Saturday, February 6, 2016

We walk into a bar in Kansas

Cattlemen's Lounge sign in Dodge City
The Cattlemen's Lounge, Dodge City

Boot Hill in Dodge City
On Gunsmoke (the longest running scripted TV drama), a stranger would ride into Dodge City, walk into Miss Kitty's bar and order a whiskey. I'm sure this was a common occurrence in real life when the town was populated by the likes of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Bat Masterson. But because of Kansas' rather strict alcohol laws, it's not so easy for a stranger to ride into town and order a drink. (Though arguably the riding is easier - horse vs. car.)

sign at the entrance of Cattlemen's Lounge
Kansas was the first state to constitutionally ban alcohol, and the prohibition remained until 1948, the longest of any state. Until 2003, the state forbad alcohol sales on Sundays, and until 2012 bars were not allowed to have "happy hours" selling drink specials for a limited time of day. There still are many dry counties, and there is a patchwork of laws for the wet counties.

Ford County (of which Dodge City is the county seat), like many Kansas counties, has a law requiring that a business selling alcohol to the public must make at least 30% of its profit from food sales. That's why if you see "Bar" on a sign it's likely to be accompanied by "Grill". Looking for a bar, we found a number of restaurants with people eating in booths rather than sitting on bar stools. Not what we were looking for.

appropriate decor for Cattlemen's Lounge in Dodge CityThere is an exception to that 30% food rule:  private clubs may serve alcohol exclusively. Theoretically, only members can drink. To become a member at a club you must have a Kansas ID, and there's a ten-day waiting period. We were staying in Dodge City because, you know, Gunsmoke, at the Wyatt Earp Inn and Hotel, because, you know, cheap, and we were frustrated by the limited bar opportunities.  So after driving around town for awhile and not finding what we were looking for, I went to the place that shared a parking lot with our motel: The Cattlemen's Lounge. I told them I was at the place next door and asked if there was any possibility of being served. The woman behind the bar said, "No problem."
sunrise behind the Cattlemen's sign in Dodge City

It turned out the bar has an agreement with our motel and a nearby R.V. park allowing them to treat guests at both places as "members." Drinking clubs apparently have a great deal of autonomy in deciding who will be members and who won't in their establishments. 

It was quite apparent that everyone in the place knew each other. Part of that is to be expected in any small town, but it still seemed a little unusual for a tourist town. Still, it was February. Not the height of tourist season in Kansas.

Mary behind the bar
Mary was tending bar and told us we could order what we'd like, though not to expect anything too fancy. I ordered a rum and Coke (she suggested Bacardi), and Mindy asked for something with cranberry juice (she got a Cape Cod...maybe. Mary identified the drink as a Sea Breeze, but we didn't notice grapefruit juice in it).  There were a few people around the bar and a table full of older women having a grand old time. As those women were paying their bill, I asked them what made for a good bar. They said the people; I asked what made for a good church, and they told me about a marvelous Catholic church we just had to go to.
Dean's Cuba Libre (aka rum and coke)

Mindy's Cape Codder (or possibly Sea Breeze)
An older fellow named Norm heard about our project and came to sit next to me. (And no, people did not shout "Norm" in unison when he came in the room. But for a different sitcom reference, he was a "close talker." Mindy says he was also a loud talker) Norm told me he'd owned some bars through the years. When I asked what makes for a good bar, he took the question from the angle of what makes a good moneymaking bar. He said what made the difference in Kansas was whether you had a good relationship with the local government; otherwise neighborhood complaints could get you closed down. Ideally, he said, you find a way to be subsidized by the government and then you were sitting pretty. When I asked him what made for a good church, Norm gave me a rundown on churches by denominations. Apparently, Catholics and Methodists insist on having their own way. Baptists are hypocrites. Nazarenes are the best of people but sometimes won't talk to you. Presbyterians are concerned about money. Jehovah Witnesses are real Christians. Did I mention Norm had already had a few by the time we started talking?

folks at the bar at Cattlemen's in Dodge City
Meanwhile, Mindy talked to some other folks. Heather said a bar needs a friendly environment. If there are snobs she won't come back. For a church, she said the clergy needs to keep your attention.

Rick said a place needs to be friendly; he called Cattlemen's "our east office. We have our coffee here. This is probably our main office."  Rick valued friendliness in a church, he said. "It's like a barbecue. You have to like who you're with." And he told us about a Catholic church in another town that we ought to visit. 

Mark pointing out the picture where he's been hogtied
Another patron, Mark, was quite fond of a bar he where the bartender wore a bikini to work. (Mark tended to "work blue" as the comics say, to Mary's -- and Mindy's -- embarrassment.)  Mark mentioned he valued a sense of community in a church. He also told us about a beautiful Catholic church nearby, the church where he'd gotten married, that we really needed to see.

Mary thought what made for a good bar was the customers "their personalities - even when I don't like them."

hand-altered sign at Cattlemen's
We appreciated being welcomed at The Cattlemen's Lounge, even though it's something of a closed community (like some churches I know). And Cattlemen's folks, we really did go to see that Catholic church in Wyndhorst.

1 comment:

  1. Really great read. I see your making friends where ever you go. Love the photo's as well. Thanks