A Jewish woman walks into a bar and asks for a drink. Hali Weiss, 44 and never been married, strikes up a conversation with a Catholic man, Kelly Smith, 47 and never been married, two barstools down.
By their second Quaff encounter Weiss and Smith are drunk in love. They hire a Rabbi and Priest, marry and toast their good fortune of finding love late in life at Smith’s favorite pub in town – The Quaff.
The Quaff is Catholic family run neighborhood bar that has seen more hook ups than Southwestern Bell. Some are true love and some are inebriation driven, but the Quaff provides the intimate setting for sparks to fly – love, lust, friends, lovers and everything in between.
Local, tourists, Northwest Missouri State fans and celebrities including George Brett, Puff Daddy, Rod Stewart, and Jewell, and pretty much the whole news desk of KMBC Channel 9 frequent the Quaff – where the Jell-O shot was given birth and now bumped in popularity by Billy Butler Country Breakfast shots.
Coors Light Delight
When Antonio Bonino opened The Quaff in 1946, Mad Dog was on its menu. Today, the devil’s brew of the third-generation, family owned bar is Coors Light; The Quaff sells more of the Silver Bullet than any other bar or restaurant in the Kansas City metro.
Oh, Royals Stadium sells more Coors Light, but, after all, the ballpark seats 38,000. The Quaff, with a 450-person capacity, demonstrates the power of a beloved neighborhood pub. It’s hard to beat hard-working Italians who put their family and friends first and make sure their beer mugs never run empty.
Secret of The Quaff’s big success and huge beer sales is the 400-plus regulars who’d rather take a Bullet than drink anywhere else.
Regulars like Benita from Independence, Missouri, have quaffed (if you haven’t figured it out yet, to “quaff” is to drink vigorously) at The Quaff for more than 40 years. Benita loves to watch baseball on the third stool from the door. The bartenders make sure she gets to her car safely.
Other regulars include four feisty former FBI agents who have met at The Quaff for beers and burgers every Monday for three decades. And more brides and grooms have embarrassed themselves at The Quaff the night before the big day than Joe cares to count.
Fortunately for those who over-imbibe, many a picture is taken, but none are displayed; The Quaff doesn’t believe in walls-of-fame or walls-of-shame. The only pictures posted above the cash registers are G-rated ones of the kids and grandkids of Quaffers.
What’s for Dinner?
The Quaff serves good grub every night of the week. Mondays are taco night for 75 cents; Tuesdays, half-price burger night. On Wednesdays, you can get a 16-ounce steak for $12.95; Thursday is spaghetti night for $4.99.
“Nobody cooks anymore,” says Joe Bonino.
That’s why The Quaff is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late dining. Customers can order sandwiches and pizza, as well as chicken tenders, dips, potato skins, and a man-sized platter of nachos lathered with sour cream for $8.99.
If These Original Floors Could Talk
Within The Quaff’s four walls everything remains circa 1940. The bartenders not only know your name, they know your drink, divorce details, favorite sports team, and when to cut you off the hooch.
Regulars park themselves in re-stuffed button-back booths in the original section of the bar; there are pool tables and more seating in the second section, and yet more tables, an ATM, and the kitchen pick-up window in the third section.
Other than a lot of scratches, stains, and wear, the bar remains pretty much the same as when Antonio started it, but now Joe’s kids are groomed and ready for the nearing change of regime. Anthony, 41, runs the bar side and does the bar’s public relations and social media. Phillip, 38, manages the kitchen.
Today the Bonino family make Tony Soprano look lazy, collectively clocking 200 hours a week. Joe, Newt (Joe’s brother), Anthony (first son), and Phillip (second son) know 80 percent of their customers by name and take pride in the service they provide their Quality Hill neighborhood. By staying true to the neighborhood bar his father built, Joe remains king of Quality Hill in the bar and grill business.
“When I started running The Quaff, the average apartment rent in Kansas City was $12 a month, and our biggest customer base was made up of pensioners and Social Security people,” says Joe Bonino.
In the mid-70s, the Quality Hill neighborhood had hit the skids. Most of the residents had moved south after many of the old Quality Hill mansions mysteriously burned. Then, because of the historical importance of Kansas City’s oldest neighborhood, the big dogs (the Hall Family Foundation, DST, and the Kauffman Foundation), bought the land and hired McCormack Baron Salazar to redevelop the neighborhood.
“I saw my complete customer base bulldozed away and then, in a matter of five years, replaced with yuppies and hipsters,” says Joe Bonino.
The redevelopment took downtown from 3,000 residents in 2002 to around 20,000 today. Quality Hill’s makeover has been noted as one of the most successful urban redevelopments in the nation.
Cue the Evil Franchised Sports Bar
In 1999, Joe’s resilience was tested again, when Tanner’s came onto the scene and pulled up a chair right next door. Many feared the mega sports bar franchise would squash The Quaff.
The reverse came true. Tanner’s couldn’t compete with local Italians’ blood, sweat, and beer, and closed after a decade. Tanner’s clung to the lunch business but couldn’t come close to competing with The Quaff at night.
The irony of The Quaff squashing Tanner’s is Tanner’s was supposed to be a “true” sports bar – but The Quaff did sports better. Any die-hard Royals, Chiefs, or Northwest Missouri State fan would rather rendezvous for a game at The Quaff, where women often sport bikinis or provocative sports attire modified to show major T&A for the home team.
At The Quaff, fans are encouraged to cheer ferociously for their teams, as they watch one of the 30 plasma screens. The Quaff delivers on all the sports packages – NFL, MLB, NHL, SEC, BIG XII.
The Quaff’s Neon Lights Are Bright on Broadway
Unlike the obscure, hard-to-find dives sprinkled throughout Kansas City, you can’t miss The Quaff, which is marked by 30 neon beer signs in the front windows of its two-story brick building, built in 1840. Five red umbrellas shade patrons who want to smoke or hang out outside, when Kansas City weather cooperates.
Triple the size of when it opened in 1946, the bar has grown from 2500 square feet to 7500. Each expansion marks The Quaff’s ability to endure … the demolition and redevelopment of the Quality Hill neighborhood behind it in the mid-70s, the smoking ban in 2008 and the great recession of 2009.
To boost business after the 1997 indoor smoking ban, The Quaff began serving free popcorn in cute metal baskets that soon doubled as musical instruments, banged against booth tops as the entire bar broke out in song to wish Happy Birthday to some shy soul.
While the world is freaky fast, The Quaff remains constant. It goes down slow and easy.
THE QUAFF BAR & GRILL
Kansas City MO 64105