The Drop Bar on Martini Corner was the first place I ever went to that I really felt like a somebody. When I walked through their doors, I was a celebrity. What I didn't realize at the time was that this is the perfected art of Eddie Crane, the owner of The Drop. He makes everyone that comes through his doors feel like a somebody. That is a tremendous skill when you own a bar and restaurant as he does. When I met Eddie, I had just come off a 4 year stint working for a casual dining restaurant chain, and I had operational knowledge, marketing knowledge and a love of good food and wine. I could spot the real deal at 20 paces and Eddie is the real deal. His bartending skills at a busy joint like Capital Grille all of those years really paid off for him when he and his partners gave birth to both The Drop and later Blanc Burgers & Bottles in Westport.
Eddie was given the nickname Fast Eddie Crane by Hearne Christopher Jr. the gossip reporter for the Kansas City Star this year during an interview about Eddie's latest creation call "Drops", which are lovely little edible cocktails. (Photo credit for the cool shot of the actual Drops above goes to Waldo Oiseau AKA Cathy Bennett.) Eddie developed these edible cocktails in several different flavors, and they are gorgeous to look at. I did sneak in to see Eddie for a sample and was happily stunned. I was expecting a Jell-o shot experience, where the flavor of the booze is camouflaged by a fruity, sugar bomb gelatin. Instead, these Drops are made only with liquor or alcohol so you will definitely taste the booze in these little babies. A must do, must eat? drink?
Fast Eddie Crane is certainly a title that has stuck, and when I asked Eddie if he minded it he said: "Hearne can call me anything he wants in print, as long as he puts it in print." Perhaps, you can see the single-minded focus that has won Eddie this nickname. I like it. It suits him and his ambition.
I am a fan of the three amigos that started The Drop: Eddie, Ernesto and Josh. Because more than most restaurateurs that I have met in Kansas City, these guys are all young, talented, hungry and smart. Each of them has their own separate and individual talents they brought to the partnership, and together they were a force of nature. (I am using the past tense because I understand they have recently decided to split up ownership to make sure that equal focus is being placed on both The Drop and Blanc Burgers + Bottles. I am confident that this move will be better for all of them and their concepts moving forward.)
In the Spring of this year, I had an opportunity to partner with an agency representing Chevy Cobalt to do some promotional work for them. Eddie came through for me (along with Chef Rob and Margarita Dalzell with Pizza Bella and Chef Jonathan Justus from Justus Drugstore) as he let me shoot my Chevy Cobalt promotion in his restaurant. (To my knowledge, they never did publish the story or any of the shots we took that day in their magazine.) See Eddie here looking at the shots we took of his place that day with the photographer they flew in from Detroit. Eddie is the one with hair.
After the Chevy Cobalt photo shoot, Eddie offered to take me on his "Dive Bar Tour of KC." I couldn't make it work that night, but we set a date to meet each other and see what we could see. He could not believe I had not seen this side of KC before. I tried to explain to him that I was a transplant to KC, that I didn't live here until after college, but it all fell on deaf ears. Eddie is the owner of a really wonderful bar in Kansas City, and in his free time he likes exploring dive bars. Here is a man who clearly loves his work.
He told me to meet he and his wife Molly and another drinking buddy of theirs at Bobby Baker's at 75th and Wornall where we would begin our tour of duty. It was a rough assignment, trust me, but someone had to do it. Eddie explained to me that there were so many different dive bar routes in KC that we could not possibly fit them all in during one night, but he said he would take me to about 10 of them before we ran out of time. Ran out of time? What? I suddenly realized he meant that I would be out on the town in KC until 3 am. I clearly had not properly trained myself for this night. I should have taken a nap and packed a snack.
Eddie explained to me he had made some observations about what makes a dive bar, well, a dive bar, so without further delay, here's the list:
1) Must be small in size.
2) Must serve beer first, everything else second.
3) Must have mismatched glassware.
4) Must have strange signs tacked to the walls with saying that only are funny when drunk.
5) Must have jukebox.
6) Must have distractions - pool, darts, trivia, lottery, video games, air hockey.
7) Must have old rec room type seating.
8) Must be able to play drinking games and no one cares.
9) Must have locals or regulars at the bar that everyone knows by name.
10) Could have male or female bartenders - but females are usually the norm.
11) Must have two days a year they are swamped - Halloween and St. Patty's.
12) The bartender must be secondary to the bar itself.
13) A real dive bar is not afraid to be called a Dive bar.
14) A really cool dive bar lets you purchase beer to-go, even when they aren't supposed to.
15) A dive bar must have crappy bathrooms with graffiti.
Bobby Baker's Lounge is one of those places that stopped evolving in the 1970's. With rec room furniture that looked like it had been stolen from the TWA airport lounge and a long, skinny bar . . .the bartender could quickly tend to anyone in the place and never get out from behind the bar to do it.
By the time we arrived it was past the dinner hour, but the guys at the bar had clearly been there all day. They showed no signs of slowing anytime soon. However, that being said when we walked into the place they all got up and offered us seats at the bar even though the entire place was empty. I thought that was very impressive and immediately made me feel right at home in the clubby Bobby Baker's Lounge.
Walsh's Corner Cocktails is down the street on Wornall from Bobby Baker's and it is a real joint with an Irish twist. The main focal point of the place is a bar in the middle of the room that has padded bumpers on it. Perfect for catching you if you lean too far forward after having one too many. May I recommend a PBR beer to drink here?
The bartender was a young, cocky kid who also seemed to be the only jock in the joint. He would fill a round of drinks then run back to the kitchen to cook. He did it all. Lots of people eating at Walsh's was my Foodie note.
Eddie found a friend at the end of the bar who ended up paying for our cans of beer. Obviously, this was someone that Eddie had taken care of before when he was behind a bar somewhere in this city. Ah, yes, I love the bartender's code: "Always take care of those that take care of you." Look at the perks you get from hanging with Fast Eddie.
We stopped at Tommy Farha's Cafe Bar only because no one in the car had ever stopped their before and it was on our way back downtown on Wornall. We had just enough to drink to think this was a good idea. This was the place when I asked about a martini, (I, for one, can only drink so much beer.) I got a strange look and the female bartender who said "Yeah, we had some martini glasses and then they all broke and we looked at each other and said why do we need them, ain't never been asked to make one." Awesome.
We sat at the bar and all discussed the Kansas City BBQ circuit and what it takes to be a judge and compete. I learned about the Herb Company in the West Bottoms who has a guy there that is a whiz at developing or replicating BBQ rub mixes. He apparently helps many of the BBQ teams come up with their winning rubs. American Idol was on all the TV's and everyone sat glued to it watching David Cook attempt to take it all. This was a true neighborhood haunt. Didn't see evidence of the "Cafe" part of the operation.
Then it was time for us to take the show on the road and head for Johnson Drive. Eddie dropped me off at my car, and explained how to get to our next pit stop - JJ's Other Place. I was excited about this stop because that used to be my old stomping grounds and I had always wondered what that place was about. A guy I work with swears they have the best pizza in Kansas City.
Not sure about that because we did not eat here, but our group played trivia and conducted drinking games at this place for over an hour. I think we could have stayed here all night, but the task as hand awaits so we packed it up. This was one of my favorite stops all night.
Then we headed up the road on Johnson Drive to Ruthie's Keyhole Tavern. The entire bar was about the size of a keyhole, so the name suits it. The crowd was fairly young, but very laid back, which gave this place a friendly college bar feel. Lots of young couples sitting around and talking about life while they sipped a brew.
The bartender here was a gorgeous blonde who came out from behind the bar to take our drink orders which I thought was charming. That's when I realized she was the first bartender to step out from behind her bar to greet us all night long. Color me impressed. It turned out that was not the only thing to be impressed with at The Keyhole.
The drinks were another, they were perfect. I was happy to be finally sipping on a ice cold gin and tonic. It went down nice and easy while we talked about my crush on Chef Tim Love from Ft. Worth, TX.
When it was time to go, I went to the bathroom. This was the photo I snapped in the bathroom. I am not exactly sure what this thing is, or what it means, but it appears to be a tribute to the size of the gnats in the place. Either that or it is a tribute to the size of the peckers in the place. Either way, I took care of my business and scurried out to catch up with the rest of my party.
Next on the list, Westport, and the infamous News Room Bar to be exact. I had heard tale of the News Room from my husband and others who had gone drinkin' there back in the day. I think my impression was you either belonged with the crowd that hung out there, or you didn't. And, by the way, you would not make that decision, they would make it perfectly clear if you belonged or not.
The crowd that was there the night we all stumbled in was an art student crowd who rode in on their skateboards, and a few Average Joe's sitting at the bar having a drink.
No one seemed to mind or care who we were or what we were doing, so we all just ordered a drink and gelled a bit. There was a jukebox as I remember and at one point a song came on that we all seemed to know the words to, it was an instant bonding moment.
We had a few more places to check off the list, so we needed to get moving, but not before Eddie gives me a tour of the room in the News Room that was once the kitchen. Apparently, they used to serve some bar food. Eddie said it was limited, but pretty good back then. This kitchen was now very sad, clearly no food has come out of it in a long time. A few rather large containers of seasoning salt and a couple of pots and pans were the only evidence that this was a kitchen. Then in a wink, Fast Eddie grabbed my camera from off the bar and ducked into the Men's bathroom with it. Thankfully he spared me the biology lesson, but came back with this one of the men's urinal with a handful of pennies that someone had thrown in the bowl, which of course no one is about to remove. A wishing well to the toilet gods that be no doubt. I was wishing I missed seeing this photo, don't you?
Next stop is Fitz's Blarney Stone across the street from the News Room. Eddie was explaining that this was not one of his favorite places because it had recently changed hands and the original magic and energy were gone now. But the good news for us, the jell-o shots still remain. Yes, that's right, this old Irish-themed bar is famous for their jell-o shots. Who knew?
When we arrived that night we were already "full" from the 6 bars before. That's when Eddie turns to me and smiles like the devil himself and says: "But Jenny, there's always room for Jell-o". Stirring up memories of the old Jell-o commercial, while tempting me to add a little more liquor to my already confused stomach. "What the hell", I think. When was the last time I did a Jell-o shot? College. My mind mentally scans the Rolodex and comes up with the answer. Bottom line, it's been too long, and I agree to the Jello shot.
Eddie slides up to the bar and orders 6 Jello shots - 2 for each of us left standing. We suck down the first one, and I am thinking how very little I taste the booze in them. Then we eat the second one, and I am secretly wondering at what point I am going to hit the floor with all this booze in me. But honestly, all I am really tasting is the cherry flavored Jell-o. Eddie is chewing on his thoughtfully, when he whispers to me that he thinks the new owner is being a little stingy with the booze in the Jell-o shots. I agree, and he is back at the bar ordering another round of them, this time "bring us the ones with the booze in them." This time about 10 Jell-o shots appear in front of us as Eddie orders a slew of them to see if any of them have more booze in them than the others. At this point, I throw in the towel on the Jell-o shot investigation, and on drinking for the rest of the night. Eddie finally gives up the fight saddened that his beloved Jell-o shots have been needlessly stripped of their punch, and we walk next door to my favorite find of the night.
Chez Charlie's is the kind of place that thrives on the different and bizarre, something like the town of Twin Peaks, the famous TV show by David Lynch. I was reminded of that strange TV show when we stood outside of the place and I realized that there is no real sign marking the fact that you have arrived at Chez Charlie. Other than a standard issue cocktail sign above the door, if you blinked you would miss it.
Eddie explained that this is part of the allure of Chez Charlie, and inside the place was stuck firmly in a late 1950's early 1960's time warp . . .with a bar that has been updated in the 70's. It was 1:30 am when we walked into Chez Charlie's and no sooner did we crack the door to open it when we heard the gruff snarl from inside - "Get out. We're closed."
That did not scare our group, as Eddie, our fearless leader, moved through the door first explaining that he was just wanting to show me, a new customer, the bar and how we would be happy to pay money for the privilege of looking around while he closed up.
Now, I had consumed a few to drink at this point in the night, so perhaps it would have seemed different had I been clean and sober, but I swear the guy behind the bar looked exactly like a gruff old pirate. He could have had a peg leg and an eye-patch. He grumbled about just wanting to close, but when he saw we were well manned and meant no harm, he charged us a couple of bucks and pitched us each a can of cold beer from behind the bar. He was rough, but the bartender was not a mean man.
There was a record player in the middle of a table that was playing music, tended to by two kids dressed like Rock-a -Billy musicians who were also playing darts. She looked like a pin-up doll and he was dressed like a greaser.
I checked my cell phone, no Halloween was still several months away. But the truth was, Chez Charlie was a really, really cool bar. When it was open you could tell it would be filled with really, really cool people. Musicians, Art Students, Bikers, Hipsters, College Joe's all would fit in at Chez Charlie. Even, Foodies are welcome.
We ended the night at our favorite place, Harry's Bar and Tables in Westport, and soon enough that bar closed and we were back out on the streets of KC with no place but home to head off towards.
I can't thank Eddie enough for showing me a side of Kansas City I would not have seen otherwise. I got home, showered, and then went to work that morning. My head never hit a pillow. Hey man, that's just life in the fast lane.