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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 beer 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 ($11) or single BLT ($8.50).
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.
The Peanut is the oldest bar in Kansas City. Kelly’s Westport Inn is located in the oldest building in Kansas City. Don’t lose a drink-bet by getting the two mixed up.
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!
The former owner, and late Rich Kenny, was the cantankerous yet endearing curmudgeon whose pithy demeanor helped him grow the oldest bar in Kansas City into small franchise of bars, including the Peanut’s upscale brother – the Cashew (now the Rockhill Grille).
Kenny, even according to his own son Aaron Whiteside, was downright mean at times. The 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,” he’d 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.
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 as a former caterer. Melinda’s hard work in the kitchen and her bartenders slinging and zinging on the front lines keep customers tied to its apron string.
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, 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 and some spicy eggs, toast and bacon, French toast 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 choose its wait staff, kitchen crew, and bartenders based on who knows you, 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 has started at the Peanut 17 years ago; Tony Giblin for 20 years ago; and T.J. Loundrug eight years ago and Alex Bryant for 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 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 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. We serve more of the working class, lacking class and just our -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 Sun Life, Lathrop & Gage, Polsinelli, Blue Cross Blue Shield and other prestige’s 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 a restless sleeper.
PEANUT DRINK SUGGESTION
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 Nut (aka Bloody Mary’s) made with Zing mix and vodka. Depending on your bartender you may get a weird blob of horseradish, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce dumped in for an added kick.
Johnny Dare, Alex Smith, Keifer Sutherland, and Charlie Wheeler since 1982 and Walter Cronkite, Ernest Hemingway, and Hughes Rudd prior to 1933 when it was still a speakeasy
Awards & Honors
Best Bar Food (Pitch 2014), Best Wings (Pitch 2014), Best Dive Bar (Pitch 2013 and KC Magazine 2014), Best Dive Bar (Kansas City Magazine 2014), Best Bar for a Hangover (Pitch 2010), Best BLT (Pitch 2005)
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