Dive In: Small places, big fun
After a week climbing out of bed and into dress pants and business-casual heels every morning, it can be refreshing to let it all hang out at a bar where no-frills drinks are cheap and strong, the pool table and jukebox are the main attractions, and jean shorts and flip-flops are acceptable attire. By keeping it simple, the following neighborhood dives are ideal for chilling out and drinking up.
One of the city’s friendliest, most laid-back pool halls is unexpectedly nestled in a strip mall off Johnson Drive. It resembles a rec room with pool tables in the center and wooden high-tops lining the walls, so there’s plenty of space to maneuver a cue and make those hard shots. Leagues take over Tuesday through Thursday, but otherwise you can play all night for $1 per game. The classic bar menu — which includes burgers, onion rings and sandwiches — is available from the kitchen until 10 p.m., and the drinks are always cheap. Just make sure your friends don’t knock in the eight ball when you take the stage during Saturday night karaoke.
Clarette Club, 5400 Martway St., Mission, Kan., 913.384.0986
Fat Matt’s Vortex
If you like a little spooky history to go with your drinks, stop by Fat Matt’s Vortex, which is named after a cat and owned by friendly pagan witch and priestess Joni Bocelewatz. This Strawberry Hill watering hole used to be a funeral parlor — the crematorium is still in the basement — and the dim lights and witch-centric décor imply you might be dealing with spirits of the boozy and ghostly varieties. The prices make it easy to get a buzz without going broke, so you should have enough left to try the house specialties: rum-based Witches’ Brew or banana-flavored Grog.
Fat Matt’s Vortex, 411 N. Sixth St., Kansas City, Kan., 913.321.2410
Jerry’s Bait Shop
An eclectic neighborhood dive also known as the “rock 'n' roll watering hole,” this Lenexa favorite features live music six nights a week, including local rock groups, solo acts and a weekly house jam session. The kitchen is open until midnight, and in addition to traditional bar food such as mozzarella sticks, wings and burgers, the Bait Shop’s specialty is an award-winning pizza buffet. No need to worry about calories: daily drink specials — as well as the island atmosphere complete with red-and-white-striped buoys, a fisherman’s net and am inflatable shark — are sure get you dancing.
Jerry’s Bait Shop, 13412 Santa Fe Trail Drive, Lenexa, Kan., 913.894.9676, jerrysbaitshop.net/lenexa
The Red Balloon is Johnson County’s quintessential karaoke bar, with the party starting every night at 9. The crowd is as diverse as the massive song collection — mingling college kids and suburbanites with biker dudes and tattooed regulars who drop in to play pool or take the stage and belt their favorite tunes. Waitresses roam the small bar area, serving thirsty guests 24-ounce “schooners” of domestic beer and specialty shots. The best part: If singing is not in your wheelhouse, but that giant beer has you thinking otherwise, people will dance and clap anyway.
Red Balloon, 10325 W. 75th St., Shawnee, Kan., 913.962.2330
Located downtown near the Sprint Center and frequently overshadowed by the loud, boisterous Power & Light District, the Zoo Bar is hard to find unless you already know it’s there. It's a dive in the purest sense, with the walls just as tattooed as many of the patrons — unlike most bars, this place actually encourages guests to write on the walls. On slow weeknights, you can belly up to the bar and chat with welcoming regulars and the bartender, but on weekends the joint gets packed and lives up to its name.
Zoo Bar, 1220 McGee St., Kansas City, Mo., 816.842.6060
Check out these other Kansas City-area dives:
Speedway Grill, 11635 Kaw Drive, Kansas City, Kan., 913.422.4764
Sully's Pub, 5436 Johnson Drive, Mission, Kan., 913.403.9777
Double Nickel Bar & Grill, 189 S. Rogers Road, Suite 1610, Olathe, Kan., 913.390.0363
Hurricane Allie’s, 5541 Merriam Drive, Merriam, Kan., 913.217.7665
Cronin's Pub, 12227 W. 87th St., Lenexa, Kan., 913.322.1000
Photo by Angela Bond