Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bar Dating: Where to Drink in NoJoCo

One of the few downsides to life in NoJoCo is the dearth of good bars.

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 d├ęcor, 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 4 2, Beer Selection 1.5, Ambience 4, Service 3

Total = 17.5 15.5
---------------------------------------------------
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?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Property Taxes: KCK v Merriam

Last week I got my property tax statements.

Yes, that’s “statements”, plural.

Before my wife and I purchased our little slice of heaven in Merriam, I bought a vacant, mostly wooded lot on the WyCo side of the county line. We thought we wanted to build, but we came to some realizations.

First, it would cost a lot more than an existing house. Second, every single person we know who has gone through building a house said it bordered on nightmarish. And HOLY CRAP were there a lot of existing houses for sale.

We ended up with a house we really like, and in retrospect there are even more reasons that building a contemporary home on that lot was better left to our imaginations.

Practically speaking, the lot wasn’t all that great. In the full foliage of summer, the highway noise emanating from the junction of interstates 35 and 635 was a bit muted and the bright lights of the public storage facility behind the lot were shaded from view. In the winter, not so much.

We would have had way too nice a house for the area. This is a commentary on the area, not a commentary on our lavish lifestyle and tastes.

And then…there are those property tax statements I mentioned.

The mill levy in Merriam – that’s the sum of all the taxing jurisdictions, including city, county, schools, JuCo, etc. – is 118.2210.

In the Turner School District (where the vacant lot is located), it’s 177.8620.

Bottom line? The tax rate is 50% higher there than in Merriam. (It trumps northern Overland Park by more than 70%).

To put it another way: a $150,000 house in KCK has roughly the same monthly payment as a $170,000 house in Merriam once you factor in the property taxes.

KCK is still fighting an uphill battle. The tax base has continued to erode in two ways, as people continue to move away (albeit more slowly than before), and their property values took much more severe hit than most areas during this downturn.

I feel for my hometown, but not as much as I did when I lived there.

I don't feel so great when "it's not my problem anymore" runs through my mind. It doesn't stop me from thinking it, though.

Monday, November 15, 2010

George W. Bush on CBS Sunday Morning

Our Sunday morning routine usually involves watching CBS Sunday Morning and reading the paper.

This week's episode included an interview between president George W. Bush and Jim Axelrod, which you can watch here.

On the sickening feeling he got when there were no WMDs:

"Well, because, sickening is the fact that so many people felt that that was the only reason we went in to liberate Iraq," he replied.

"So in a way, the case became undermined, and it frankly, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction let Saddam off the hook."

"Then once it was shown that there were no WMDs, didn't it undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. invading?" Axelrod asked.

"Well, you know, that's part of the problem. You know, in some people's minds, they said, 'Wait a minute, if this is the main part of the case, we made a mistake,'" Mr. Bush said.

"I don't think, I don't agree with that," he chuckled. "I, I think that the liberation of Iraq not only makes America more secure, it gives 25 million people the chance to live in a free society. And that free society, over time, will have a transformative effect in the Middle East."

"And so the liberation, in your view, justifies everything."

"Well, I think, in my view, what justifies everything is the removal of a threat," President Bush said. "[In] other words, the decision to leave him in power, and my judgment, would've been a decision that could've created enormous chaos in the world. Now, as one could envision a nuclear arms race between Saddam and Iran, and then they'd have been saying, 'Wait a minute - the failure to act created enormous stress.'"

On Katrina:

When asked why Katrina was one event where he took too long to decide, President Bush said, "I got caught up in the legal system. [it's] not an excuse. I'm just giving you the facts. And that's the purpose - "

"But you're the President of the United States," Axelrod said.

"No, I know. But that, the purpose of the book is to show you the decision-making process. And in this case, it, in order to send troops into New Orleans, the law says that the governor must declare an emergency and request [them], or I have to declare an insurrection.

"In retrospect, now, knowing what I know today, which is, you know, it's not exactly what you get to do when you're sitting there, I would've sent in troops a lot quicker."

"There was a common feeling that after Katrina, you could never fully regain the trust of the American people," Axelrod said. "Did you feel Katrina was a fork in the road for your Presidency?"

"I felt Katrina was a part of a very difficult period for my presidency," Mr. Bush chuckled. "[in] other words, I said, 'Let's reform Social Security,' and a Republican Congress didn't. Iraq was very difficult in '06. And Katrina was just a part of a narrative that, that, you know, began to undermine me personally with some of the public, a lot of the public for that matter."