Look Away, Dixie Belle

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“Ladies, this is the reason why a man’s back should be waxed,” announced a guy at Daddy’s, the bear bar at 17th Street and Main. We watched, transfixed, as he caressed the lush pelt of a shirtless man sitting on a bar stool. Because the Night Ranger was the only lady (and we use this term loosely) in the joint, she carefully took note of this grooming tip, then thought: I need another drink.

We had ended up in this den as part of our Dixie Belle Warehouse Requiem Tour. Like many locals, we’d been wondering why that iconic KC gay bar closed over the Fourth of July weekend. We decided to nose around some of the remaining gay bars in town to see if anyone knew anything. Of course, we weren’t sure how we’d be received given that one Night Ranger column about the DB spawned a thousand hissy fits, thanks to a brief mention of the blow jobs we witnessed (“Blown Away,” June 19, 2003).

With that in mind, we hit Daddy’s with Research Assistant John. Daddy’s is located across the street from NR HQ, in the space that used to house a Cajun restaurant called Danny’s Big Easy. RA John cracked that Daddy’s was still big. And easy. Sadly, though, we didn’t witness any encounters of a steamy nature. A Gay Pride float trip and the International Ms. Leather contest in Omaha had lured a number of people out of town, so the place was pretty mellow.

A DJ spun some poppy dance stuff at a good volume in the front rooms. We peered past two guys in matching black tank tops and jeans who were making out in the side room, near a pool table. Out back, a flight of metal stairs led to a concrete patio, where a large wooden shed stood off to the side. That seemed to be a natural spot for some make-out action (or more); its interior was festooned with strings of red chili-pepper lights. And, you know, nothing says romantic like red mood lighting. Unless it’s white icicle lights, which hung on the black plastic sheeting that covered the chain-link fence around the patio. The black plastic was also a nice touch — it blocked the view of two parking lots. If it’s view you’re looking for, another flight of stairs leads to a smaller deck area that provides a scenic vista of downtown, with its hair-curler sculptures to the north and the Crossroads to the south.

Back inside, at the bar, we ordered a tall vodka cranberry ($3.50) and a $5 bottle of Guinness. As we imbibed, RA John provided a quick terminology lesson about the world of bears. Their icon is Al, the bearded, burly, flannel-clad assistant on Home Improvement. Other classifications include otters and wolves (for varying degrees of flesh and hirsuteness). The twink, meanwhile, is the stereotypically well-dressed, effete gay male. The fact that Daddy’s caters to bears was evidenced by T-shirts that said things like “Grizzly.” We spotted several exceptions, though, including a couple of cowboy types and a thin guy sporting a studded black-leather harness on his bare chest.

In the side room we saw a guy wearing just a pair of tighty whities, accessorized with a black baseball cap with a tiara over the brim. (Later, he added a sarong.) We later found 45-year-old Rick sitting alone on the patio. In describing his look, he proudly proclaimed, “I’m Kansas City’s only naked chef.”

Forget that poseur and false advertiser Jamie Oliver — we’ve got Rick! He says he cooks in the nude at Ken’s Place, a bed and breakfast in midtown. We wanted to ask him more questions about meat. How does he protect his loin and flank while cooking? Does he stuff his own sausage? Instead, we asked him about his DB memories.

“I named myself the Dixie Belle Diva,” he replied. He’s been friends with the owner for years, he said, and the DB was the one place where he was allowed to dress the way he likes — in big hats and capes. “I have 47 capes and 35 hats,” he said. “And I’m not talking about little hats. Big hats.”

So, Naked Rick, what’s your favorite memory of the place? He took a drag off his cigarette and looked off into the middle distance (or, rather, at the black-plastic-garbage-bag fence). “I’m not sure I have one,” he said. “I liked the camaraderie. It was very easy to be me there. I was always welcome. At other bars, not so.” Why not? “Well, look at me! I’m an odd cookie.”

Next, we met 25-year-old Joe, who was decidedly not an odd cookie (judging from his outward appearance, at least). Clad in a plaid shirt, he remembered the DB as the first gay bar he ever went to. His speculation on why it closed? “The gay community’s really fickle,” he said. “Everyone stopped going there.” Joe did attend the closing-weekend festivities, but when we questioned him about rumors of all-out sex, his response — like that of everyone else we talked to — was, “I wasn’t fortunate enough to see it.”

Alas. We decided to move on to Buddies, the slightly shady watering hole on Main. Once again, the NR was the only female present, so while RA John mingled, she sat at the bar, where a shirtless bartender served up $3 wells. After properly liquoring up, we walked around and met 36-year-old Kent. He bartended at DB for two years, back when it was at 1924 Main. The atmosphere at that location was a “mixture of trashy and good,” he said. “It was a great place,” he continued. “It was just seedy enough to be fun.”

Once it moved, he said, the atmosphere changed. It lost that certain je ne sais quoi. “It became almost too nice. It drew the twink crowd in its early twenties, which wasn’t what it was intended for.”

He told us that his favorite memory was the time when he worked New Year’s Eve. Because he was the newest bartender on duty, he was dressed in tighty whities and was carried around, platter-style. “It was great,” was all he would say of that experience.

What about the rumor we heard that the DB might reopen in October? “Let’s hope not,” Kent said. “Kansas City needs change. This city needs a lot of work. It’s a big town. Not a city — a town.”

OK, so the DB is dead. Long live the Dixie Belle — at least in our hearts, our minds and, most important, our loins.

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