What you need to know about private drinking clubs in Kansas

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Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

Armourdale’s Coach Club (1102 Osage Ave., KCK) looks from the outside like any old dive—a pair of beer lights glow dimly in the thin window slats, and the name of the bar is painted in black on the aging building’s facade. But not just anybody can wander in and order a Bud. There’s a buzzer outside. They’ve got to buzz you in.

That’s because Coach Club, founded in 1965, is designated a Class B club under Kansas law. It’s members-only. These licensed drinking clubs grew out of a unique law passed the year it opened to crack down on unlicensed drinking clubs, where vice flourished. They were once a staple of life in Wyandotte County, beacons of privacy for the myriad ethnic communities that settled in the area to work in Kansas City’s meatpacking plants. As the members died off or moved out to the suburbs, most of the owners either closed their clubs or converted to traditional Drinking Establishments—i.e., regular bars. But a handful still hang on, blissfully exempt from Kansas’ smoking ban.

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Photography by Caleb Condit & Rebecca Norden

The best-known Class B club in the metro is actually located in Johnson County: The Keyhole Tavern. In Wyandotte County, six remain. In addition to Coach Club, there’s Bar None Lounge (just up the street from Coach Club, at 1200 Osage Ave., KCK), Strawberry South (48 S. Seventh St., KCK), Bill’s 32 West (6500 Kaw Drive, KCK), April’s Firelight Lounge (2046 N. 18th St., KCK) and Olde Mill Lounge (611 W. Second St., Suite 200, Bonner Springs).

How to become a member in good standing? That’s up to barkeeps like Willie, a white-haired gentleman in white overalls who’s worked at Coach Club since he was seven years old. Technically, under the law, you must first be screened “for good moral character,” then pay an annual membership fee of no less than ten dollars. But there are laws, and then there’s the way things work in the real world. Willie’s a pretty friendly guy. Show up with a smile and some respect for the culture, and who knows, maybe he’ll buzz you in.

Categories: Bar Guide, Beer, Wine, Spirits