Over the railroad tracks and through the hood, you’ll find musical nirvana at Knuckleheads Saloon. Follow the sound of guitar riffs and the wail of the blues legends because your GPS may not work in this neck of the woods.
If finding your way through the industrial abyss scares you, call for Knuckleheads complimentary shuttle service. With a little advance notice and a tip you can catch it within 10-mile radius of the bar and avoid getting lost. A common pick up point is Garozzo’s Italian Restaurant at 526 Harrison St. in Columbus Park also known as Little Italy.
Once you get there, bow your head and give thanks for motorcycles, beer and music. It was the combination of those three things that led the birth of Knuckleheads. Frank Hicks opened his motorcycle repair business there in 1997 after buying a building so far removed from a residential zone that he doubted he get calls for people complaining about the smell of paint or the sound of machinery.
The only problem was luring customers down to the bottoms so Hicks started giving away beer and then hosting bands on his flatbed truck in lieu of a stage. Liquor licenses and the purchase of the 1887 railroad boardinghouse that now houses the ticket booth followed. The rest is blues history for Kansas City. And Knuckleheads is the only bar in Kansas City or the Midwest to snag the prestigious Keeping Blues Alive award by the National Blues Foundation.
Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, Junior Brown, Ray Price, Rodney Crowell and Chubby Carrier and Bayou Swamp Band have played on one of the three stages at this rickety, honky-tonk bar. Bikers, hipsters and businessmen gather five days a week to blend into the crowd and wash away the stink of the week with some good music.
The first thing you’ll see when you arrive to this blues roadhouse, at least during warm weather, is around 50 to 100 blinged-out Harleys and other motorcycles owned by so-called Bambis (Born-again middle-aged bikers) forming a domino line to the front door. Then you’ll spot a mammoth black and white mural of Elvis, Stevey Ray Vaughn and Hank Williams painted on the side of Hicks former business, Mid-City Collision Repair.
A neon sign that says No Pissy Attitudes hangs near the front door to get visitors into the right mindset before entering. Knuckleheads is all about adult play, which is further emphasized with a former McDonald’s sign over the outdoor stage that reads Play Place.
Bar Staples & Bologna Sandwiches
You can scope out the 300 some odd artist photos and autographs lining the wall or grab some grub, which includes all the bar food staples from burgers to fried bologna sandwiches, proudly called the Michael Burks on the menu. Hicks swears he makes the best sandwich by cutting it into squares and frying it in Land-O-Lakes butter.
You can also opt for a Rueben sandwich, Patty Melt, Catfish basket or the bar staple, beef or chicken tacos, which Knuckleheads sells about 2,000 a month. Knuckleheads is internationally known for its music not food. If you want something to make your taste buds sing, go across the street to the Local Pig where you can get a gourmet sandwich and side for around $7.
Reverend Carl Butler plays lead guitar for Jesus every Wednesday night at 7:30 pm. in Knucklehead’s Gospel Lounge. Six other big-hearted band members play and perform solos for whatever the love offering brings in after Rev. Sharon passes the empty Kentucky Fried Chicken Bucket around.
The songs range from blues to gospel, and Rev. Carl occasionally throws in a “praise Jesus” and invites audience members to check out the service he holds in a church on Sunday. A traditional service can’t be nearly as entertaining without a chicken-bucket offering, leather chaps, and neon lights that read “Let there be Music,” “Gospel Lounge” and “Papst Blue Ribbon.”
The audience is made up of what appears to be half AA members sipping hot coffee and half blues lovers thirsty for a little good word to wash back with their Tall Boy.
Admission is free. The soul cleansing administered with blues is priceless.
2715 Rochester Ave.
Kansas City, MO 64120
GRAND EMPORIUM R.I.P
From 1985 to 2004, The Grand Emporium served up national, regional, and local Blues, reggae, rock, zydeco, jazz, and swing music. Twice honored as “Best Blues Club in America” by the Blues Foundation, The Grand Emporium was known worldwide for their “wall of fame”, pictures and playbills of artists who appeared at the groovy, gritty blues bar over the years.
Former owner of The Grand Emporium, Roger Naber, locked the doors of the legendary blues hotspot once located at 3832 Main and went on to run a blues festival on water: Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise.