The plan was simple: Send two correspondents out on the same night to Westport and the Power & Light District.
Ever since the P&L opened this past spring, we've heard stories about how other local bars have suffered. We wanted to see whether the newest entertainment district in town has affected the city's oldest entertainment district. Plus, we wanted to examine for ourselves what both places are really like on a typical weekend.
So on a recent Saturday, we went out to gauge the temperature of nightlife in Kansas City. We tried to hit similar bars at the same time — for example, Kellys in Westport versus McFadden's in the P&L. But as any seasoned bargoer knows, sticking to a pub-crawl schedule isn't always possible.
For this report, Jen Chen headed to Westport, while Crystal K. Wiebe covered Power & Light.
What did we discover? The liquor still flows, the music still plays and the cops are occasionally still necessary. And we figured out that this town seems capable of supporting two rocking entertainment districts at once.
Power & Light 7:15 p.m.
There's a 20-minute wait for a table at Gordon Biersch, the anchor establishment at the corner of 14th Street and Walnut, so we decide to kill time at the bar. The tab for a Dr Pepper and a vodka and Red Bull: $13.79. At least the atmosphere is good. The ceilings are high, and the open patio doors allow in natural light and fresh air.
We're ushered to a booth facing the 14th Street patio. Around us, clean-cut couples — some in their 20s, others middle-aged — dine on pizza and steaks and order tall glasses of the brewery's signature beers. Waiter Shawn Bryant coaches us through a beer flight (Golden Export tastes like Bud Light; Märzen has the highest alcohol content) and steers us away from the crab-and-artichoke dip. But he can't advise us on where to go in the Power & Light District. "Everything is so expensive upstairs that I've never really been," he says.
After our meal, Bryant wishes us luck. "Come back and tell me what's best," he says. "Write it down, please!"
Westport 8 p.m.
It's a lovely summer night, and most of the tables on the patio at McCoys are occupied. Inside, though, is a different story — the restaurant is sparsely populated. At the bar, I order an $8 burger and a $4 shandy.
Sitting nearby is Brian Poel, a nattily dressed guy with a shaved head. He wears a white textured polo shirt and slim-fitting plaid pants. He's a 32-year-old registered nurse and a Westport regular. "I'm loyal. I've been coming to Westport for about 14 years," he says.
Poel gives a sociological breakdown of how Westport has changed since Power & Light opened. "It's been profound," he says. "It's less crowded now, so it's easier to get a drink." The annoying people who came in only on weekends have moved on, leaving a local crowd. "Now the people who want to be here are here," he says.
Power & Light 8:23 p.m.
There's already a line at the ID checkpoint at the entrance to the district's main area, called "Kansas City Live!" A security guard checks my driver's license and stamps "Power & Light District" on my right hand. It's the first of many brands that will serve as a record of my whereabouts.
Upstairs, no one's waiting in line to get into Howl at the Moon, but the joint is packed. Cheers and applause erupt inside as we approach the door. We pay a $5 cover and squeeze into a slightly elevated area with a good view of the stage, where two pianists face each other. When "Land of 1,000 Dances" comes on, about seven female Howl employees get onstage to demonstrate the mashed potato and the alligator. Dollar bills stick out of their tight black tank tops.
Some in this crowd can probably remember when the mashed potato was popular. But not 24-year-olds Becca Haggerty of Olathe and Bailey Alexander of Topeka. They dance together seductively behind the main seating area. "Wanna dance with us?" Haggerty asks, brunette strands falling in her face.
Crammed against the back bar is 31-year-old bachelorette Angela Howard. She reluctantly wears a homemade veil with plastic shot glasses attached to either side. "I used to be a Westportgoer by nature," her friend Kim Wrigley says. "This is the new thing."
Back onstage, someone pays $24 for an employee to scribble a message on the mirror behind the band. The bar calls it the "high rollers" message board, where patrons can outbid one another to put something up. This time, the message reads: "We don't discriminate against anyone.... You're all bitches, sluts and whores!"
Later, as the whole bar sings along to "Friends in Low Places," Howard gives herself a $4 shot. It's administered with an oversized plastic syringe that shoots whipped cream and blue gelatin into her mouth. She finishes, wipes her face and turns to one of her girls. "OK, I took the shot," she says petulantly. "I'm taking off the veil now."
At about the same time, the house band winds up the Garth Brooks classic with a howled Yahoo!
Westport 9:54 p.m.
At Ernie Biggs Dueling Piano Bar, there's a whole lot of entertainment going on for the $3 cover. The large bar space is packed. Old Style is on special for $2. The guys at the two baby grands play crowd favorites, including "Goin' to the Chapel" for the bachelorettes. During "Livin' on a Prayer," they stop playing, and the entire bar keeps going with heartfelt wails of Oooo-oooh, we're halfway there.
During the show, a guy drunkenly weaves his way through the long rows of tables. He wears a vest made of AstroTurf and a matching hat. A circular weight is attached to his ankle by a chain. He holds a yard glass with some remnants of beer in its bulb. Mr. AstroTurf — Alex Awad, a 22-year-old bartender at the Carriage Club — is celebrating his bachelor party. With him are friends Andy Holt and Kevin Compton.
Awad said his friends attached the circular weight to his ankle with a chain and a lock. Then they dropped the key into the yard glass, which holds a gallon of beer. It took Awad an hour and a half to empty the tube.
I ask them why Ernie Biggs appealed to them for a bachelor party. "Dueling pianos are hilarious," Holt says. "They were really good about including us, letting us do goofy shit, getting us onstage."
"I had been here one time before and enjoyed myself and wanted to come back," Awad replies.
"Is this a fucking commercial? What the fuck?" Compton asks his friends.
Before we leave, a bartender takes a swig of alcohol, lights a match and blows out an impressive stream of fire as the piano guys belt out — what else? — "Great Balls of Fire."
Power & Light 10:06 p.m.
After we've spent 20 minutes in line, Mosaic turns out to be pretty dead inside. A few people in trendy clothes mill about, mostly sticking to the outdoor patio. I drink a $9 vodka with Monster while a DJ plays nondescript electronic music.
Two guys nearby, 27-year-old Steve Smith and 30-year-old John Epstein, have driven in from Columbia. They were headed to Blonde before friends told them the new place was Power & Light.
Epstein and Smith beg a bartender to let them sit down. Bouncer Tom Finholm explains that the tables are all reserved for patrons who have agreed to a two-bottle minimum. Bottles start at $200. "For a while, they were booked three weeks in advance," he says. "Usually people get here at like 10:30 or 11 or so and stay all night."
Mosaic may not be hopping, but back outside, the Living Room is. That's the bar in the center of the Kansas City Live! area. Bands play on the big stage sometimes, but tonight the music is prerecorded and a movie-screen-sized TV shows highlights from the earlier Royals game. Most people are yelling over the music, smoking or dancing; some canoodle on couches or lean down over the wraparound balconies. As middle-aged couples dance to '90s novelty rock, a few bemused cops look on from one edge of the scene. A pretty blond officer turns to me: "How do people not know how to Cotton-Eyed Joe?"
Westport 11:08 p.m.
The loungey One80 isn't too crowded, there's no cover, and the big windows provide a decent view of the swirl of people in sleek outfits navigating the heart of Westport. By this time, the streets have been blocked off, though there's no $1 cover to get into the area. The district gave up charging last fall. For about $20, we order three beers, a vodka cranberry and a 360 martini.
Inside One80, DJ Paul DeMatteo spins electronica, and a lone woman wearing a silver sequined top dances in front of the DJ platform. Nearby is Ashly Simon, a tall, thin blonde in a skimpy denim miniskirt and a tight white shirt that ends just under her breasts. With Simon is her boyfriend, Matt Tribel, and another male friend. The guys have spiky hair, and both wear T-shirts emblazoned with abstract graphic patterns. They're leaning against a back railing by the DJ booth, right next to one of the booming speakers.
The 24-year-olds are fans of the DJ. "We follow the music," Simon says. "We don't care if it's in someone's backyard. We go all over the city."
Power & Light 11:10 p.m.
We've been in line for 40 minutes at Angel's Rock Bar, mainly because I said no to some guy who offered to let me cut in line if I'd just lift my skirt.
Inside, the smallish, packed room feels like it should be smoke-filled. It also feels like a rock band should be playing. Mohawks and faux band T-shirts abound. Rock-and-roll iconography, such as oversized Rolling Stones lips, decorates the walls. A recording of a Stooges concert plays on huge TVs; Korn blasts through the loudspeakers. Long chains hang from the ceiling on the opposite side of the room, where people grind and scan the rest of the bar.
It takes 15 minutes to get our $4.75 vodka cranberries from a bartender with a big, winged tattoo across her breasts. By then, it's time to head to the next bar on our schedule, so we pick our way through the sweaty human moat encircling the bar.
It's wall-to-wall people in McFaddens, too. But the place is cavernous, so there's no line at the bar. Miraculously, we manage to snag three stools. Songs that everybody knows — "Kiss," "Brown-Eyed Girl" — pump through the room, but the music doesn't entirely prohibit conversation. This is a hook-up bar. Women park on the seats around the perimeter of the room, and men cruise around making eye contact. "We always have good luck here," says 33-year-old Aimee Cardozo, minutes before the first of several dudes pulls over to make small talk.
Westport 11:35 p.m.
Artie Scholes, a longtime door guy in KC, is working the patio of the Riot Room, the new bar in the old Hurricane space. "This is almost like the old Hurricane used to be," Scholes says. "It fucking kicks ass!"
The outdoor section has been taken over by an '80s panty-party dancefest. DJ Metal Mark has a pair of pink underwear on his head. All around us, the punk crowd dances as the DJ flings more panties into the air. An XXL-XXG pair of Hanes briefs lands on my shoulder.
I ask Scholes how the Riot Room resembles the old Hurricane. "No guys in tight silky shirts, hip-hop DJs ... I love that!" he replies.
Inside the bar, local band National Fire Theory is about to play its last show. We pay the $8 cover to go in and check out the place. The bar is crowded with sinewy, tattooed guys and people wearing baggy and ripped clothing, which isn't allowed under the P&L dress code.
We make our way to the round bar, where 24-ounce cans of PBR and small rum and Cokes run $2.50 each.
Standing near the bar is Ricardo Mejia. He's the guy who dresses in short shorts or kilts and dances energetically at live music shows. The 51-year-old was a staple at the Hurricane for about 10 years. When it closed, he moved on to the Record Bar. Mejia visits the Riot Room about twice a week, depending on the band. "There's more metal and punk rock here. And some progressive alternative bands, too," he says.
Back outside on the patio, the panty party is still going strong. As the Steve Miller Band's "Swingtown" plays, a guy in a NOFX hoodie and camouflage shorts dances ironically with a guy in a dark T-shirt. Nearby, two women face each other and joyously wave their tattooed-sleeved arms in the air.
"Since the smoking ban, the patio's been off the hook," Scholes says. "That's evidence that the Power & Light District has no fucking effect on us whatsoever."
Power & Light 12:08 a.m.
Back at the Living Room, there's a grill at the foot of the main stairs. Flames rise as we approach, and my friend Kenton Schuster plunks down $5 for a big, fat hunk of meat dropped onto a hamburger bun.
"This should not taste as good as it does," he says with the first bite.
At this point, Schuster is at least as tipsy as the average P&L patron — the guy in the Royals shirt who does the "YMCA" dance at us as he walks by, the giggly young woman behind us who's being interviewed by the dude who usually talks to people between innings on the big screen at Kauffman Stadium, the chick who's about to spill a drink all over that guy's sister.
Westport 12:45 a.m.
We're leaving a quiet Harry's Bar and Tables when we run into Naga Jyadev and Ashley Coppick. The 25-year-old Coppick, a petite brunette, is clad in a Royals jersey and a Santa hat with the cursive Royals logo on the brim. She and the 32-year-old Jyadev say they've just met, though he's a friend of a friend. They teeter and sway on the sidewalk. When they hear why we're in Westport, they immediately launch into a tirade about how much they hate the Power & Light District.
"It's pretentious bullshit," Jyadev says. "It's too corporate, too crowded, too poseur...."
"I don't want to wait in a two-hour line," Coppick says.
"They wouldn't let me in. I'm well-dressed, and they wouldn't let us in," Jyadev claims. "You know what? It's Kansas City. Fuck that shit. It's not L.A. It's not fucking New York. It's not fucking London, Covent Garden. Be nice — let people in."
Power & Light 12:46 a.m.
As we wait in line to get into PBR Big Sky Bar, four cops rush down the stairs after some kind of commotion. But we dare not give up our place in line. The song playing in the Living Room is "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)." We pay the $3 cover and pass an overflowing trash can just inside that's pissing beer. The mechanical bull is bucking blondes. One of them is Kyle Neilson, a 24-year-old country boy from near Topeka. "It's fun to see how long you can stay on there," he says. He has ridden the bull at Saddle Ranch at the Legends, too, but he doesn't have to pay an extra $3 to ride at Big Sky.
We hear "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" again, and it's appropriate because there are plenty of cowboys in here. Some wear cowboy hats, and you can see cans of chew through the back pockets of their tight Wranglers. From around a fire pit, we admire saddle-leather stools and deer-antler light fixtures. As I hear the strains of "Brown-Eyed Girl" for the third time in the District tonight, Big Sky — the whole P&L complex, in fact — begins to feel like the touristy bars along Broadway in Nashville, where everybody has a good time partying to the same songs all night.
Westport 1:19 a.m.
All the tables at Joe's Pizza are occupied by late-night snackers. Several more people stand outside to eat.
A group of skater guys stands by the counter. They're clad in black hoodies and stiff black baseball caps. They burst out in "Happy Birthday" for a young-looking guy in black-and-white-checkered Vans. Some of the other customers join in the singing and call out, "Happy birthday!"
Around the corner, Karma looks like the hot spot of the night. From the view through the large open front windows, it looks lively. And better yet, there's no line to get in. My friends and I stroll up to the bouncer.
"It's a $20 cover," he says. "Just so you know." Apparently, DJ Shad, a Saturday night staple, is spinning inside.
We continue down the street to Americas Pub. I'm showing the bouncer my I.D. when we hear some commotion from inside. The door guy tenses up a little bit. "Everyone back up, please," he says in a calm voice. Just then, a wiry security guy pushes a screaming woman out of the bar.
The woman's red top has slipped down, and one boob hangs out. She seems oblivious to her exposed breast for a moment. The cops, who have been standing around and assessing the situation, approach and cuff her against a nearby squad car.
In the meantime, another hysterical woman is carted out of the bar. She's equally braless, as her low-cut, shiny pink halter top attests. Her eyes are red. "I don't even know the girl. She hit me with a drink!" she protests. "I didn't throw a drink in her face." The cops cuff her, too.
After that excitement, going into the bar just seems anticlimactic. We head over instead to the Foundry for $4 pints. Located between McCoy's and the Riot Room, Westport's newest bar is a cool place with a big patio that juts into the parking lot on Westport Road. Tonight, just a handful of people are on the patio, and just a few lonely cars with fogging windows are in the lot.
Power & Light 1:54 a.m.
His eyes light up. "Do you have to ask?"
A Mexican restaurant by day, Tengo Sed turns into a brightly lit dance club and sports bar after dark that costs $5 to enter. Huge TV screens broadcast sporting events. Tonight, it's women's softball.
The stripper poles stretch up from the dining tables, which female customers stand on as they find a way to grind and twirl to anything the DJ plays — even Afroman's "Because I Got High."
Not wanting to dance on a table while wearing a dress, I stay on the ground. I finish a beer I've brought with me from Big Sky Bar — a benefit of partying in the P&L is the portable-drink factor.
After one more round of beers, it's closing time. We file out of Tengo Sed, joining the slow-moving mob of happy drunks invading the streets of downtown.
Westport 2:44 a.m.
By the time we get to Buzzard Beach, the lights are on, and the bar staff is about to start herding people out.
"Go inside, troublemaker," the door guy says to a guy who has toted a drink onto the deck.
"Got a light?" asks the customer.
"Not for your kind," the door guy replies.
We manage to hang out for a bit — enough to mingle with the mohawked and tattooed crowd. Then, the cattle drive starts and the contents of the bar spill into the alleyway and parking lot.
"You girls, you're killing it tonight," yells an inebriated guy to me and a friend.
From Buzzard, it's just a short walk to my car in the Panera lot. As I slowly drive through the south end of Westport, a motorcycle cop keeps watch over the crowds. About a couple of hundred people are walking around. Westport isn't as packed as it used to be, but the drunken partiers show that it's surviving.
Click here to write a letter to the editor.