A Nightlife Career Moves to Sidekicks Saloon

You usually hear the voice before you see the man. It’s a deep, gravelly, full-throated voice that people can hear from across the room, and it’s usually spewing out laugh-inducing insults — sometimes crude, sometimes cutting, but always good-natured — into a nightclub crowded with karaoke revelers or drag show audiences. The distinctive voice belongs to Robert “Buddy” Taylor, a fixture of the Kansas City gay nightlife scene, who has worked at, performed at, owned or managed so many bars and nightclubs here since the mid-1980s.

His latest venture is the Main Street bar Sidekicks Saloon, which he bought during the summer. OUTvoices Kansas City sat down with Buddy to talk about his life and career.

“I was raised out in the country on a farm,” he begins. “It was great. I loved living out on a farm. … I played in the first gay softball league in the 1980s, and the rest is history.”

Later, after relocating to Florida, Buddy returned to Kansas City on vacation and stopped into “this little bar called Changes. … And I asked the manager how hard it was to tend bar. … And this was actually a Monday night, and he told me that one of their barbacks had just quit and if I wanted to come in the next night, I could just barback Tuesday and Wednesday and I could make some money on my vacation. I said, ‘Well, you know, it just seems like everybody has so much fun [behind the bar>.’”

This account illustrates two of Buddy’s most significant qualities: his tremendous work ethic (I mean, really, who gets a job while on vacation?) and his love of the social life inherent in the nightclub scene. His barback gig quickly turned into a bartending job, and Buddy decided to return to Kansas City permanently.

Later, in 1986, he began working at the now-shuttered Club Cabaret, tending bar there for many years. In 1994, he moved to a new venue, Missie B’s, which was not much more than a storefront bar at the time. That’s where his Belle Star persona was born.

Having performed in several Bartender Revues up to that point, Buddy remembers “walking up to the stage, and someone said, ‘You need to get a drag name, bitch!’ And I said ‘Let’s come up with one.’ And we ended up having a contest that was six weeks. We got 5,000 names, and I narrowed it down to the top 12. … And that’s how my name Belle Star came about.”

Eventually, Buddy left Missie B’s to open his own bar, Time Out, which catered to a Latino crowd. That venue, successful as it was, was torn down by the city to make way for the Sprint Center. Then, soon after a venture that was marred by an unfortunate partnership, Buddy returned to Missie B’s and began doing shows again.

Jan Allen, now manager of Missie B’s, has known and worked with Buddy for two decades. “When he left here and he got his own bar, I think that it was sort of a struggle. But he built a crowd. And then the city came in and said, ‘We’re going to tear this building down.’”

Allen says of Buddy’s career: “I think his charity work is definitely one of the highlights.”

She is referring to the extensive fundraising that Buddy has done for Family Health Care on Southwest Boulevard, a nonprofit safety-net clinic that provides family medical care. For the clinic, Buddy began the “12 Months of Christmas,” which held benefit performances throughout the year to buy gifts for young patients affected by HIV. Eventually, these performances morphed into the “Angel Tree Fund,” where bar customers can adopt a Christmas angel ornament for which they pledge a holiday gift for a clinic patient.

Now, with Sidekicks Saloon, Buddy has moved into a new chapter of his career, and this one is not without a bit of controversy. Sidekicks traditionally has been Kansas City’s gay and lesbian country and western venue, but now it will cater to a more diverse crowd, with drag shows, Latino-themed nights and karaoke.

Some in the community have criticized these changes, but Buddy defends them.

“If you bring me enough country people to keep it open seven nights a week … I’ll do it,” he said. “But you can’t — there’s not enough country people, and this is not just in Kansas City. … There’s not enough young cowboys growing. ... Running Sidekicks, I have to do what pays the bills.”

This pragmatism is characteristic of Buddy. Aside from all the fun and games involved in the nightclub business, it is a business, and hard choices underlie all of it. The fact is that Sidekicks Saloon may have closed if Buddy had not bought it. And the upgrades he’s made are impressive — new bar tops, tiling, improved restrooms and nifty freeway shield and neon sign designs give the place a clean and expansive feel that still preserves the country and western look.

Darren Steinwand, owner of the gay sports bar OutABounds, has known Buddy for several years. “Buddy,” he says, “is somebody that, honestly, hands down, is very open-hearted, very caring as far as taking care of other people and doing what he can to help.”

Jan Allen agrees: “People love Buddy, and he will always have a following.”

But perhaps Buddy puts it best when asked what he sees for his and his new bar’s future — “I expect to be successful. I expect no less. We are well on our way, well on our way, and I’m happy.” "

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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