Kansas City is an amazing bar city—and it has been for a long, long time.
We’ve argued before that the birth of Kansas City as we know it came when the city took a pass on the whole Prohibition thing. As the rest of the country ripped up its bar culture and had to start from scratch, KC experienced a golden era of nightlife, music and cocktails.
It’s been almost a decade since a local publication made a comprehensive guide to the city’s best bars. With the pandemic behind us and everyone eager to make up for lost time, we surveyed the city to document the 87 best bars, pubs, jazz joints, speakeasies, mixology temples and clubs in KC.
How We Made This List
We vibe checked. Bars are social spaces, and our definition of a great bar is a great place to be for a while. We revisited every spot included post-pandemic.
We picked bars that are good at what they’re doing. We are not judging dive bars on their Mezcal selection, nor are we downgrading trendy speakeasies for their lack of pull-tabs. We take each place on its own terms and judge it by how it’s meant to be enjoyed.
We paid our way. While researching this list, we did not ask for special treatment, announce our presence or take free drinks (unless someone was buying a round). Advertisers are not favored.
Classic neighborhood spots (named after dudes)
Harry’s Country Club
We have Mrs. O’Leary’s cow to thank for the charms of Harry’s Country Club. Back in 1871, that cow kicked over a lantern, starting a fire that burned much of Chicago. Urban environments changed thereafter, with new buildings built of brick and concrete. In KC, the first one to go up was this one, believed to have been a slaughterhouse. The weathered brick walls lend a natural warmth to this space, which is accentuated by well-made cocktails, well-chosen spirit flights and a four-hour happy hour that goes until 7 pm.
I happened to be inside Charlie Hooper’s a couple years ago when it caught on fire. There was a remarkably undramatic scene inside the wood-paneled walls of this laid-back Brookside pub—we smelled smoke and a waiter said maybe we should wait outside for a few minutes. Then the fire trucks came screaming up. That’s sort of how it goes at Hoop’s, which is as much a community center as a bar. When Hooper’s eventually reopened, nothing had changed. A global pandemic hit, so they make you scan a QR code to see the ever-changing beer list and lineup of fancy hot dogs. If zombies attack, I’ll meet you on the patio.
Dave Golad opened this Westport bar in 1952. It moved to its current location—a former machine shop—in 1972. Since then, it’s been a stronghold of loyal regulars in this party district, with bargain-priced drinks, a pool table, a jukebox and a decent patio. Buy cigarettes and lottery tickets from an always-stocked vending machine, catch up on the neighborhood gossip, or hunker down on your favorite barstool (it’s ripped, but it’s comfortable) and watch the game.
John’s Big Deck
John’s Big Deck is, well, big. This three-story bar is basically three separate bars and has one of the best rooftop bars in Kansas City. The first floor is low-key, with friendly, chatty bartenders and plenty of Bud Heavy. Floor two is where things get turned up a bit: There, low lights, heart-pumping music and beer pong tables are aplenty. The rooftop returns to the chill vibe and is the perfect place to watch the game or make friends over nachos.
Sully’s walks a fine line. This barn-sized bar on the main strip in Mission unironically plays Ratt but ironically serves beer in mason jars, embedding the tin toppers in its bartop. There’s classic shall board but also glowing kiosks for “legally compliant game of skill” Dragon’s Ascent.
There is a pounder list but also a hard seltzer list. This is a place where a regional vice president of sales for auto group insurance and a plumber argue about the viola (it’s a small cello, not a big violin) then spontaneously sing along to the chorus of Linkin Park’s
“In the End.” And in the end? Mr. Bennington reminds us it doesn’t even matter.
If you’re looking to make new post-pandemic friends, try this bar on a quiet block in the Crossroads. The last time I walked into P.R’s Place, I was warmly welcomed with a slice of chocolate cake for a birthday party at the bar while regulars played cards and sipped on margaritas.
Lew’s is owned by the same folks who own nearby Charlie Hooper’s, so there may be some side-eye about both making this list while Bobby Baker’s remains on the outside looking in. Well, we like Lew’s. The crowd is a nice mix, generally in good spirits. It’s cozy but with some room to spread out. On Thursdays, you can get the eighty-four-ounce German-style boot of beer for thirteen bucks. We like Lew’s.
Dive bars, blue-collar bars and low-key hangs
It’s in your best interest to be funny at Keyhole Tavern. This tiny, low-key private club in the heart of Mission—the ten dollar membership fee is payable in cash and good for one year—will welcome you either way. But the bartender tracks the laugh-snorts of owner June Heigel by sliding bottle caps across a wire. When the snorts hit forty, everyone gets a free Keyhole shooter (“grain alcohol and, like, Tang” is how multiple people described it). But who needs a free shooter when beers are three dollars all day?
Power & Light can be a little… much. Don’t worry, there’s a safe space. Zoo Bar is a charming—and charmingly grimy—dive that’s been operating on the edge of downtown since the eighties. It’s still cash-only, and it’s almost as cheap as it was then (a can of High Life is three dollars). While you’re waiting for the pool table to open up, try untangling some of the scribbles covering the walls, or add your own. Also, what’s more badass than a shot of Fireball and more adorable than a puppy embracing a kitten? The baby beer shot at Zoo Bar (four dollars on Thursday, five dollars the rest of the week). A bar pour of golden Licor 43 liquor is topped with heavy cream and served in a miniature beer mug.
I’ll be surprised if the “mask required” sign ever comes down at Chez Charlie. This Midtown dive isn’t especially fussy—the founder and namesake was infamously banned from the city bus system for beating a fellow passenger with his wooden leg. But it is an object of folk art. Like a sticky ball rolling around behind the couch, the walls of this dim dive pick up bits of cultural detritus never to be released—plaques from the 1990 Cornhusker Open Ladies Darts Tournament are nailed into the wood paneling, an upside-down flag hangs above the bar, and a “Nader = Bush” bumper sticker is plastered up front. There’s a regular domestic-type home fridge, a co ee pot by the bar and a black pleather banquette running the length of the place, which by day caters to barflies and by night to hipsters.
You’re not asking for much: A neighborhood haunt with cheap drinks. A bartender who’s friendly (but not too familiar) and never lets you go thirsty. Maybe a pool table, some darts. A patio would be great. Nothing fancy. At Sidestreet, Hyde Park’s longtime gay dive, you’ll get everything you asked for—plus a jukebox filled with Cher.
The Dirty Bird
On a recent visit to this eastside bar— Google says Raytown, but you know it ain’t since you can’t smoke inside—the jukebox was playing “Friends in Low Places.” Nobody in the diverse, blue-collar crowd was arguing with Garth, instead shooting pool and eating generous portions of wings. Favorite drinks are vodka and gin by the double and Bud Light.
Bars with great live music and DJs in KC
Sequins, bell bottoms, afros and platform shoes—this place feels like you’ve just hopped out of a DeLorean into the seventies. Funky Town has been boogying down for two decades. The parents of today’s twenty-somethings also got down tonight at this multigenerational dance club. It’s still cash-only, and the cover is now ten dollars (Kansas City art director Katie Henrichs’ mom paid five bucks in her day).
They play the hits, bottled beer is reasonably priced, and they have the only dance floor car wash in the city (at 12:30 am, you get soaked with bubbles). It’s a popular spot for birthdays, but you can join the party any weekend you see fit.
Knuckleheads turns twenty this year, and at this point it’s fair to call this East Bottoms concert complex one of the most beloved institutions in the local music scene. There are four stages—two indoor, two outdoor—and its calendar largely caters to country, blues and folk music lovers and artists alike (you’ll also find weekly jam sessions).
Lonnie’s Reno Club
Don’t plan anything after Lonnie’s Reno Club—this is a full night out, not a “swing by for a quick drink” stop. Once entertainer Lonnie McFadden gets rolling, we promise you’ll want to stay. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted with a complimentary glass of champagne to set the mood for the show by McFadden, a trumpet player and dancer.
There’s not a bad seat in the house, but if you’re hoping to snag a spot up front and close to the action, we recommend making a dinner reservation (a three-course pre-fixe menu is offered). The romantic, speakeasy-style spot in the basement of the Ambassador Hotel opens at 6 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and the man of honor takes the stage one hour later.
Green Lady/Black Dolphin
Everyone knows the Green Lady Lounge. It opened in 2013, just in time to fill the Jardine’s-shaped hole in our hearts, offering live jazz seven nights a week. Its sister venue, the Black Dolphin, opened in 2017 and has yet to gain the same notoriety—though it certainly deserves it. The room is one long rectangle with dark Chesterfield booths lining the brick walls and tables facing a large stage outfitted with a glittering gold curtain. Cocktails are the same stiff classics on the menu next door.
Conveniently located in the heart of Midtown’s Historic Traffic Cone District (if the official detour routes you into a Starbucks drive-thru, you’re there), The Levee’s downstairs is a music venue by night while upstairs is a laidback, nothing-in-particular bar where you’ll find Death Cab for Cutie playing on the stereo, golf on the TVs and Fat Tire on tap. If your friend has a gig here, it’ll be a good night.
This West Bottoms mainstay was once a hush-hush industry dive, but everything is well above sea level now (there’s even a full kitchen with a menu and everything). Find live local acts here every week, inside during cooler months and on the back patio in fair weather.
Every city needs a Missie B’s. Where else are you going to have a Dolly Parton look-alike belting out “9 to 5” while you tuck folded dollar bills into her G-string? If you’re not at Missie’s for the drag shows, you’re there to shake it out on the upper-level dance floor, where DJs will keep you grinding until three in the morning.
Drive down Broadway in Midtown on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you’ll find a line of eager patrons assembled outside the local outpost of Hamburger Mary’s. The popularity of Mary’s long-standing drag brunch is such that no weather or global pandemic could curb the queueing. But there’s something happening at Mary’s almost every night of the week, from Drag Race screenings to bingo and karaoke.
KC Daiquiri Shop
KC Daiquiri Shop sits on the edge of Power & Light, and there are two big reasons to go. The first is the DJs. The second is the frozen cocktails served in plastic jugs the same sizes as milk is sold. You’re free to mix flavors (I like Hurricane with Peach Bellini), and if you want to take a lap through P&L with your boozy slushie, you can with the purchase of a food item—a $1.50 bag of chips will do the trick.
Mutual Musicians Foundation
More than a century since it opened in 1917, the Mutual Musicians Foundation in the 18th and Vine District is still jamming. Really: Since the thirties, it’s hosted late-night jazz jam sessions. Though the weekend shindigs were shuttered due to the pandemic, the MMF’s in-house quartet (pianist James Hathaway, bassist Kevin Young, drummer Tyree Johnson and saxophonist Ernest Melton) is keeping things hot every Friday and Saturday (music starts at 1:30 in the morning and goes until 5 am). The cash bar is still one of the cheapest in town, and all musicians are welcome to sit in, so you never know who might show up. For the early birds, there’s a notable new addition: a Sunday evening program running from 4-10 pm.
Sports bars and bars with fun games
The Blue Line
Every Saturday between the months of September and November, find me in my black and gold garb cozied up at this bar with a Busch Light pint in hand beside dozens of other Iowa Hawkeyes. The Blue Line takes its name from its status as a St. Louis Blues hockey bar, but Saturdays in the fall are for the Hawkeyes. Either way, it takes me back to the good old college days when a beer before noon just made sense.
Third Street Social
This hulking seven-thousand-square-foot happy hour bar in the heart of Lee’s Summit is where President Harry Truman launched his political career by announcing a run for a local judgeship. Look closely at the brick walls and you’ll notice that, among the various beer signs and black and white photos, there’s not one Chiefs logo. That’s because this is a low-key Bronco Bar. Owner Andy Lock is the father of Mizzou signal-caller turned Bronc ‘back Drew Lock, and while they won’t throw you out for cursing Elway’s name, they’re not your Mahomies. People pack in for the happy hour, which offers three dollar pours of nearly any tap on the wall and steals on contemporary pub grub, like Korean steak tacos.
Al’s Bar & Grill
Twenty-five years ago, Al Burns got a job o er he couldn’t refuse and moved his family here from their native Buffalo, where, according to Burns, “every corner pizza shop made the best wings in the world.” KC’s best were not up to his standards. “I just couldn’t find anything I liked,” he says. Burns’ wife got a promotion, freeing him to open a pub modeled after the friendly, low-key neighborhood watering holes of Western NY.
If you want to watch the game but you don’t really feel like painting your face and dealing with rabid packs of bros, head to Tower Tavern. This is as chill as sports bars get, with TVs spread through the spacious room, a rotating selection of local craft beer and a surprisingly solid menu with a meaty Stromboli and a fried goat cheese salad.
There’s a nice little touch to the menus at the two locations of beloved Overland Park sports bar Coach’s. When you settle in, they’ll give you a sheet of paper that has not only the day’s specials but also the Reader’s Digest version of the day’s sports section. In this era of bleating phone alerts and QR code menus, it’s a subtle cue you’re headed back to the Cheers-era pubs this place was modeled on when it opened in 1983 as one of the first then-novel “sports bars” in the area.
The Peanut on Main
Ever noticed that the wings at the various locations of The Peanut scattered around town aren’t quite the same as they are at the unvarnished original location south of the Plaza? It’s not in your head. This location and the one downtown have separate ownership from other locations, as I learned three beers into a recent visit, when a regular who had strong political opinions and a short career as a soccer coach at St. Peter’s shared his insider’s knowledge. If everyone at The Peanut on Main seems like a regular, it’s probably because they are—and who can blame them given these truly might be the best wings in the world? The Peanut is the oldest in the city and was serving before that—veterans know to walk through the back door, as folks did in its speakeasy days.
Whether you’re playing volleyball, hitting pickleball or pushing pieces around in giant chess, this open-air bar—with a cool rooftop to boot—is a players’ paradise. Just across the parking lot is Power Play, where you can ride the zipline over the bar or fire up go-karts (we advise doing this before you start your drinking journey at The Sandbox).