Asian Invasion

“It’s like a refugee camp in here,” joked our new friend Jo about Asian Night at Club Kandi. If by refugee camp you mean roller-skating-rink atmosphere in the West Bottoms, then we totally agree. We’re sure the Darfurians would, too.

Contrary to popular belief, Asian Night — and we had no idea what that entailed — did not garner free drinks for the Night Ranger. She and Research Assistant Erik did get in without paying the $5 cover, but that had less to do with the NR’s Asianness and more to do with having told the doorman, “Oh, shit, I don’t have any cash.”

Anyway, we were curious about the club’s Saturday night Asiafest. And because we were conveniently in the neighborhood — appropriately enough, we had been watching the bruising action of the Roller Warriors’ championship match at Hale Arena — we headed over to James Street for some post-bout drinks. We discovered that the club’s gin, tequila, rum and vodka wells were $6. Our house vodka cranberry and an $8 Jack and Coke came in small, flimsy clear-plastic cups. That was the real crime against humanity.

Perhaps it was the alcohol, but the interior threw us a bit. After we got in, we noticed that the place kind of smelled like candy. We later figured out that maybe we were smelling carpet cleaner. The entry hallway led to a long, narrow bar area that was painted acid-green. That room was connected to a large dance area. A plethora of mirrors covered the walls, adding to the discombobulating funhouse effect, and an abundance of black lights brought out the neon squiggles in the black carpet. The effect was a little reminiscent of Coachlight, that great ’80s-era roller-skating rink in Overland Park. Despite our flashback to grade school, we liked Kandi’s vibe. The place was clean, which made the bar feel slightly upscale rather than skeezily meat-markety. Another bonus: Kandi was relatively smoke-free, which we attributed to the spacious digs and the blasting AC.

The bar was somewhat dead when we arrived after 11:30. However, the bartender told us that things would pick up after midnight, and sure enough, the Asian-heavy crowd started flooding in at the appointed time. Our fellow drinkers ran the gamut from stoner-hipster types with floofy, asymmetrical hair to club-dressed nighthawks with spiked tresses. A smattering of African-Americans took to the dance floor, but as the night wore on, many seemed to have left. Except for That Guy, who was dancing a couple of feet from a mirrored wall and watching himself while a woman grinded on his ass.

After a few seconds of snickering at that narcissistic sight, we headed back to the bar area. To someone who grew up in KC, it was fascinating to see so many Asians in one place. As a Night Rangerette, that concept was as foreign as, well, hanging out in a club in the West Bottoms. Most everyone seemed to know one another, as evidenced by the hugs and, more important, by the many groups who repeatedly threw back shots.

Von, 25, confirmed our impressions of the place. “I’ve got a lot of friends here. I’m here to have fun, get buzzed,” he said before answering his cell phone and barking, “Are you here? Where are you?”

His friend Sam picked up the interview slack. Sam, a cute, friendly 22-year-old cosmetology student, said this was his first visit. “I don’t see no one dancing, and I’m not going to be the first one on the floor,” he said, laughing.

“So, Sam,” we asked, “why is this Asian Night? What do we get out of it?”

“It means minority night,” said his friend, 23-year-old Sheretta, a beautiful African-American hostess at the Houlihan’s in Leawood who said she’d come out because she’s friends with one of the bartenders. We asked how she and Sam knew each other; it turns out that his cousin and her best friend are getting married and expecting a baby. We also wondered if perhaps they were somehow involved, too, but Sam said he was waiting for his luv interest, Rachel, to show up. Naturally, we pressed for details, but he just laughed some more and charmingly evaded our nosy questions.

Fortunately, 23-year-old Jo, who made the refugee-camp observation, was a bit more forthcoming. We spotted this tall, gorgeous thing flitting around and greeting everyone jovially, so we wanted to get her story. She’s of Korean heritage, grew up in Overland Park and is now an intern for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office.

“I go out a lot, drink a lot, hang out a lot,” she said. Her usual destination is the Plaza (Re:Verse), but she said she also used to go to Club 151 — the predecessor to Kandi. According to Jo, Kandi is now a completely different bar, thanks to DJ Shaun Flo, who is pretty involved in the Asian community and organized Asian Night. “The dynamic between Asian and black is pretty good,” she added.

Just then, her boyfriend, 27-year-old Josh, came over. He’s Irish, and after he and RA Erik briefly bonded over that, we found out that Josh and Jo met at an Asian-American Bar Association function. “I’m quarter Native American. I thought I’d be allowed into ABA,” he said.

“It’s white meat and the Orient,” Jo said before taking us over to meet 25-year-old Shaun Flo.

She led us upstairs through another bar area to the DJ booth. Shaun, clad in a French Connection “FCUK fashion” T-shirt, enlightened us a bit more about Asian Night.

“Honestly, the owner didn’t want it labeled as such,” he said. Shaun also worked at Trago and Arun Thai Place. Because he used to throw some all-Asian parties at Trago, he said, he was recruited to work at Kandi and just started DJ-ing there.

“So, Shaun, what’s up with the fact that the Asians in KC tend to congregate at dance clubs?” we asked. “What is it about the oomph-oomph beat that lures them in?”

“It’s not so much the dancing,” he said. “They’re more family-oriented. They’re into friends and fun. Everyone in here, I called on the phone. The friends I grew up with came out tonight.”

We’d have to debate his “not so much the dancing” claim. When we headed back into the main room, we saw that a breakdancing circle had broken out. After that display, the dance floor devolved into a general crotchal-assal grindfest. Off to the side, we noticed a sexy Asian chickie strolling around with a mass of dyed-blond Jessica Simpson hair and hot pants. We went over and met 24-year-old Sophia and her friend, 27-year-old Leslie. We had trouble talking over the noise, so Sophia gave us her MySpace page (on which she has posted many photos of herself scantily clad in lingerie— talk about a Tit Offensive). We did manage to shout a question about whether they’d encountered any creepy guys with Asian fetishes at Kandi. “I doubt it,” Sophia answered, a bored look on her face.

The night was winding down, and the 1:30 last-call time was fast approaching. As the place cleared out, we started chatting with 27-year-old J.P., who was rocking the white-pants, white-jacket, orange-shirt look. He and his equally spiffy friends had just been to a post-wedding reception.

We caught a snippet of their conversation (“After Cory Aquino took over… ,” someone said), so we had to find out more about this stylish and savvy crew.

J.P. told us he’s Filipino— born in Manila — and that he used to live in New York City. He now attends law school at UMKC because his mom lives here. After talking a little about bars in KC, he declared his luv for Blonde, which he described as “fucking fantastic!”

High praise, indeed. As for us, we’ll stick to the roller-rink atmosphere of Kandi. Who wants to couple-skate with us? And, of course, by that, we mean do shots. Just like in Darfur.

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