Hotel Mode

So there she was at the Drum Room, in the newly refurbished President Hotel. Her research assistants were nearly an hour late, so the Night Ranger sat alone. On that Friday night around sixish, the bar was fairly packed — almost every seat in the house was ocupado.

We had come to conduct a sociology experiment: Would the concept of Vacation Mode work at a Kansas City hotel bar? For those who aren’t familiar with Vacation Mode, it’s that “screw it — no one knows me here so I’ll do eight shots and throw up in an elevator” mentality. This lowering of inhibitions is usually enabled by copious consumption of alcohol and by a touristy setting such as a hotel bar. So we embarked on a downtown-Plaza hotel pub crawl to see if the concept had hit KC yet.

The NR killed some time by slowly looking over the Drum Room’s drink menu, on which all the martinis have cutesy patriotic names such as U.S. Mint and the Preztini. We opted for the First Lady, a pomegranate martini. The demographic of the Drum Room’s cliquish crowd tilted toward 40 and up and didn’t appear in Vacation Mode. Then again, some might have mistaken the NR for a lady of the night, come to ply her trade. (Speaking of which, we, alas, didn’t spot any on the rest of our tour.)

The RAs showed up, and we staked out a spot on the long orange sofa that lined one wall. Theoretically, the hotel bar should be a thing of beauty. It usually conjures up images of a hip, sleek space where locals and business travelers with expense accounts mingle and swill overpriced froufrou drinks — a mini-United Nations, if you will, only younger and with more drinking. Apparently, back in the day, the Drum Room had an avocado-colored circular bar crisscrossed with red X’s, so that it resembled a snare drum. We’re suckers for historical restoration, so we were disappointed by the sterile, contempo-blah decor of the bar and the newly opened lower-level dining area. We decided to take off and made a Zagat-like assessment of the joint: “Bar’s just all right” but “worth checking out for the hotel.”

Then the NR nearly spit out a pomegranate seed over the bill for a lone martini: $15.36. Um, when did KC become New York? Our First Lady was a bigger bitch than Barbara Bush.

We walked the two blocks to our next stop, 12 Baltimore, watering hole of the Hotel Phillips. Lonesome Hank and the Heartaches were in residence that night, but considering the place is all windows and hardwood floors, the acoustics left much to be desired. When the band took a break, a group of swing dancers, some of them clad in ’40s-inspired clothing, took over the table next to us.

Then we noticed some drama at the table by the door: An older guy with white hair, a straw hat and a loosefitting short-sleeved shirt with abstract black lines on it was arguing heatedly and drunkenly with a guy in a suit. An older woman, her hair tightly pulled back in a ponytail, kept shushing them. Every other word was fucking-this, fuck-you-that. A couple sitting at the next table looked mortified and quickly moved to another spot in the bar.

We were dying to find out more, so we talked to the couple who moved. What were those guys fighting about?

“Football,” they said. “College football.” Oh, of course.

Soon we heard Straw Hat yell, “Wait. Stop a fucking second, The number one draft choice …” before the din rose in the bar. Damn you, 12 Baltimore, for your anti-eavesdropping atmosphere! On second thought, we’d rather poke out an eye with a swizzle stick than listen to a fight about college football. According to our server, Straw Hat had been there since before the start of her shift at 3 p.m. The time now? 10:19 p.m.

While the argument raged on, we edged away and started talking to 27-year-old Liz, who was sitting at the bar. We had seen her at the Drum Room with a guy, and it turned out that she was on a date. Her date was chatting with another guy, so we filled Liz in on the college football debate.

Just then, Straw Hat walked by and saw us glance in his direction. He took that as an invitation to glom. “Look at that hunk!” he said, projecting his fantasy conversation onto us before blathering on about all sorts of random stuff. Finally, we couldn’t stand it any longer and had to ask: “What’s your football team?” Straw Hat looked confused. “I have no team,” he replied. All right, then. We fled the bar, and as we walked out, we saw that Straw Hat had now glommed onto Liz and her date. Sorry, Liz, we owe you a drink for that.

Next we walked to Truman’s, the bar located inside the Clubhouse Lofts near 12th Street and Baltimore. It’s better known to us as the former Kansas City Club, site of our eighth-grade graduation luncheon and other rite-of-passage events. A small cluster of twenty- and thirtysomethings had gathered outside the place to smoke. Among them was a familiar face: Tariq, an acquaintance from college. He told us that they were hanging out at a birthday party on the 15th floor. We took a peek inside Truman’s and noted that the bar itself was pretty swank, with its tinkling fountain and classic chintzy décor. But there were, like, four people at the bar, which included David Basse and a bandmate.

So we jumped into the Night Rangermobile and headed instead to our last stop: the Oak Room at the InterContinental Hotel by the Plaza (formerly the Fairmont, the Ritz-Carlton and the Alameda). The Oak Room is best described as contempo-swank. As usual, an older crowd sat around inside and listened to a jazz trio. We eschewed that scene and headed to the outside deck, where a much younger crowd reigned. That’s where we met our first nonlocals of the night: 37-year-old Carla and her fiancé, 32-year-old Santiago. They live in Omaha — she’s a pharmacist, and he’s a commercial cleaning contractor. “She’s sleeping with the cleaning guy,” Santiago said.

“He made sure he wiggled as he pushed the machine down the aisle,” Carla added.

They soon wiggled off, and we joined a large group sitting nearby. Hillary, a bartender at McCormick & Schmick’s, was celebrating her 24th birthday. We asked her friend, 25-year-old Ashley, if she had any good stories to share about Vacation Mode. She and Hillary recently visited Las Vegas for the first time, but all she said was, “Oh, my God, it was too much fun. In Vegas, every place is a bar.”

Well, perhaps in time, KC will pick up Vacation Mode. Until then, in Zagat terms, we’ll be the ones “hanging out by the bar,” “trying to talk to people” and “not drinking an overpriced martini.” We’re sure Barbara Bush, the Silver Fox herself, would vote for that.

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