Tiny in size and mighty in volume best describes the Peanut at 50th and Main. About the size of a shotgun house, it’s the beer, not the breeze, that flows in the front door and out the rear where the bathrooms are located.
Peanut patrons slam 150 cases of domestic beer a week, not counting imports, microbrews, and other specialty beers on tap. Maybe it’s the 80 dozen spicy peanut wings this location sells per day that spikes customer thirst. Or maybe it’s the nachos supreme ($8.50) or famous BLT ($6.85 for a single or $8.50 for triple — add an egg to either for $1.45).
Maybe it’s because you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for your wings (this ain’t fast food, darling), so you end up downing an extra pint or two. The food is worth the wait, which explains why some visitors to Kansas City make the Peanut their first stop before they even drop their luggage off at their hotel.
Enjoy a cold one and the wacky memorabilia on the walls while you wait. Wall décor ranges from a scary black Santa portrait that seems to watch your every move, the old Milgram’s signage from a neighborhood grocer that sold out to Wetterau Foods in 1984, or the mixed-match chairs – simply a cheap solution for countless women who get lit and puncture the chair upholstery with their heels while preparing for their table dance. Debauchery!
Former owner Rich Kenny was the cantankerous yet endearing curmudgeon whose pithy demeanor helped him grow the oldest bar in Kansas City into small franchise of neighborhood bars, including the Peanut’s upscale brother –the Cashew.
Kenny, even according to his own son Aaron Whiteside, was downright mean at times. Polar opposite of Plaza-venue customer etiquette rules, customers actually seemed to enjoy barbing with Kenny, even if it meant sacrificing a nut from time to time. Kenny sometimes showed his softer side when he broke bar rules and let women dance on the bar.
“We only go around the mud hole once,” Rich Kenny would say.
At the peak of his dreams, Kenny passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2007. Kenny’ s better half, Melinda, now runs the Peanut(s) from her comfort zone the kitchen.
As a former caterer, Melinda has created a menu that continues to earn the Peanut awards such as best bar food, best wings, and best dive bar in Kansas City. Melinda’s hard work in the kitchen and her bartenders slinging and zinging on the front lines keep customers tied to its apron strings.
On a joint account, the Peanuts sell 160 tons of wings a year. Whiteside, also a licensed Realtor and psychologist, woke up with the epiphany to start shipping wings to customers who couldn’t wait for a return visit to Kansas City. The Peanut Wings division of the business ships around 2,000 wings each Christmas and Super Bowl and demand continues to grow.
Hair of the Dog Sundays
Unlike Chez Charlie, The Piano Room, Dave’s Stagecoach Inn, and many other pubs, the Peanut is open on Sunday. And there’s nothing better to bring you back to life after an all-nighter than a round of Bloody Nuts (see recipe below) and some spicy eggs, toast, and bacon ($7.50), some French toast ($6.95), or Eggs Benedict with Kansas City’s very own Wolferman’s English muffin ($8.75). Grease, butter, and vodka soothe the savage liver.
The Brookside Hillbillies
Don’t bother asking for a job application at the Peanut. Hiring outsiders isn’t how this bar rolls. The Peanut and its crew chooses its wait staff, kitchen crew, and bartenders based on who knows you and who can vouch for you, and moves you to the top of the consideration list if you’re part of the Brookside Hillbillies.
Brookside is the neighborhood surrounding the Peanut, where Kenny often cherry-picks college-educated kids who grew up together and remain tight. So tight they don’t let an outsider have much of a chance of getting in, and so tight they rarely leave once on the Peanut payroll.
Bartender Randy Green started at the Peanut 17 years ago; Tony Giblin 20 years ago; T.J. Loundrug eight years ago; and Alex Bryant three years. All four are Brookside Hillbillies, meaning they came from upper-middle-class families and are college educated. So don’t let their gnarly bar image of tats, piercings, t-shirts, and ball caps make you think they’re counting pennies. They can easily make $150 in tips on a good night, and they don’t drive clunkers like Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies. They’re doing just fine.
The Peanut’s name is a tongue-in-cheek joke about being located within a block of some of the priciest condos in Kansas City, The Walnuts. The Walnuts were built in 1929 with many units having higher annual property tax than what Kenny paid for the Peanut in 1981 (rumored to be around $20,000).
While the Walnuts still have butlers (mostly black) answering the front door, the Peanut remains true to its back-door, enter-who-may and stay-if-you-pay mentality.
“We’re definitely more white bread than blue-blood types,” says Whiteside. “We serve more of the working class, lacking class, and just got out of class crowd.
Kenny’s Cashew bar, at 20th and Grand in the Crossroads District of Kansas City, moves up a social step by catering to corporate types and lawyers who flow in from Assurant, Lathrop & Gage, Posneli & White, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and other prestigious offices in the Crown Center area.
Kenny even had an even more upscale bar in the works for the Muehlebach Hotel called the Chestnut. Unfortunately that deal didn’t come together before Kenny passed. The Muehlebach was bought by the Marriott, and the bar space is now occupied by Bar Central, your standard upscale hotel bar where the staff turns over as often as restless sleeper.
Back in the early ‘30s you could get a bottle of beer at The Peanut for 15¢ or a Gin Ricky or Slow Gin Fizz for 20¢. Better yet, try a Bloody Nut. It’s the Peanut’s hair of the dog-patented remedy.
Bloody Nuts (aka Bloody Mary’s) are made with Zing mix and vodka. Depending on your bartender, you may get a weird blob of horseradish, celery salt, or Worcestershire sauce dumped in for added kick.