guy walking by with a dog. She yelled, "Cute dog!" at the guy, who said he had just found it and was taking it to the cops. She talked him into letting her take it, and she put the pooch in her car. She said she planned to track down the owner.
"So, it's in our car while we're drinking," she sheepishly admitted. "I rescued a dog tonight. That's a good story, if it's not frozen in the car. We're assholes. We really do love dogs, though, and hate it when they run away."
Which brings to mind the lyrics of "Karma Chameleon": You come and go, you come and goooo. Just like the bar scene in Kansas City.