It was bound to happen…
The track record’s clear; Westport does not look favorably on black nightclubs or large assemblages of black people.
Then again, what mainstream shopping and/or entertainment district in KC does?
Certainly not the Power & Light District, infamous for its exclusionary admittance policies. And not the Plaza, that made its intentions known long before KC mayor Sly James did a faceplant last summer to avoid whizzing bullets.
And now America’s Pub, the midtown entertainment district’s last black dance club, is no more.
"It’s not very mysterious, the landlord didn’t want America’s Pub as a tenant anymore and you cannot make someone lease space to you," says the club’s attorney Harris Wilder. "It’s that simple. It closed New Year’s weekend – the last night was New Year’s Eve."
It’s no secret many Westporters felt America’s Pub was an urban youth magnet and wanted it gone. Just like prior Westport clubs that catered to a black clientele, Club 504 and Karma.
Remember when a massively inebriated Brian Euston went down for the count outside America’s Pub two years back?
Not that America’s Pub went down without a fight.
"Well, since the liquor laws in Kansas City, Missouri are so byzantine – so difficult – we did investigate moving into the Chili’s space on the other side of the parking lot," Wilder says. "But even though it’s only 50 feet away, it would have required applying for a new liquor license. And the reality is unless you’re in the 20 square block area downtown, the exempt zone, you are subject to getting consents from neighboring landowners and the density requirement, which has to do with how many taverns are allowed to exist in that area. And there will never, ever be another 3 a.m. liquor license in Westport unless they change the law."
So why not move to another part of town?
"Well, first they had a very good, long run in Kansas City," Wilder says. "Remember they’ve been America’s Pub at that location for 18 years. And it’s no secret that the ownership group in St. Louis is very disappointed with how they were treated in Kansas City. And they’re in the process of regrouping and deciding what if anything they will do in the Kansas City market. They wanted to move (but) they wanted to stay in Westport."
Let’s put all of the cards on the table; did America’s Pub get the boot because of blatant racism?
"We were never given a reason," Wilder says. "There was no explanation – just, ‘We’re not renewing your lease.’ and ‘We’re not willing to pay for your liquor license.’ "
Aside from the issue of America’s Pub running a black club in a white entertainment district, there was a human toll, Wilder says.
"You’re talking about 30 people’s jobs," Wilder says. "This is not just, ‘Great, we got rid of the black club.’ And if you read the comments section there are people who think that’s the best thing in the world. But what about the people that are unemployed now? And that they (were) employed on the whim of the landlord. Where was the social message about those people’s employment?"
Which brings us back to the question of racism.
"As I said, it’s very hard to get inside other people’s heads," Wilder says. "Let’s put it this way. I think the facts speak for themselves. The negotiation process was the least professional I have ever seen from a landlord. And I would add that America’s Pub’s owners made numerous, repeated, sincere efforts to communicate with the landlord and all they got was a no."