Two-Pub Crawl

It’s not every day that a guy asks us to autograph his chest. Then again, it’s not every day that we mark our triumphant return to this column by visiting a bar housed in a former funeral home with a crematorium still in the basement.

The setting for such a scene? Kansas City, Kansas, of course. We wanted to take a bar tour of Strawberry Hill. However, since we’d been on vacation for so long, our Julie McCoy tour-directing skills had deteriorated. So our would-be pub crawl morphed into visits to two bars in two nights. Fortunately, both bars rocked — we’re glad we found a couple of gems that instantly upgraded from pit-stop status to hangout-worthy.

Now, KCK is new drinking territory for us. We had heard that some scenesters were starting to swarm the area, and we wondered if perhaps it would be the new [insert name of dilapidated neighborhood that’s now trendoid here]. We certainly hope that Strawberry Hill, a short jaunt from downtown, continues to get attention — just not from the pretentious trendoid loft set.

On a Friday night, we headed over with Research Assistants Cece, Scott and Shawn to the View. It’s supposedly the oldest gay bar in the metro area and has a spectacular view of downtown KC. Located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the View is housed in a former grocery store that looks to be just another house on the block.

The bar space is small and sparsely decorated but cozy and laid-back. Guys of varying ages sat around in groups, quietly talking, while the jukebox blared favorites such as “Jesse’s Girl” and “Fernando.” We ordered some fantastically cheap drinks. Our tall vodka cranberry, which was served in a root-beer mug with a straw, cost $2.75 (cash only). Better yet, the bar offered $3 Totino’s pizzas. Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but we all agreed that our Totino’s was the best pizza ever. Ev-er.

We were curious to see the famed view, so we headed to the back deck. Unfortunately, a wooden fence partly blocked the view, but we climbed onto a platform, and, yes indeed, the scenery was fantabulous. That’s where we ran into a familiar face: our buddy Jason and his partner, De De DeVille, a lovely drag-queen-about-town. They amusingly called the deck a lanai and said it was “very Golden Girls.”

We asked how they met. According to 32-year-old Jason, they got to know each other through Late Night Theatre shows. “We were always in other relationships but flirted through the other relationships,” he said.

“Innocently,” De De emphasized. One night, both were at Time Out, where De De was doing a show. “I had too much to drink and ended up going home with him,” Jason said. It’ll be two years together in September. Kudos to you, Jason and De De. We’re always amazed when HUIs — hook-ups under the influence — turn into actual relationships.

We got so immersed in conversation with those guys that last call was announced before we could continue our supposed bar-hopping tour. We were in Kansas, land of the 1:30 bars.

So on the following night, we gathered six research assistants and continued our tour at Irene’s, a medium-sized diveish bar on Sixth Street. Evidence of Strawberry Hill’s heritage stood out in two bumper stickers stuck above the bar: “Happiness is being Croatian” and “Thank God I’m Croatian.” About a year and a half ago, a Wiccan bought the place, which explained the witch figurines hanging behind the bar and the “Witches” sign on the women’s restroom door. Across from the bar stood a row of slot machines and a tabletop Atari machine with Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger and Donkey Kong.

We ordered up their Saturday night special: a bucket of beer (five Bud bottles for $10). The place was practically dead, so as we drank, we chatted with our bubbly bartendress, T.J. We also caught 39-year-old Joel as he was walking out the door with 31-year-old Sean and 25-year-old Sarah. The three of them work together at Trek Bicycle Store. We asked how they found out about Irene’s, and Joel told us that he lives nearby and leads a bicycle pub crawl once a year in KCK. Which brought to mind one question: Is there a law against drinking and biking? “Hopefully,” Joel replied.

While we talked to Joel, the RAs settled at a giant round table in the back, and T.J. soon came by bearing a tray full of shots called “grog.” Because it was our first time at Irene’s, they were on the house. “This is a very sensual drink,” she said. “You swirl it, swallow it and suck it.” Made from Captain Morgan, 99 Bananas and two other liquors, this mysterious libation was pretty smooth. Ahoy!

From that point on, the night just got more interesting. We became friends with the very cool T.J. (Tanya Jean), a feisty brunette sporting a Judas Priest tank top. She’s the one who told us that the bar used to be a funeral home, complete with the crematorium still in the basement. Of course, we wanted to hear stories about ghosts. T.J. said she’s the type to look for a logical explanation, but she has witnessed some weird things. Lights have gone on when no one was around, and the water has run in the women’s restroom at the end of the night, long after anyone used it.

“There’s a rumor floating around — I hate to say it — that a guy committed suicide. He shot himself. There have supposedly been sightings of him, but I’ve never witnessed them,” she said. “People who have been here before tell me they’ve seen a guy’s shadow at the back of the bar, too.” She’s never felt any negative or evil presence, she said. We got a little creeped out and decided against asking to see the crematorium.

Instead, we started talking to a guy who said his name was Scott. Then he said people call him Dave. “It’s ScottDave, like CatDog,” he told us. Huh? Then ScottDave — an avid Pitch reader — asked for the Night Ranger’s autograph. On his chest. If we took a picture of it for the paper, he said, “I’d be a god! It would be so stellar!”

Eventually, ScottDave got the research assistants, as well as the remaining stragglers in the bar, to sign his chest. So, bowing down to peer pressure worthy of an ABC After School Special, the NR did, too. Suddenly, the term lemminglike made sense. But, hey, if the lemming instincts that led us to Strawberry Hill are so wrong, we don’t want to be right.

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