When you visit Dave’s Stagecoach Inn, park on the east side and enter through the rear. It’s standard protocol for dive regulars. Even Martin Sheen, Tiny Tim, Elvis Grbac and Charlie Wheeler were wise to the back door.
It would be a shame for you to enter through the prison worthy front door and immediately be marked as a newbie. Outer appearances aside, the people inside are kittens. Drop by and meet Lori the sharp-witted manager, Shastyn the dreadlocked barkeep, Jim Hess, the black belt and husband of the second generation owner Joyce Hess. And don’t forget to give third-generation owner Kate a fat tip. Kate is kindergarten teacher by day and bar vixen by night who is cuter than Taylor Swift by far.
Son of a Jewish immigrant, David Golad, opened Dave’s in 1952 against the advice of the anti-Semitic property owner who told him he would fail. This wise-cracker didn’t know Dave’s heart and work ethic and we hope he’s choking on his words in his grave.
The legendary bar’s fate was tested in 2012 when Jim had a triple bypass and had to take six month off to recover. However, Kate felt closing her grandfather’s bar would be sacrilegious. So she grabbed the helm and persuaded her parents to bring the bar into the present century.
Every multi-generation dive deserves a facelift once every six decades.
As part of the remodel, Dave’s added four flat screen TVs, new lighting, and replaced the rickety table chairs. Large mirrors and a point of sale system were installed to keep patrons honest on their tabs and bartenders in check on their pours.
Today’s Dave’s Stagecoach Inn sparkles without losing its divey charm. So nasty nicknames of the past (Dave’s Cockroach Inn and the last stop before Alcoholics Anonymous) are now no longer bones of contention.
Suds & Grub
Foodies, this isn’t your stop, but if you want something to nosh on for cheap, you can order hotdogs, burgers, or fries for under $6. If you’re really cheap, you can order a bosco stick for $1.50 (a breadstick stuffed with garlic and cheese with marina sauce for dipping). If that’s too pricey, come for .75 tacos on Wednesdays or Saturdays.
The kitchen is an anomaly. It’s tucked behind a half wall near the rarely used front door. The grill is no bigger than one you’d use at a campsite but Lori still can turn out the orders bar food staples necessary to keep patrons sitting upright. The nine-item menu is taped on the front of a white refrigerator. Why waste money on menus?
Happy hour runs daily from 3 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. with draws for $1.50 and well drinks for $3.
Adult Play Hour
You can get your game on at Dave’s, which sports a pool table, pinball machine, jukebox, Powerball and Keno machine. The days of Jukebox roulette, when free drinks were poured for naming obscure songs, are gone. Today DJs spin music on Honky-tonk Tuesdays or Garage Band Wednesdays.
Other nights Dave’s cultured, tattooed and trendy crowd can have their way with the diverse tunes on the juke. Music becomes background noise during the day when old timers drop in to chew the fat with their favorite bartender.
Rock bottom price is Dave’s 65-year specialty. The Pitch named the dive the Best Cheap Place to Take Your Thirsty Self in 2014.
Nonconformity and Culture
Not every wall needs a Picasso or Matisse. Being the ultimate environment for nonconformity, Dave’s purchased art for the crusty and dusty. In recognition of Westport’s wagon outfitting history, a 17 ft. x 17 ft. stagecoach mural was commissioned. University of Kansas graduate Carl Martin Jr. Martin painted the fresco in 1977, trading his artistic work for beer.
The Great American Dream
David Golad, the late owner of Dave’s, began working as a paperboy and then decided to become a barkeep because every time he passed a pub during his route he only saw happy people inside.
So he started working at Fox’s Tavern at 18th and Vine to learn the bar business and then found a prime spot to strike out on his own in 1952 in Westport.
At the time, Meierhoff’s and Kelly’s were the only pubs in business other than Dave’s. Today you can buy a drink in more than 30 Westport bars and restaurants, but only Dave’s and Kelly’s can share the bar and business stories that helped shape the Westport entertainment district for six centuries and counting.
Dave’s 423 Club operated just blocks east of its current location for 20 years. That is until its lease wasn’t renewed in the 70s because of the redevelopment of Westport. Dave quickly disassembled his 40 x 14 ft. European bar and mantle and quietly wheeled it down the middle of the street and popped it into its current location at 316 Westport Road, a former machine shop, without missing a beat.
Keeping with his trailblazing ways, Dave was the first business to be issued a lottery license in Kansas City in 1986. People lined up for blocks to buy up to 500 tickets at a time at Dave’s Stagecoach.
Resilience and Recovery
Then the lines stopped. In 2008 the Missouri smoking ban passed and the lines to Dave’s turned to tumbleweeds. Dave’s lost 40% of its business overnight but prevailed by building a smoker’s patio and securing a 3 a.m. liquor license, which frequently generated more revenue in two hours than the 14 hours prior.
Before debit and credit cards become the norm, Dave kept record of everyone’s bar tab in a spiral notebook that never left his side. One night his blood pressure spiked when he thought he lost the tab book, which he later found on top of his car, surviving a 10-mile commute home.
When tabs started hitting the point of ridiculous, Jim put up a wipe board that he labeled Dave’s Deadbeats to shame customers into paying down their tabs. Other than a few customers dying prior to settling up, most patrons paid up to avoid the humiliation.
Today’s younger crowd pays for their bloody’s and beer with fantastic plastic rather than cash. They leave full of humility and happy that their favorite neighborhood bar remains a staple in their lives.
Dave’s Stagecoach Inn
316 Westport Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64111