August 2008 Archives

Jamesport Tavern - Jamesport, MO

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james1.jpgWhen you think of the Amish, do you think beer? Neither do we. So when we heard that there was a bar in the Amish town of Jamesport, MO, it was time for a little road trip.

As Missouri's largest Amish community, the horse-and-buggy easily outnumbered the automobile as we arrived in town. We found the tavern on a quaint downtown street, and parked in a small gravel lot next door.

The first thing we noticed was two hand-painted pub signs with arrows pointing towards the door. These are visible in the photo above if you click to enlarge it.

The second thing we noticed was a sign we'd never seen on a bar before:

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As it turns out, the bar's owners Jim and Shirley are members of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. They build their own black powder rifles and pistols and sell them at the bar. They also do restoration work on black powder guns and supplies.

We entered the Jamesport Tavern at about 2:10 on a Saturday afternoon, becoming perhaps the first tourists in the history of Jamesport to come here specifically and only to have a beer here.

Our beer was poured and has happened to me on rare occasion, I was "tricked" by the lightweight clear plastic beer mug and nearly got a faceful of my own brew as I lifted my mug with the force normally required for the glass variety.

Inside, the Jamesport Tavern is typical of many downtown bars in small towns. The jars of pickled eggs were a nice touch, as were the mega-oversized bags of chips. Souvenier bottle-opener keychains and beer koozies were available for purchase. There was also an odd assortment of koozies under the bar for use within the bar.

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By the way, before you get depressed and lose your mind because your entire view of the balance of the universe is now in disarray, there is no need to worry. As far as we know, there is still no such thing as an Amish bar. Jamesport Tavern is one of the English merchants mixed in among the Amish businesses.

Jamesport Tavern is located on the east side of MO-190, half a block south of the intersection with Mo-F, in downtown Jamesport, MO. From I-35 take exit 61 (US-69) and go northeast 4.3 miles. At the intersection with MO-6, continue ahead east on MO-6 another 18 miles to MO-F. Turn right at F and go just under a mile to MO-190, then turn right.


209 S Broadway St, Jamesport, MO  

lakefront.jpg It was a warm, overcast Thursday afternoon in August as we walked around downtown Clear Lake, Iowa, enjoying cold drinks at the neighborhood pubs. One tavern proved to be a little bit of a challenge for us to find, as we didn't expect it to underground -- in the basement of what appears very much to be a private residence!

Indeed, the front of Elly's Lake Front Tap looks like a visit to one's grandmother's house. However a set of steps leads down to an entrance below sidewalk level to a hidden basement bar.

The bar was U-shaped and had a few people sitting around it, most of them considerably older than us. Drinks were cheap and in cans. We sat down beside a gentleman and he asked where we were from. We told him "Kansas City" and explained what we were up to. When we told him we'd be going to Mason City next, he gave us warning after warning about construction between Clear Lake and Mason City, rambling about lane closures and flooded out shoulders. (We'd later find the highway completely open, clear, and fine.)

Clear Lake is best known for being the location of The Day The Music Died -- the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. The Surf Ballroom, where the three performed their last concert the night before the crash, is located just a few blocks from Elly's, while the crash site is just a few miles to the northeast.

Consequently, Elly's has become an unofficial and lesser-known shrine of sorts for memorabilia and artifacts surrounding the event (as well as Clear Lake history in general). The walls of the bar are covered in photos, posters, and newspaper clippings, while display cases house other items such as bricks from the first Surf Ballroom (which was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt years before the crash).

Tourists coming to Clear Lake for its place in music history typically make visits to the Surf Ballroom and to the crash site, but a stop at Elly's should be added to the itinerary to get the full experience.

Because the interior of Elly's is very dark and the flash on the camera I had with me was malfunctioning, I was unable to get any decent interior shots. However I have selected a few photos from the nearby Surf Ballroom, as well as from the crash site, to illustrate some of the history in Clear Lake.

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Elly's is located at the corner of Main and South Shore Drive, immediately southwest of downtown Clear Lake. It is next to a park, 1 block from the lake, and across the street from the water tower. There is plentiful street parking nearby. Take exit 193 (4th Ave/BR-35) from I-35 and go west. When you reach 8th Street/107, continue ahead 2 blocks to South Shore Drive. Turn right and go two more blocks, Elly's will be on the right just before Main Street.


12 South Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA 50428  

Bert's Pub and Grub - Afton, IA

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berts1.jpgAfton, Iowa is the former county seat of Union County, and has a nice town square to prove it. While people in jeans played basketball in a park in the square in 100+ degree heat, we drove around looking for a place to cool off.

Located right on the square, Bert's Pub & Grub occupies a former Gamble's department store. With wood floors and high ceilings, Bert's showcases its ornate, leather-wrapped bar proudly. We had just settled in with our bottles of Bud Light and Miller Lite when the bartender offered to show us around the place.

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The most striking feature of the main bar area is its antique elevator. Originally used by the department store, it is still used today for bring in cases of beer and taking out the trash. This unique elevator is hand-operated, using an intricate system of pulleys to allow the operator to raise and lower themselves and a heavy load of merchandise with ease by simply pulling a rope. Our bartender demonstrated how simple it was to use.

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As we toured the bar we were surprised to find a dance room in back, complete with setups for pole dancing and cage dancing. (The camera we had with us on this visit had no flash, hence the "night vision" photo below.) The owner, Jeff Zeits, had the stage and dance area constructed in 2004 and had plans to bring in exotic dancers from time to time to "bring a little life" to town. But City Hall got wind of the idea and put a stop to it before it ever took off. Nonetheless is still makes a good stage for local and touring bands.

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Afton is located at the junction of US-34 and US-169, about 19 miles west of I-35 in south-central Iowa. Bert's is located 1 block east of US-169 in downtown Afton at 175 E. Kansas St.

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175 E Kansas St, Afton, IA  

Zoo Bar - Kansas City, MO

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Author's note: This week's entry will be longer than most because it's about the bar where I spend the most time. Please excuse the wordiness and enjoy the story of what is currently my favorite place to hang out.

zoo.jpgZoo Bar is a place that so few people know about and is so hard to find, that oftentimes first-time visitors have no idea what to expect and may feel a little nervous. Instead they are surprised to find themselves inside what is probably the friendliest and most laid-back place in town. I would venture to call it the best dive bar in Kansas City. And that can't be far from the truth, to be thriving after nearly 26 years and counting in a location where none of its neighbors have lasted.

The bar is very small... in fact the bar itself takes about half of the usable space. There are seats for maybe about 25, but no one seems to mind standing when they have to.

The most striking feature of Zoo Bar is the graffiti covering its walls, ceiling, and nearly every other zoo_overview.jpgaccessible permanent surface other than the bar itself. In the mid 1980s the bar was repainted and patrons threw such a fit about loss of the scrawlings that it has never been painted since. More than 20 years of Zoo Bar history is now inscribed upon the walls. Many people just leave their name and the date, while others draw pictures or write a sentence or two about the visit. Markers are left out on the bar for anyone who wants to add themselves to the ink-on-paint tapestry.

Another feature Zoo Bar is very proud of is its old flip-style CD jukebox. The owner and bartenders have spent years editing and refining the mix of selections, literally agonizing over what CD to remove if a new one is added. zoo_dance2.jpg The result is such a well-balanced mix of music that almost any visitor can find music they like, yet no matter what gets played it fits the style of the bar perfectly. Occasionally spontaneous bar dancing has been known to break out.

Zoo Bar has no beer taps, but it does have nearly 30 varieties of beer in bottles and cans. This includes several premium and foreign beers as well. And as long as it doesn't require a blender (which no real drink ever should... especially a drink in a dive zoo_bos1.jpgbar), the bartenders can mix up just about anything else you may want. Most importantly, this is one the cheapest places to drink in downtown Kansas City.

The bartenders are all a fun bunch. Ronnie or Ellen (who was the first bartender I met there back in 2006) will take care if you during the daytime, while Carol, the Sarahs, Cameron, Samantha, or Shizzy will be happy to serve you at night. Collectively the bartending staff call themselves the Zooettes. Except for Cameron, of course.

On Saturday the bar offers a free lunch buffet. All of the food is home cooked, usually by the owner and often with a bit of a kick of spices. The menu changes each weekend and is usually written on the whiteboard inside the front door a day or two in advance.

zoo_preston.jpgThe owner, Preston Cain, is a friendly guy who often will stop in at some point in the evening. An attorney who practices out of the law office above the bar, Preston runs the bar almost as a hobby. Preston took over operation after the original owner, prosecuting attorney Ray Webb, passed away. A ceiling tile commemorating Webb sits behind the bar, while Preston is showcased in magic marker on the opposite wall.

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When I made my first visit to Zoo in June 2006, a friend and I were looking for a place that we did not know for certain even still existed. We had only a name and a general idea of the location that I had picked up from a 2-year-old list of businesses mentioned in a bicycle blog. Indeed, the Zoo Bar was so hard to find that we looked directly at it several times, from right across the street, and did zoo_stuffed.jpgnot see it. The only signage was a small engraved wooden sign inside the window. Somehow I caught this sign out of the corner of my eye as we were giving up the hunt and walking away.

When we stepped inside, everyone inside stared at us and we realized we were intruders in a very private, close-knit community. So we was surprised when the moment of silence was broken with "Welcome to the Zoo!" as a woman moved her coat in order to offer us a place to sit.

The regulars were a mix of lawyers, government workers, and construction workers. Ellen, our bartender, opened our cans of beer while we began talking with the gang about topics ranging from a tragic bicycle accident that had occurred around the corner an hour earlier, to KCTV's Katie Horner, to people having sex at a nearby bus stop. One Zoo fixture, a man named Les, gave us a lesson on the health benefits of drinking Goldschlager.

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Zoo Bar opened on October 24, 1982, in the southeast corner of a 2-story law office building at 12th & McGee. It was the direct descendant of Up The Street, a bar that had opened in 1977 on the 12th Street side of the same building. It was a zoo_splits.jpglawyer hangout and featured pool tables in its back room (a room that today is the wig shop next door). In 1984 a fire closed the bar for a few months.

In the late 1990s downtown went into a slide and most of the bars along what was once a mighty dive bar row closed. Eventually only Zoo Bar remained. It operated as a daytime-only bar for years, supported by the daily visits of a small but very dedicated group of regulars. (Many of whom are still regulars today.) The larger back room was walled off, becoming retail space that today serves as the wig shop operating next door. zoo_bear.jpgWhat remained was the tiny sliver of a bar that we see today, with the cutouts that used to allow access to the back room still obvious at both ends of the bar.

In early 2007, anticipating increased foot traffic from the new Sprint Center and Power & Light District, additional bartenders were hired and a night shift was added. Lighted beer signs were added for the first time, and exterior signage was put up. The gamble paid off, and Zoo Bar's patronage has increased tremendously. At night Zoo becomes a favorite hangout of downtown residents and visitors to the new entertainment venues.

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Today Zoo is a place where adults of all ages and all walks of life enjoy relaxing. zoo_crew.jpgThere's never a band -- only the jukebox -- and the TVs are rarely on (usually just for Royals games) so it's a good place for conversation. And with the small space, conversations usually end up spreading to include diverse groups of people who would otherwise normally never likely cross paths. It's the kind of place where everyone treats each other right and looks out for each other.


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Because of the new signs Zoo Bar isn't as hard to find today as it was when I first visited, but it can still be a bit of a challenge. It is located on McGee, immediately north of the Sprint Center, about halfway up the block. It is directly across the street from the McGee Street entrance to the Board of Education building. If you are driving, note that McGee is one-way northbound, and accessible only from 13th Street which is one-way westbound. There is no parking lot but the metered spaces out front are free evenings and weekends. Still, being adjacent to the Sprint center and only 1 block from the Power & Light District, many visitors walk there from other downtown destinations.

Note: the map pointer below is incorrect. It is pointing to the correct building but the 12th Street side. Zoo Bar is on the southeast corner of that building, on the McGee side. (Ironically, the pointer is pointing to the original 1977 incarnation that was called Up The Street.)


1220 McGee, Kansas City, MO  

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from August 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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