So there is a new private club downtown, at the corner of 10th Street and Broadway, in the basement below the event space Club 1000. It's called Garment House and it's open only 10 hours a week: from 8:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Membership is free, but the cover every night is $40 ($35 for women). Once you're inside, it's an open bar. Grey Goose, Boulevard, Patrón, whatever, all night long. All you have to do is tip the bartenders.
I must confess to perverse motives behind my initial desire to write about Garment House. To become a member, you submit personal information, including a photo, through the club's website (garmenthousekc.com). A sick part of me was hoping that my application for membership would be denied due to my stupid, horrible face. In retaliation, I could then mount some small, sad act of defiance against Garment House: picketing, a stakeout, a sneak-in.
But when I met last week with the bar's co-owner, Jonas Barrish, he told me that more than 1,000 people have applied for membership and only about 20 have been denied. "The people who are getting declined are — we're trying to attract a hip, creative crowd here," Barrish said. "You know, if somebody uploads a photo, and they're wearing an Affliction shirt ... basically, we're just trying to keep total douche bags out of here, for lack of a better word."
Barrish, who's in his mid-30s, is a real-estate broker in town, but for eight years he lived in Los Angeles, where he worked in the nightclub business. "I'd been looking for a way to get back into the bar business in a management or ownership role, but just on the weekends so it wouldn't interfere with my real-estate business during the week," he said. Barrish's cousin owns the building at 1000 Broadway, and the basement wasn't being used.
"We wanted to do something that paid homage to the golden era of Kansas City's garment industry," Barrish said. (Garment House is located in the city's old Garment District.) "And we wanted to try a membership-based concept. Obviously, Manifesto is also a basement-speakeasy sort of thing, and I like them a lot. But we wanted to try something a little bigger."
All of that squares with what I observed Saturday, after I descended the stairs, parted the drapes, and walked into the bar. Near the entrance, a greeter with an iPad sat at a coat-check-like counter, verified my crew — members can bring up to three guests — and collected our money. (Barrish is mulling over reducing the entry fee, but he hasn't yet made a firm decision on a new price.) Votive holders filled with wooden buttons sat atop the dozen or so high tables placed across the room. Vintage sewing machines decorated shelves behind the bar. There is a VIP-looking area near the back of the room, with sleek, black-leather couches. The overriding ambience is that of a lounge: dark and classy, with conversation-level music.
"We're not a club, and we never will be," Barrish told me. "There's no dance floor. But we do want to bring in some DJs and create a signature music vibe for the place. I'd like to just play old-school Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. But unfortunately, that music puts people to sleep. So we're still working on it. Right now, I'm envisioning something where we mix current downtempo beats with Ella-style songs."
Barrish said about 200 people showed up for Garment House's opening over Labor Day weekend. But business was slow Saturday, with only a handful of tables occupied. "This thing is word-of-mouth, and we're not advertising, so it's going to take a little time to grow, and we expected that from the beginning," Barrish said.
We still had a pretty excellent time. The staff is friendly and outgoing, and apart from me and my unsightly friends, the patrons — members — were all attractive, young professional types. No d-bags. And hoo doggie, it is a blast ordering drinks without any thought to the tab. Things I drank in the three hours I was at Garment House: an Old Overholt old-fashioned; a Pimm's Cup; three Heinekens; a glass of scotch; a root-beer-flavored shot that the bartender surprised our table with and which tasted like it had Jägermeister in it; and an indeterminate, completely unnecessary shot we took on the way out.
No regrets. (Well, actually, technically, the next day I did regret drinking so much. But still, no regrets.) I will be returning to Garment House — I dig the vibe, I like the people, and I'm impressed with the concept and the execution. Whether this business model can withstand the kind of reckless drinking to which people like me are prone is the money — or, more accurately, the $40 question.