Friday, August 31, 2012

The Antlers Club

The Antlers Club, 1717 W. Ninth Street, in the summer of 1940.

Had such a great time at the 2012 Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival, talking about nightclubs of the Pendergast era, that we ran out of time before we got to some of the good stuff. With the help of the 1940 tax photos, I've been posting the best of the festival leftovers. This is the fifth and final piece.

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It was once part of what was known in the 1890s as "the Wettest Block in the World," the block of West Ninth Street between Genessee and State Line in the West Bottoms. So named because almost every storefront on both sides of the street were saloons that served the roughneck stockyards cowboys and workers from nearby meat-packing plants.

Around that time the second floor of the building at 1717 W. Ninth became home to a young Thomas J. Pendergast, just come to town from his native St. Joseph, Mo., to work in the family business. The Pendergast Brothers Saloon, on the street level, was owned by his older brothers Jim and John. 

In their 1997 book Pendergast!, Lawrence H. Larsen and Nancy J. Hulston describe the scene of that era:

"The West Bottoms, a Kansas City version of San Francisco's famous Barbary Coast and the Bowery in New York, contained large and prosperous vice interests. Cowboys, travelers, transients, and townspeople provided ready customers for numerous bawdy houses and gambling dens. Well-known madams with glamorous images achieved celebrity status. 'Hell dances,' which featured half- and totally naked women who mingled with male audiences, took place openly night and day in dance halls. Almost anything was available for a price. Gaming was a way of life. Flamboyant professional gamblers were local heroes, routinely fleecing country bumpkins. Bunco, floating crap tables, and even the old shell game flourished ... Saloons offered roulette and poker. Almost every evening a carnival atmosphere prevailed along the crowded streets."


 Fast forward to the 1930s, the peak of power for Tom Pendergast's political machine, when the wide-open town has overflowed the West Bottoms and covered other parts of town. The former Pendergast Brothers Saloon has become the Antlers Club, remaining a place where almost anything goes: booze, gambling, women and jazz music. One musician later recalled playing there for stag parties that featured live sex performances.

The Antlers Club in the 1930s.

After Count Basie left town for New York City in the late Thirties, two of his band members stayed behind, Jesse Price and Buster Smith, and formed their own group. For a time the band, including a young Charlie Parker, played the Antlers Club.

Today the building at 1717 W. Ninth is the sole survivor of the former "Wettest Block in the World."

The former club in 2012.

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Listen to Charlie Parker:

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