And just like that one of Midtown’s most venerable watering holes faded into the history books a week ago today.
“I was told Ernest Hemingway used to go there,” McGraw says. “And Wes Lyle, the famous Kansas City Star photographer used to come in after I bought it in 2000. He’d been coming in there for 40 years and he gave me photos of Harry Truman and one of Tony Orlando doing the bump with Betty Ford when she was hammered. I hung them all in the bar as an ode to him.”
“I wanted to keep that element,” McGraw says. “From when all the Kansas City Star reporters would go there. There was a trolly that ran down Broadway and they could go there really easily. People would bring in their typewriters and write stories – that was back in the ’40s. And when Kenny bought it in 1968 a different generation of reporters came in there. But it wasn’t named the News Room in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s before Kenny bought it.”
Did the reporters continue to come in after McGraw took over in 2000?
“Absolutely,” he says. “But they were drunk and retired. And a lot of them I really didn’t know by name. To me it was like they were Gin & Diet, Scotch & Milk, a Shot of Crown with a Miller Light Bottle or Rum & Diet. That’s how I knew a lot of the people. It wasn’t really much of a writer’s bar when I owned i, but I didn’t want to take away The News Room name because it had become iconic.”
Years of thin profits and a difference of opinion among co-owners is why McGraw says they sold it. That and the seedy customers from the nearby blood bank.
“It really did hurt,” McGraw says. “The element it attracted – the sketchy people, a lot of them on meth and a lot of people on scary drugs – it intimidated people. It created the perception that it made the area dangerous.”
“He’s a good guy and he leased it to Zach and Adam Cartwright,” McGraw says. “And I think they’re going to call it The Black & Gold Tavern and make it a Missouri sports bar. They’re going to put a bunch of flat screen TVs and bring back the kitchen. And I think that’s good for Midtown. To me closing The News Room was a heartbreaking thing.”
Which goes hand-in-hand with the demise of the bar’s former customer base at the newspaper.
“I think that’s a great parallel,” McGraw says. “It’s like the whole culture is shifting. People don’t go out to drink at bars as much anymore and I think that’s a good thing. You know, drunk driving.
“And I’m looking at the Star’s press building right now on my deck and I just wonder when its last day will be. And I think we’ll see that soon. And I wonder why they spent $200 million on that building.
“I mean, I look at it and clearly the business isn’t thriving and their business is going down – and how could they not know? And what are they going to do with it? I mean, you can’t put condos in it. I feel like the decline of the Star is a very interesting parallel to the decline of The News Room.
“It was a fun ride and I was real proud of it. We set out to make an old, classic Chicago / New York style tavern and I think we did it.”