We had a problem in Kansas City. Kansas City is perhaps second only to New Orleans in its fame for music bars, so we wanted to experience that scene. The problem was that we only had Thursday night free, but the bigger happenings are on the weekends. Plus many places have cover charges, and we happen to be cheap. A little internet research brought us to The Tank Room for open mic night.
When we walked in, we realized that we'd need to be careful what we photographed. Near the entrance, there's a large book with formerly blank pages on which guests are encouraged to express themselves through words and drawings, and the walls have an interesting assortment of paintings, but not all of these artistic expressions are appropriate for a family friendly blog. (And by family friendly, we mean we hope our own family reads the site.)
We arrived at the bar a little before eight, and ordered our drinks: an Angry Orchard hard apple cider for Dean, and Mindy had Illusive Traveler's grapefruit shandy. Business was light. Noah, the bartender, told us things would be picking up shortly because the performances began at nine, and he'd just put out the signup sheet. The man who'd just signed up for spot number two on the roster was waiting to get Noah's attention, so when he'd gotten his drink, we asked him our standard bar questions: "What makes for a good church?" and "What makes for a good bar?"
Matt replied with something we've heard often, "It depends on what kind of a bar you're looking for." The two options he mentioned, though, were a good place for music or a good hangout. "A good place for music is often too loud to hang out in and have good conversations," he said. But music was the reason Matt was at The Tank Room. He said it was one of the better places in town for performers; they have a good sound person and handle the logistics of open mic night well.
Matt said a good church was "aplace where the Gospel is preached and believed." So I asked him to define the Gospel, "People are in need of a Savior, so God took the form of a man in Jesus Christ and died for our sins." From that answer I was not surprised Matt attends church (Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City).
A little later, friends of Matt's showed up to support his act; they answered our questions as well. Colby said he had grown up in a home that was pretty legalistic, which led to rebellion and questioning. He didn't say it, but I'm guessing going to a bar wasn't an option in the worldview of his early days. What he likes in a bar is something distinctive that draws attention. He likes it when something has games -- for instance, "Bags" (beanbags). He likes a place called O'Malley's which was around during Prohibition and has stairs to an escape hatch dating back to those days.
As for a church, Colby is looking for a place that's real. "I've been too many places that don't allow everyone to admit doubts." He thinks the model of the book of Acts is important, with people breaking bread together and having conversations. (Colby was the first person we've met who's asked what we thought made for a good bar and a good church. We told him some ideas, but we're not telling you what we think until the year is up. Sorry.)
Another friend of Matt's, Scott, said that a good bar is a place "where you walk in you can be yourself. You don't have to conform to an image." And he had an interesting answer for church: "A place that preaches the truth and doesn't turn you away because of it."
The music began a few minutes after nine, and the bar was crowded. The first act was a couple of guys on guitar with a guy on a violin, opening with "My Favorite Things" (a Rogers and Hammerstein song that continues to be amazingly popular as a jazz standard). The violin solo was a standout.
Our new friend, Matt, went to the stage and did a fine job with his three songs. (A few minutes before nine, he'd picked up his guitar and said, "I guess I'd better decide what I'm going to play.") He has a nice stage presence, chatting with the audience, and we saw people nodding their heads or tapping their feet as he played. We stayed for a couple of more acts that were also enjoyable.
The Tank Room was actually our second bar for the evening, since we began the afternoon at the Westport Flea Market Bar and Grill. One of my former youth group students, Jonathan (Jon back in the day), met us there with his wife, Briana. It was a nice funky place that's been featured on the TV show, Diners and Dives.
The bar is right there in the name, but the grill is there as well, so for me the place edged a little more into restaurant side of things. Sometimes the line between a bar and a restaurant isn't that clear, because after all, Applebee's (headquartered for the moment in Kansas City) has a bar.
Still, while we ate, we asked Jon and Briana our questions.
Briana works for the local NPR stations, so it made sense that many of the things she looks for in a bar relate to the reporter's perspective. She likes low lights because it's easier to observe people. She likes a place that is divey enough to draw in mix of people. She likes it when a priest, an executive and a construction worker can all walk in the bar, "a better slice of humanity". And she wants a good beer: not too light and not too dark.
Jon likes a bar with a bit of local history. He likes those collections of photos of local teams, buildings and celebrities found on bar walls that provide a sense of the distinctive location.
For a church, Briana said she likes a place that is open and positive, accepting people whereever they are in life. She said she would like a place "based in the present day," a place that was interesting and fun, especially for kids.
Jon appreciates a church that has a sense of family, providing a good support group. He thought it can be a good thing for people coming to a new place to have the support of a church.
That sense of fellowship is a wonderful thing, whether experienced with an old friend (Thanks, Jon!) or a new friend (Thanks, Matt!).
Total time spent in bar: The Tank Room 2 hours
Westport Flea Market 3 hours
Music: The Tank Room - open mic (rock on the sound system otherwise)
Westport Flea Market - 70's and 80's classic rock (we think)