Kansas City is a major city with an amazing food scene and a million things to do that somehow manages to support a dive bar scene made up of exactly the kind of hole-in-the-wall spots indicative of neighborhood bars in much smaller towns. And that is very much a good thing, the city stocked with ample dive bar opportunities that blend into the neighborhoods they serve.
Kansas City dive bar icon Chez Charlie
offers little in the way of signage, a vertical white bar inscribed with ‘Cocktails’ the only suggestion that a business of any kind is housed below. Inside, recent renovations have smoothed out a few of the rough edges, but time-tested feature like the old school, free-to-play jukebox look just as they did decades ago.
Fellow Kansas City dive bar Fitz’s Blarney Stone
doesn’t just share a sensibility with Chez Charlie, rather sharing an ex-owner and even the same building, the two dive bars anchoring opposite ends of a small strip in Midtown Kansas City. Darts is popular at both dive bars, but Fitz’s represents the Irish end of the spectrum, the paint scheme a match to the Irish flag and plenty of Irish whiskey available behind the bar.
To expand from dive bars on the same city block, Dave’s Stagecoach Inn
dates back to 1952, single family ownership consistent throughout its history. The massive stagecoach-themed mural inside dates back to 1977 when a local artist was offered alcohol in exchange for art, the mural a preserved mainstay ever since. A tip from locals is to enter Dave’s Stagecoach Inn through the back door rather than the front, making for easier parking and a more locals-like entry.
Thankfully, Kansas City’s history stretches back far enough to house a few dive bar originals, including Johnnie’s on Seventh
, tracking back to 1934 in a two-story building that paradoxically includes a pitched roof within the first-floor dive bar. The slanted panels that make up the angled ceiling feature rotating decorations but mostly rest on large photos of some of history’s great people named John.
Each of these and all of Kansas City’s dive bar options blend seamlessly into a sprawling city large enough to house uniquely distinct districts. And that’s the real test of a great dive bar, the ability to withstand the rigors of running a business for decades, supported by locals and regulars drawn to the authenticity of places like these.