Kansas City’s only hockey bar, bubble hockey table, $1 special shots, full restaurant
No one has ever confused Kansas City with a hockey town like Chicago, Detroit, or Anyplace, Canada. Not to say there isn’t a history of hockey in Kansas City, Mo., starting with the Kansas City Pla-Mors in 1927 and continuing through today with the Missouri Mavericks. We even briefly had an NHL team, the Scouts, from 1972-1974. But one thing is for sure: every hockey team before the Mavericks left town due to a lack of sustained support, leaving Kansas City a barren wasteland for hockey fans.
So when I tell people from Kansas City about the Blue Line, a hockey bar in the historic River Market, their reactions are usually, “So what? Who cares?” Well, Steve Stegall cares, that’s whom. Stegall opened the Blue Line at 529 Walnut St. to fill a niche in the Kansas City restaurant and bar market devoid of a place for hockey fans to watch the game they love with like-minded puckers. He and his grandsons are huge hockey fans. One grandson even plays hockey for the K.C. Fighting Saints hockey club. Stegall attends Missouri Mavericks games at the Independence Event center, and after seeing the fan enthusiasm, was convinced Kansas Citians needed a place to watch hockey.
The building at 529 Walnut St. was built in 1905 by the firm of Shepard and Farrar, and started off as the Tralle Saloon. In recent years, bars like Vivace and Thirsty’s Cantina have both called 529 Walnut St. home, but have failed to last. The Blue Line stands to change that trend. Stegall makes good use of the shotgun style layout to the building, and loads his walls with hockey memorabilia—some he bought, and some given to him by customers. “That Sherwood goalie stick was supposedly used by the first goalie to score a goal in NHL history,” Stegall says. “It’s likely worth a thousand bucks.” Framed Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and Mario Lemieux jerseys (arguably the four greatest players in NHL history) hang from the wall, surrounded by local memorabilia from past teams like the Kansas City Blades and Scouts. The bar itself is an ode to the hockey rink—white with a blue line running down its center. This design makes me think the staff pulls out a miniature Zamboni every night for cleaning and resurfacing. A bubble hockey game, like foosball with pucks, draws a crowd during intermission, and it only costs a quarter each game. The biggest draw at the Blue Line is that Stanley Cup-less team from across the state, the St. Louis Blues.
When I arrived at 6 p.m. for puck drop to take in a St. Louis Blues game, several people were decked out in Blues jerseys. The TVs were tuned to the night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, except for one TV tuned to Sabres v. Bruins and one tuned to Penguins v. Rangers. A sense of fairness pervaded this division of TVs. A sense that all hockey fans in a hockey-less city should get to watch their team play. They may cheer for different teams, but they all cheer for hockey.
The Blue Line isn’t a great sports bar yet. One bartender blew a blue vuvuzela-like horn when the Blue Jackets scored, a faux pas to every Blues fan in attendance. Give this place time, however, and the bar will be full of wildly cheering fans hanging on every play while bartenders make sure only Blues goals get a blow from the blue horn.
While most in attendance came for hockey, a few young professionals and a collection of middle-aged men in Carhartt, flannel, and well-groomed Dad beards were there for booze. The Blue Line is a hockey bar first, but it’s also a 3 a.m. dive bar with cheap drinks and good, fried American food. A plethora of available condo living means young professionals need a late night venue to kill off work stress. The rest of us need a cheap watering hole, and the Blue Line fills that need. It feels like the fun neighborhood bar that has been missing from the River Market. Don’t get me wrong, the Blue Line doesn’t look like the neighborhood dive. It’s clean, friendly, and well lit, but the drink prices and clientele say dive. You can get a nightly $1 shot special made from UV Blue vodka, house vodka, sweet and sour mix, Sprite, and Blue Curacao liqueur. Each night has it’s own drink specials, including Thursday night’s $2 wells. And after slamming some cheap booze, soak it up with some fried food the Blue Line’s kitchen staff batter up.
The Playoff Poppers take that tried and true combo of hot pepper and cheese to a new level with feta cheese and pepperdew peppers. The Unsportsmanlike Conduct contains a trio of fried vegetables, avocado, asparagus and hearts of palm. The hearts of palm are as close as veggies get to meat, and the avocado was warm and creamy.
Like I said earlier, the Blue line isn’t perfect yet. The temperature on each visit was a little too much like visiting an ice rink, the food takes a little long at times, and the entrees, though good, don’t reach the inventive and delicious levels of the appetizers. But fret not hockey fans, the Blue Line is more than capable of feeding and boozing you while you cheer on toothless men in helmets taking swings at each other. What a sport! What a bar! What a sports bar!