Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Mountain Climbing of Crosstown Station

Did you see the story on Alex Honnold on "60 Minutes" this weekend. If you didn't (video of the story below) you really missed something. Honnold is a mountain climber, probably the best in the world, but he does it differently than you've probably ever seen someone climb a mountain. He uses no ropes, no safety equipment, nothing but climbing shoes, a bag of resin and his fingers. It was a tough thing to watch, one miscalculation, one little foot slip, one crumbly piece of rock and Honnold would fall to his death. Obviously, he's yet to make a mistake and he has climbed some of the toughest routes up a mountain in the world, routes that great mountain climbers with ropes and other safety and climbing equipment could not climb. They said his weirdly strong fingers (it looked like he had 10 Oscar Meyer weiners for fingers) is what helps propel him up the mountain with barely any grip available from the rock. In any case, it was impressive what Honnold could do with no aid from anything but his own hands and feet.


Like mountain climbing, opening and running a bar profitably is one of the most difficult things to do. Owners of bars must feel like Honnold hanging 1000 feet over certain death with nothing between them and the ground but their own ability. With this past weekend we saw the fall of Crosstown Station, it was unable to overcome the wet mountain, loose rocks, bad footing and no grips that is the mountain of bar ownership in KC.

We at the KC Beer Blog wrote a couple of posts, mostly positive, about Crosstown Station when they first opened. Wes Port loved the place, the one time I tried to go shortly after their posted opening time, they were still closed. I never attempted to go back. The KC Star had a nice post mortem on the life and times of Crosstown Station last week that serves as a nice primer on the difficulties faced by a bar in Kansas City that made me think of Honnold hanging off a mountain.
“A lot of places were expecting that there would be so many people downtown that they’d spill into the areas surrounding the Power & Light District. But it didn’t happen.
Look at all the places that closed within the first six months or so. I think there were about 15 — Tanner’s, Paddy O’Quigleys. … It’s all hindsight, but we don’t feel bad for thinking what the whole city was expecting.”
The city, rightly or wrongly, chose to subsidize a large bar district to bring people downtown. Whether that worked or not can be debated another time, but I don't think it can be argued that there was a downside to this subsidy. Bars that were in downtown and the crossroads took a real hit when the Power and Light opened. The guys at Crosstown probably counted on more people downtown equaling more people that would come to their bar. But. it just hasn't worked out that way. People go down to the P&L and don't venture out past that. Many of those people used to go to the Crossroads or other downtown bars. They don't now, and it killed many places. Crumbly rocks.
June 2008 also brought the citywide smoking ban, which hurt at least during the summer months, Mitchell said.
“Places with patios got a big bump,” he said, “and those without were figuring out how to get a patio.”
Again we can argue with the logic of a smoking ban. But, it did have an effect and music venues that didn't lend themselves to having a patio had to have taken a hit. Bad footing.
“A lot of people don’t want to mess with drinking-and-driving and checkpoints. There’s not a lot of public transportation at night, and a lot of music fans who live in the Westport or midtown areas don’t want to spend money on that, even if it’s just a $10 fare. That’s $10 you can spend on a cover charge or drinks.”
I hate few things as much as drinking and driving checkpoints. Not because I love drunk driving, but because checkpoints are actually the least efficient way to catch drunk drivers and the checkpoints create other problems such as making people not want to go out. The best solution for the problem of drunk driving is cheap transportation options such as public transportation and cabs. But, KC cuts down public transportation at night, a problem light rail will only exacerbate, and increases the scarcity and cost of cabs. You want fewer drunks on the road, lower the cost of other alternatives. Bad grip.

I don't know if Crosstown Station was well run or not. I never heard anything about the place and I'm pretty plugged in to this sort of thing. The KC Star article offers up plenty of excuses, the economy, the smoking ban, the Power and Light and those are definitely issues. I think Crosstown Station's main problems were with how it was run, and the owners apparently didn't have the sausage fingers that were necessary to stay on the mountain in KC. My point is that it's sad that weirdly strong fingers are the only way a bar can survive in KC, maybe KC should look to make things a little easier for businesses to survive. KC needs to offer some ropes and spikes to business instead of taking those things away.

2 comments:

  1. Nice article - this kind of creative writing is why I read this half-assed blog

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  2. The story in the Star was a love letter, as it probably should have been. It was a tremendous venue for musicians and audiences alike.

    But it also entered a crowded performance venue market and never figured out who it wanted to please (its initial vision was to be a jam band haven, which doesn't play in KC). Their food situation and hours changed repeatedly, and by the time they decided to book local bands that drew pretty well it was already too late.

    I really liked Crosstown Station and rooted for it--my wife performed there several times--but I can't say I was shocked when it went under.

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