Need to find a scrappy lawyer, visit the Zoo Bar, which is just two blocks east of the Jackson County Court House. Since the 80s, it’s been a place for lawyers, judges, and bondsmen to talk shop and occasionally bust criminals.
Zoo Bar owner and attorney Preston Cain shared a memory of a bondsman picking up a suspect at the Zoo Bar and handcuffing him to a bar stool back in the day.
The Zoo has been called the best dive bar in Kansas City by lawyers, judges, yuppies and Sprint Arena Roadies so why argue. Located on a one-way street tucked behind the Sprint Center, it’s not easy to get to and once inside it’s not easy to leave. The prices and kitsch are just too damn good.
Cain offices above the bar by day and walks through the Zoo for evening quality control checks (or a nip). Cain says The Zoo was one of only three bars open during the day back when it first opened. In 1982 its only day competition for the day drinkers was Michelangelo’s in Brookside and Santa Fe Inn on Blue Ridge Cutoff.
Cain shared that there used to be illegal card games held in the Zoo’s basement by mafia member Carl Tuffy DeLuna, mobster Nick Civella’s righthand man. Cain said it wasn’t uncommon for the mob to play cars, go rob a bank and return to finish their hand in the basement at the Zoo the same day.
Inside the Zoo, you’ll find a mix of frats and tats, mostly city-dwellers and maybe a few Johnson County curious who stand out like a sore thumb. Get over yourself and mingle.
The Zoo is small and decorated with writing and graffiti on every inch of the wall space. Follow the three golden rules at The Zoo Bar and life will be good:
1. Bring cash
2. Order beer, not foo-foo drinks. There’s no blender and the fruit has seen better days.
3. Come to shoot pool and bullshit or go somewhere else.
Don’t leave without ordering a little beer. It’s a shot of Spanish liquor 43 topped with whip cream to resemble a beer’s head. Taste great, less filling. Tuesday’s little beers are on special for $4.
The Zoo Bar has no beer taps, but it does, in true dive bar spirit, carry 30 different types of beer in bottles and cans. You can request a few premium and foreign beers as well, but don’t push your luck.
On Saturday the Zoo offers a free lunch buffet. The owner or barkeeps bring in something homemade with a kick.
In 2010 Zoo Bar underwent a few changes. After several technical difficulties, the CD jukebox was replaced with an internet jukebox. Per Scooter’s Bar Guide, the bar doubled in size by taking over the wig shop next door, reclaiming space that has at one time been part of the bar many years ago. The new back room has two pool tables and a small karaoke stage.
Ask a regular or the bartender about folklore from days past. There are stories of the Miller Lite clock being used as target practice and women removing their tops if they weren’t served first. Drink in the richness this little dive bar brings to Kansas City.
Grab a marker and leave your mark on the wall. That is if you can find space. And don’t leave before taking the Kansas City Dive Bar Challenge.
Zoo Bar Awards:
Best Dive Bar (435 Magazine 2013)
Best Dive Bar in Kansas City (Examiner 2012)
Best Dive Bar (Pitch 2008)
- 8 Kansas City Venues & Restaurants Serving Turkey and All the Fixins - November 23, 2022
- This KC Neighborhood Bar Will Steal Your Heart - March 8, 2022
- 10 Beloved KC Restaurants Still Cooking 8-10 Decades Later - February 20, 2022