Strawberry Hill may have the best collection of dive bars in America



They are more like neighborhood museums that serve up fireball shots.
403 Club is one of several dive bars in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas

Kansas City’s best dive bars – really, the best dive bars in the lower Midwest, and maybe the country – are quietly clustered together in a historically Croatian enclave of Kansas City, Kansas, called Strawberry Hill. They’re the best not because of their friendly atmosphere, or their thoughtful selection of beers and spirits, or their charming regulars, or any other measure of what one might consider a “good time.” . They are the best because they are portals to an era that no longer exists in American society. In fact, calling them dives is not quite correct. They are more like neighborhood museums that serve up fireball shots.

If you think I’m about to divulge all of the tavern secrets I’ve accumulated over my many years roaming Wyandotte County, you are crazy. This sacred knowledge must be acquired turn by turn. I don’t mind sharing a few tips, though.

Like I said, the best bars are in Strawberry Hill, but wander the hills south of the Kansas River to a neighborhood called Argentina and you’ll find a nice little joint called the Coach Lite Club (2103 S. 34th St.). It’s an old Sinclair gas station that was converted into a bar in the 1960s – at least that’s what Mike Damron, who owns the place with his wife, Stacy, told me. Coach Lite (incredibly, he has not and has never shared an affiliation with Coaches Club, located a few miles in Armourdale) has a horseshoe bar, shuffleboard table, and a little nook at the back where you can earn money playing the machines. It’s only cash, and bring a little extra: the Damrons’ daughter raises chickens, and if you stop on the right day, you might be able to walk away with some fresh farm eggs.

Technically, Strawberry Hill is not either Johnnie is the seventh (55 S. Seventh Street.), even though it’s pretty darn close. The bar is named after Johnnie Baska, who founded it in 1934. Since 2010 it has been run by an extremely tall and extremely gregarious man named Chris O’Connor who as the brother of a woman who married the grandson of Johnnie Baska, has a reasonable claim of legitimacy over the place. Look down and you stand on top of an old black and white checkered tile; look up and the ceiling is completely covered with framed black and white photos of famous men. Drink an Irish whiskey or two at the bar, or have a game of pool in the next room and it will come to you: all those men on the ceiling are called John.

Years ago, a guy by the name of Foots was running illegal card games in the back room of Sammy’s Tavern (222 N. Sixth Street), a low ceiling corner bar on Strawberry Hill. Most of the judges, politicians and other local muckety-mucks who attended are long gone, but Sammy’s pays homage to the legacy with a few poker paintings and a hard-to-miss attitude. be sent “to intruders. The building in which Sammy’s is located is owned by Joni Bocelewatz, who also owns Fat Matt Vortex (411 N. Sixth Street) a few blocks north. Bocelewatz bought the place in 2004; until then it had been unofficially known as a whites-only club. She broke up the bar and played out the less problematic parts of the building’s history, which was the fact that there is a basement crematorium from the days of Stein Funeral Home. (You’re unlikely to get a glimpse of the crematorium: Bocelewatz rents the basement at the Iron Order Motorcycle Club.) Stay at Fat Matt’s and you’ll hear about spirits that are both ethereal and literal – plans of “Grog” , a mystery concoction, go for three dollars.

Speaking of price, at Breit’s Stein and Deli (412 N. Fifth St.), a pint of Guinness costs four dollars, and the popular Reuben sandwich costs $ 5.45 (including fries!). The bar, formerly a pool hall called Stanko’s, sat idle for thirty-two years until 2002, when a 1974 Bishop Ward High School graduate named Bob Breitenstein decided he wanted to open a joint of neighborhood on “the Hill”. These days, it draws an older crowd of city employees, Ward graduates, and members of the Breitenstein family (“It’s a pretty big family,†Bob told me).

Not everything is Old World at Strawberry Hill. Danny Dumovich is a former Breit bartender who is now one of the owners of that of Chicago (534 central avenue), who could be seen as some sort of Breit’s descendant: athletic, lots of Ward graduates and millennial-aged BPU employees, but not quite the same time capsule feel (a painting by Jimi Hendrix on the wall, a popular beer – pong tournament organized every year in February). Owner Artie Scholes keeps a smart selection of craft beers and pinball machines at 403 Club (614 Reynolds Avenue), just north of Chicago Hill. And to The easy hostel (322 N. Sixth Street), the most recent to arrive in the area, you’ll find Edison bulbs hanging over picnic tables on the back patio, retro garage-rock dudes in tank tops, and tattoos covering arms that don’t belong certainly not to sailors or military veterans. It’s – there’s no other way to put it – a hipster bar. It’s still pretty good. And, anyway, there is never any gold left.

Categories: Guide to bars, Beer, Wine, Spirits


Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.