In KC, we’re all about the dive bars.
You know what we mean. We blanch at the thought of paying a cover charge, and we deem any drink over $6 to be expensive. Call us cheap or call us hickish, but the dive bar rules here. So, in this spirit of diveophilia, we decided to spend an evening at Fitz’s Blarney Stone with Research Assistants John, Cece and Erik.
The Blarney Stone is conveniently located at 38th Street and Broadway. We say it’s convenient not only because it opens at 9:30 a.m. but also because there’s a bus stop in front of the door. Plus, it’s part of a quartet of solid midtown watering holes within stumbling distance of one another. Next to the Blarney Stone is hipster hangout Chez Charlie, and when both places shut down at 1:30 a.m., the drinkery can continue unabated at the Lava Room (across the street) or the News Room (a block north). According to new owner Chuck Rosley, the Blarney Stone building has been around for more than 80 years and has probably been occupied by a bar for nearly that long. It used to be called the Normandy Inn, then was bought by Jim Fitzgerald in the ’80s. Beyond that, Rosley is unsure of the history.
The place itself is terrifically laid-back. The best thing about it is the wooden art-deco bar, which has panels that light up in the colors of the Irish flag. In fact, Irish elements dominate the sparse décor — a map of Ireland hangs on one wall; on another is a weird, kitschy mural of leprechauns trying to tame a horse. (Our RAs pointed out that one leprechaun seemed to have his hand up the horse’s ass, as evidenced by the coy smile on his face.) And though we found the jukebox mildly disappointing — we contend that dives are required to have great selections of tunes — the drink prices were not. Mixed drinks are $3 to $5, and during happy hour, which is 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., various beers are usually 50 cents off and pitchers are a dollar off.
We were hanging out late on a Friday night, and the place was a little livelier than usual. Representatives from random segments of society were present. A couple of neatly dressed, preppy-looking guys were at the table next to us, and a Hispanic trio was shooting pool. A few scenesters came in and played darts, and a familiar midtown face — a dreadlocked white guy we see from time to time — made an appearance at the end of the night. We finally met him; Adam, 37, who was wearing some sort of hippie horn necklace, told us that he does live performance art. We think he also told us that he plays the drums at the Renaissance Festival, but we were slightly inebriated at the time. The Ren Fest thing seems entirely too plausible, which is why we’re going with it.
A group of older people chortled away loudly at the corner of the bar. They looked interesting (and lit!), so we went over to chat. That’s how we met Joanne, 54.
“Can you write, ‘I met a 54-year-old who looks 35’?” she tipsily asked. Actually, yes, we can; she was gorgeous. She told us that she and her friends go to the Blarney Stone every weekend. “I know Chuck E. Cheese [owner Rosley],” she said. “I bought his Mercedes so he could have money for the bar.”
“We bought the car. He bought the bar!” said a mustachioed guy who came over to find out what was going on.
Joanne then pointed out her drinking buddies. “That’s Barry, my husband [the mustachioed man], and my son, Paul. He’s 35. He likes Nina, the bartender. Nina Wena, even more fun! And those are her parents at the bar.” Ah, the families that drink together stay together.
“Is this really going in the newspaper?” Joanne asked. We said yes. “I’m so excited!” she replied, then emitted this birdlike noise: “Kikikikikiki!”
How great is that? We loved Joanne, so we asked if she thought this pickup line would be better used on a guy or a girl: “Heeyyy. Want to kiss my Blarney Stone?”
“Men,” she said decisively, then amended her choice. “Well, it can be women or men.”
“Girls don’t know where the Blarney Stone is!” said Barry, who was practicing the drive-by method of conversation; he’d occasionally interject a comment, then walk off and rejoin his drinking group. We asked Joanne what he was talking about.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “It’s down there somewhere, below the waist. Men think it’s above the waist. Girls think it’s below.”
That can be interpreted in many ways, and we were in no condition for such an analysis, so we moved on and started talking to 32-year-old T.J. (“It stands for ‘Truth and Justice,'” he said), who was standing nearby. He’s friends with Nina; they’re in a band that sometimes performs at the News Room.
“What kind of band?” we asked.
“A really drunken good-time fun band,” he replied.
He also told us that Nina’s mom is in a band called Baliroot (a cover band) and that the Nina Parents were celebrating their wedding anniversary that night. Peggy, 50, and Sam, 51, met on a blind date and have been married for 27 years. They were lovely people. Peggy was telling us that Sam is full-blooded Italian, and that they just got back from a trip to Italy, when we heard someone say above the din: “Do the trick for her!”
That always gets our attention, so we turned around to find out what was happening. Apparently, T.J. usually dances on the bar. But not tonight. “I can’t dance on the bar anymore. Chuck said no,” he said in a mock-pouty voice. The prohibition must have been temporarily lifted, though, because T.J. clambered atop the bar and started goofily dancing away, to the amusement of everyone in the place.
The display brought to mind a conversation we’d had earlier in the night with Chris, 29, one of the preppy guys sitting near us. “It’s a fun place,” he’d said of KC (more specifically about being single in KC, but whatever). “I love this town, I really do.”
Cheers to that.