First-floor sports bar & grill, second-floor dance pavilion, live music, rooftop full bar & deck, scenic view
John’s Big Deck. Sports bar. Dance hall. Rooftop with a fantastic view. Normally an alcohol lover with a corresponding love of sports, dance music, and urban architecture would have to seek out three different locales, but not anymore. John’s Big Deck at 928 Wyandotte Street in downtown Kansas City’s library district pleases the different desires of their widely varied clientele—and this big deck leaves everyone satisfied.
Sitting next to the Graphic Arts building, John’s Big Deck stands out in an area of downtown dominated mostly by old, brick high-rises and a former bank from 1904, which is currently outfitted as the main branch of the Kansas City library system. The rooftop provides downtown with a great vantage point to appreciate the district’s unique architecture. But if you want to get to the rooftop, you’ve got to start on the bottom.
John’s Big Deck’s first floor comes complete with typical Kansas City bar fixtures: a long wooden bar, wooden stools and tables, TVs tuned to ESPN, a cute thirty-something tending bar, a mixture of bearded slackers, suits, old men in overalls, business-casual after-work drinking buddies with average bar food served in to-go Styrofoam containers. The room is spacious, with enough room for a pool table. It’s a comfortable, solid bar with a good happy hour. But for me, the classic rock soundtrack typifies my feelings toward the first floor at John’s. I like ‘70s rock enough, but I’ve heard the same songs so many times they blend into one another and nothing stands out.
Climb some rickety stairs and your expedition away from normal and toward unique continues in John’s second floor, where DJs drop beats for eager dancers in a brighter, more welcoming room than the first floor.
Seriously, be careful on those damn stairs. Emerge on the roof from the stairwell without a sprained ankle or stubbed toe and you’ll find yourself smiling. Such a simple thing, good weather and a beautiful view; when Mother Nature cooperates, John’s rooftop is one of the more popular spots downtown. Depending on your taste in music, the inevitable cover bands or acoustic artists might annoy or thrill, but that view . . . that will never disappoint.
Look due east and take in those historical photographs of Kansas City’s Ninth Street looking east from Wyandotte circa 1905 attached to the back of the Central Library’s parking garage. In the left forefront of that photograph you’ll notice a small portion of the New England Building. Viewable when looking northeast from John’s Big Deck, the New England Building was built during the substantial development years of Kansas City’s downtown business district as a “show of faith” from Eastern investors in the late 1880s. The building was built for the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company from Boston, Ma. The New England Safe Deposit and Trust Company and the New England National Bank rented space within the building. Architecturally significant because of its Renaissance Revival style, the building boasts a two-story oriel window with carved stone panels at the base that bear the seals of the five New England States: Maine, Dirigo (I direct) with pine tree and deer; New Hampshire, the frigate Raleigh with 13 stars in a circle below; Vermont, a shield and the motto Freedom and Unity; Rhode Island, the motto Hope above an anchor; Connecticut, three grapevines with the motto Qui Transtulit Sustinet (He who transplanted continues to sustain). According to the National Registrar of Historic Places, the New England Building is ornamented with “Renaissance motifs such as swags, wreaths, rope molds, urns, cherubs and formalized plant forms predominate.” Bring your binoculars and thank me later, that oriel window is a stunner.
Purely as a bar, John’s Big Deck is just okay. The location, though? Couldn’t be better. The first skyscraper in Kansas City, the New York Life Building with it’s magnificent bronze eagle designed in the studio of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts trained Louis Saint- Gaudens, one of the leading American sculptors of heroic, “new movement” realism, is a mere block away at 20 W. 9th St. John’s Big Deck allows you to survey the area where Kansas City literally grew up; and when you’re riding that view from John’s Big Deck’s third floor rooftop bar, the sun a bomb of orange fluorescent, our simple cow town seems so urban, so city, so beautiful . . . and then someone screams out Freebird! and the guitar player picks those twangy notes, and you think, “Never change, John’s. Never change.”