Most drinking establishments in the area are either unintimidating dive bars or sterile sports bars. There isn’t much to distinguish between one place and the next.
Therefore, my wife and I turned a critical eye to some local establishments through a series of "bar dates" in the hopes of finding a decent place to get a drink.
We needed some criteria for judgment.
-Obviously, location is important. Anything more than 10 minutes away, we might as well go to Westport to drink at the bars we already know we like. The closer, the better.
-Jackass clientele is a big hurdle to overcome anytime you’re drinking in JoCo; in fact, it’s generally the biggest hurdle. You’re very likely to be surrounded by preening fauxhawks, loud assholes in frathats (chewing on cigars if they’re outside), or 'woo girls' whose every inane statement is inflected like a question. It can be rough.
We judged ambience as the vibe of the place after extracting the clientele. Music, noise level, and the feeling we got from the place in general. Highly subjective, but like most people we know when we’re in a place where we're comfortable.
Service matters! Friendliness and attentiveness go a long way.
Finally, beer is our drink of choice. We don’t drink Bud Light (or the ubiquitous Boulevard Wheat, for that matter). Having at least a few beers we really like is vital.
(Food was not a factor; we have plenty of places nearby where we like to eat.)
All categories are rated from 1 (lousy) to 5 (excellent).
The Other Place – Downtown Overland Park
Sterile sports bar. Utterly average and vaguely pleasant all the way around. Lots of TVs and an interactive trivia game. Quite a few beers on tap, but few of any real interest – I think 1554, Sam Adams Octoberfest, and Guinness were my top 3. A bit far from our house to become a regular spot.
Location 2, Clientele 2.5, Beer Selection 3, Ambience 2.5, Service 2
Total = 12
Maloney’s – Downtown Overland Park
With the spacious patio, they were considerably busier than the Other Place due to the pleasant weather the night we visited. Not a great beer selection, though they did have Tank 7 on tap. Pretty friggin’ douchetastic on the people front. Service was very friendly, though they appeared to be understaffed the night I was there.
Location 2, Clientele 2, Beer Selection 2.5, Ambience 3, Service 3.5
Total = 13
Birdie’s – 75th and Antioch
Dated but comfortable décor, with lots of brass and old-school bar stools. A slightly older, more modest, well-behaved group of people having drinks. Bartender was super-friendly and took great care of us. Not a lot of beers, but I was impressed that they had the Boulevard seasonal and porter on tap (along with wheat and pale). Can’t really complain about this place.
Location 3, Clientele 4, Beer Selection 3, Ambience 4, Service 4.5
Total = 18.5
Barley’s Brewhouse – 435 and Midland Drive
When we sit on the restaurant side, we’re always pleased with our experience. But if we’re going for a drink, we sit on the bar side, and that’s where the problems start. Make no mistake - it’s a nice place, the servers generally know their stuff, and they have an elite beer selection. But damn if I don’t end up aggravated every time I’m there. Whether it’s the 50-something couple whose makeout-induced spittle almost landed on my shoulder or the assholes who just finished 18 at the muni on the other side of highway who are harrassing the waitress and jostling our table, the people who drink there just piss me off. That and the fact that it is almost as long a drive as the Foundry means we only go here if we’re eating.
Location 1, Clientele 1, Beer Selection 5, Ambience 4, Service 4
Total = 15
Bilski’s – Johnson Drive and Merriam Drive
Nondescript little dive. Its best quality is its location, since it’s about a mile from our house. They have Boulevard Stout on tap in addition to Pale and Wheat, and that’s about it. The epitome of the unintimidating dive. Hardly anyone in there during our visits (early evening), so it was difficult to judge clientele.
Location 5, Clientele 3, Beer Selection 2, Ambience 3, Service 3
Total = 16
The Pour House – 74th and Nieman
Jesus Christ, what a trainwreck. Dark bar, lots of black paint. Patrons yelling at the top of their lungs and pounding on tables, and the staff is okay with it. Bartender didn’t look at us for close to 10 minutes despite sitting at a table next to the bar. Waitress finally approached and said, “How are you?” When I responded with a smile, “Fine, how are you,” she sighed/smirked/expressed her utter displeasure before grunting “fine” as if I’d asked her to clean my toilet. We ordered Pale Ales, a fallback beer for me (and a last resort for my wife). The server went outside, took others’ orders, and forgot about us. After another wait, we told her we had to leave, and we left without having a drink. Thank god, because karaoke was about to start. I’m pissed that I even have to technically give them the location points.
Location 3, Clientele 1, Beer Selection 1, Ambience 1, Service 0
Total = 6
Aftershock – 53rd and Merriam Drive
As much performance venue as bar; we later found out it was the headquarters of the KC Rockabilly Society. However, they had an indie rock show that night in the form of one of those battle of the bands scams where the promoter (not the venue in this case) makes all the entrants sell a certain number of expensive tickets in the hopes of loading the crowd. The bouncer didn’t make us pay because we were just there for a drink and the show was almost over. The band we saw was pretty damn good though, and we thought maybe we had found something great: a place to see music with non-pretentious people, the shows don’t start super late, and it’s a mile from our house.
As the night progressed, we made some realizations. One, all they had to drink (for us) was Guinness. Two, it doesn’t appear they’re open unless there’s a show. Three, by the end of the night, we discovered a large number of those non-pretentious people…were underage. In some cases, like high school age (they apparently have all-ages shows rather frequently). Which really made me feel betrayed, because there’s a covenant between me and a bar: if the bar attracts good-looking people in revealing clothes, I get to observe guilt-free so long as I’m not an ass about it. Now every time I see this in any bar, the first thought through my head is, “Is she 17 or 22?” ‘Cause I damn sure can’t tell the difference. Sigh.
Location 5, Clientele
Waxy O’Shea’s Irish Pub – 63rd and Quivira
There is no singular stellar aspect to this place, but everything is above average. Good bartenders, a few beers on tap that we would actually drink, not far from the house, bonus points for regularly having people 55+ enjoying a pint or two, bonus points for having Bob Reeder and other Irish acts from time to time. It looks like a suburban chain restaurant from the outside (which it was in a previous life) but inside is cozy and welcoming. Until we try a couple more places on our list, this is likely our go-to place for a nearby drink.
Location 4, Clientele 4, Beer Selection 3.5, Ambience 4, Service 4
Total = 19.5
Where else should we try?