Raglan Road is a classy, if Disney-fied, new-old Irish saloon.
Raglan Road, 170 East 14th Street, 816-994-9700. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Price: $$-$$$
You don't have to pore over musty history books or old newsreels to know that the squeaky-clean "Main Street USA" at Disneyland or Walt Disney World bears only scant resemblance to any real small-town thoroughfare from the 1900s. This Main Street is a nostalgic ideal of those days of soda parlors, notions counters and nickelodeons. There are no smoky saloons or bawdy houses near this Main Street. And why should there be? Fantasy is always much more alluring than actual history.
At Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida, there's an Irish saloon that's much more elegant and well-appointed than the typical neighborhood pub one might find in Dublin or Cork. But fantasy or not, Orlando's Raglan Road is an authentic Irish bar, constructed — according to the company's promotional materials — from real Irish antiques, including four 130-year-old bars. The company put that same attention to detail into its second location in Kansas City's Power & Light District, though the Orlando property is larger and has a somewhat more elaborate menu.
Both menus were created by noted chef Kevin Dundon, owner of a luxury hotel called the Dunbrody Country House on Ireland's south coast. The fare here is more cosmopolitan than you might expect — I mean, it's not all rustic bangers and mash, fish and chips, and shepherd's pie. And that is as it should be: For all of its vintage décor, Raglan Road has less in common with an Irish saloon from 1901 — when there were no fewer than 130 Irish barkeeps in Kansas City, according to Pat O'Neill's From the Bottom Up — than movie idol Colin Farrell has with the late Tom Pendergast.
That being said, it's a good thing that the Power & Light District has an Irish bar. It would have been a serious historical slight if the Cordish Company had turned a blind eye to one of Kansas City's most venerable entertainment traditions. A few blocks north of where the new Raglan Road sits, at 14th Street and Grand, is the spot where, in 1901, infamous booze hater Carrie Nation drew a crowd by ranting and raving in front of Mike Flynn's bar before the police hauled her away in a "hooligan wagon." Three of the city's best-known city councilmen (including Tom Pendergast's brother Jim) also owned Irish bars.
If you see an old battle ax who looks like Carrie Nation at Raglan Road (and one night, I did), she's there to drink whisky, not condemn it. The main room of Raglan Road, with its tiled Corinthian columns, dark-wood bar and gilded ceiling, may be a better place to drink than eat. This space — loaded with hard surfaces — is incredibly noisy when it's busy. Still, I prefer it to the more quiet, publike space right off the main entrance.
"Of course you like the big room," said my friend Addison, who is mad for Raglan Road. "It's where the action is. It's lively and loud, and it looks like a movie set. Honey, it's the ultimate in high Edwardian glamour. It's Chesterton, Vita Sackville West and Brendan Behan."
Before he took another sip from his martini, he reminded me that another famous Irish import, Oscar Wilde, delivered a speech on aesthetics to Kansas City audiences at the Coates Opera House in 1882 and was ridiculed for his flamboyant appearance.
"Of course," Addison added, "if some poet in knee-breeches strutted into Raglan Road tonight, he might get the same reaction. It's not a snooty crowd."