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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.” "
Chad and Mike Walton decided to leave their lives living in the big city to follow their dreams. They found a unique property in the heart of the charming town of Hermann, Missouri which is located in the beautiful Missouri River Valley. They soon opened the property as a true bed and breakfast which they aptly named Old Vine.
When asked why they were interested in Herman and what drew them to this unique area, they said, “After visiting vineyards around the country, we dreamed of one day living in a wine country area. During the pandemic, we started visiting Hermann from our home in St Louis more and more. The opportunity arose to open our own business with Old Vine and rather than wait for retirement, which was the original plan, we took a leap of faith and jumped in.”
For Chad, a retail customer service manager, and Mike, an elementary teacher, was a new challenge. The idea of owning and running a bed and breakfast was a common dream for the two of them. When the property they now own came on the market, they embraced the opportunity and embarked on an incredible journey.
“Running a B&B has been a completely new experience for us, but that doesn’t mean we jumped in blind,” they told OUTvoices. They both have many years of experience in business management, customer service, and travel. “We have been able to bring a fresh perspective based on what we liked and disliked from our own travels. Old Vine is like a greatest hit from the places we have visited.”
The Old Vine is centrally located in Hermann and is within walking distance to many wineries and distilleries, restaurants, boutiques, and the Amtrak station. They also have an outdoor pavilion which can be used by guests and has seating for 18.
Mike Walton said, “The tourism business in Hermann has been growing in leaps and bounds. We want to offer our guests an indulgent experience in a town filled with friendly folks and wine.”
For the last few months, OUTvoices Nashville’s print edition featured a new column—our first regular cooking column, “Joe Eats World.” This column is an extension of Morales’ work as a food blogger and chef and part of a larger project in what will soon become OUTvoices TV. Morales recently filmed the pilot episode of a “Joe Eats World” web-based television show.
Morales decided to go to culinary school around 2014, in what he said his husband might call a “midlife crisis”—though he protests that that’s not quite right. “I just felt the need to do something different,” he said. “I like to write, and I like to cook … so when I started talking about going to culinary school, to begin with, I didn’t have a desire to be a restaurant chef.”
Joe Eats World
This was also the real genesis of his food blog. He intended to learn about food, how to cook, and document his journey in his blog. As for his food career, he said, “I decided I’d figure that out along the way!”
He admitted that felt kind of silly. “At my age and having that naivety?”
Once he got started, however, things didn’t follow that plan, either for his blog or his career. “It was going to be more of a diary… I guess that's how it always starts: you always have these good intentions. I started a blog because I was going to document my culinary education … start to finish and then about the restaurant industry and whatever else. Going into culinary school full time, doing side work … it just kind of sat there!”
As far as his attitude toward restaurant work went, that also transformed during culinary school. “I was like, ‘Alright, I absolutely want to get into the restaurant.’ And once I went into a restaurant, it was amazing. Some of the best times I had in the kitchen were in the restaurant!”
Chef Joe Morales
Out of culinary school, Morales became a sous chef for a Michelin-recommended restaurant, where he worked until they closed in 2019 and relocated to Cleveland. The closure of the restaurant spurred him to rededicate himself to food blogging and teaching.
“I started to teach cooking classes at a local kitchen here in Chicago,” he explained. “There's an LGBTQ owned business that is down the street from us, so I was doing a lot of cooking classes and stuff there for them until the pandemic hit, and all of that stuff got shut down.”
Morales has continued to develop the “Joe Eats World” blog—which took the shape of a full food blog, though primarily focused on recipes and cooking tips—during the pandemic. When it comes to recipes, Morales took a different tack than many contemporary food blogs. Rather than focus primarily on the backstory and history of the dish, with personal asides, his blog entries focus their detail on the execution of the technique and conclude with the formal recipe.
In addition to detailing his perfected recipes, Morales also gives readers a window into the development process professional chefs go through as they experiment with dishes in a section he calls the “Test Kitchen.”
“Basically, the Test Kitchen details when I get these ideas of cooking something or trying something, how I executed it, and then I will tell you whether they fail or not. So far … there's been some failures. You know sometimes something sounds good but in the execution not so much! I did a twist on this chicken and Italian sausage dish that was a little sweeter than the traditional preparation. It sounded great. And then I made it, and I was like, ‘This tastes like shit.’ Sometimes you have to try it to find out!”
Why document the failures? “I struggled with that because everything that people put on their websites—the recipes, or whatever else—they're going for the hero shot and the perfect picture! Nobody likes to talk about their failures, so in my Test Kitchen I document both successes and failures. Like—I don't think I wrote about it yet but—I've done sourdough bread, and I don't know what it is with me and sourdough bread. But my first attempt at sourdough is always a failure. One time I woke up two days later, and the starter was just pitch black. And I had to toss it out. But you know people can learn from our mistakes, so I write about it, focusing on ‘do this, but don't do that’.”
Joe Eats World ... Television?
When asked how the “Joe Eats World” television show idea was born, Morales explained that it kind of came together with the birth of the OUTvoices and Aequalitas Media brands on the one hand and his return to the blog on the other.
“I was going to do videos for YouTube that would supplement the ‘Joe Eats World’ blog—it was basically going to be me filming myself doing recipes and stuff like that. Then, it kind of morphed as people would say, ‘Oh, you should do a cooking show. And maybe you should have drag queens or something like that—you know, some sort gay themed show’.”
Beyond the direct appeal to the LGBTQ+ community, Morales thinks this kind of show brings the added value of both showing that our community’s interests are broader than stereotypes and bringing visibility to LGBTQ+ people in the industry.
“I think that the last year-and-a-half has kind of taught us that there's a lot of things that are unspoken unseen. And I think that having an LGBTQ cooking show could help highlight LGBTQ+ diversity in a positive way. We're more than we're more than what they see on comedy and dramas, or at Pride events.”
“Cooking,” he added, “also has broad appeal. There's enough negative crap going on in the world. And there are a lot of LGBTQ+ people in the industry that aren't getting a lot of visibility. A lot of gay or lesbian or transgender chefs—people within the LGBTQ+ spectrum—aren’t highlighted. They're usually just kind of in the background and doing their thing; they're just trying to make a living, enjoy what they're doing, and create great food. A show like this would bring them front and center.”
A lot of planning remains to be done to bring “Joe Eats World” to little screens around the globe, but Morales was on set last month to shoot a pilot, and planning for the series is proceeding, as OUTvoices continues to develop digital content for its OUTvoices TV and OUTvoices Radio arms.
But you don’t have to wait for video to follow what Chef Joe Morales is up to in the kitchen. Check out “Joe Eats World” each month in OUTvoices Nashville, and read his blog posts at joeeatsworld.com.
Kansas City can look forward to a new brick-and-mortar LGBTQ space! KCMO currently has between 4 and 6 local bars and one club that can be considered "gay bars".
This spring, the Fountain Haus will plant its flag on the corner of Broadway and Westport Road in early 2022 with a multi-level entertainment venue, each room embracing a unique concept and experience — effectively offering 4 bars in the building, including a club, speakeasy, restaurant, and rooftop.
Touted in the press release as "a place for everyone," Fountain Haus will be "a destination for the LGBTQ community and its allies, adding to the roster of landmark queer bars across the country."
Locally owned and operated by managing partners David Brinkerhoff, Dan Meiners and Ryan Overberg, each bring rich experience to the new concept.
With four unique spaces in one building - The Pump Room, The Cube, the rooftop Pool Deck, and The Siren Speakeasy - each area offers a distinct vibe through design and programming. Not just for nightlife, the Fountain Haus has plans to offer brunch and other weekday dining options throughout the three levels.
The Pump Room, the main lounge and dining area, and The Cube dance club will open in late January 2022. The rooftop Pool Deck will open in Spring, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Guests can start with Happy Hour and let their evening evolve throughout the venue, giving them the ability to bar hop throughout the complex.
The Fountain Haus will also be a cultural hub and foster the arts in Kansas City, utilizing both local and world-renowned talent, offering visitors multiple experiences on any given night. There will be small or large-scale events for charities, receptions, or parties.
Formerly occupied by HopCat and internationally recognized Tiki Cat, the Fountain Haus will have a single entrance on Broadway and light features that will surround the building along with a dedicated security team. Fountain Haus is committed to providing a safe, progressive, and dazzling environment for Westport, Kansas City, the queer community, and its allies.Private event booking is now available. Fountain Haus is currently accepting applications for bartenders, servers, talent, and other staff.
OUTvoices caught up with the managing partners to find out a little more about the venue:
What exactly was the lightbulb moment that KC would benefit from a 'gay bar' if we can loosely call it that?
KC has a long history in the queer community, so we aren’t starting the trend. There was a time when the city had at least two dozen LGBTQ bars and clubs, but unfortunately, most of those businesses are now closed. Today, the community has grown, so the demand is high, but the supply is low; however, our goal is to build a place to play together. 2021 is all about inclusion. With Fountain Haus, we are building a home for everyone. It’s an LGTBQ Haus, but we welcome our allies and want it to be that space where everyone feels safe and fabulous, no matter your orientation, race, or age. 2. What do you anticipate the demographic split to be re: orientation and gender?
We are purposely building a space that will appeal to everyone. Food, drinks, and entertainment will be available in each room, but you can pick the vibe you want. You will have the option to dance your heart out, relax on the roof for a chill sunset, dinner with a spectacular drag show, or a date in the speakeasy. We have endless possibilities to play within the haus.
What is your concept behind the entertainment component?
This is where we want to stand out. The team has extensive experience in this arena. Ryan Overberg worked in NYC at Therapy Lounge in Hells Kitchen as the entertainment director, working with and creating new shows and events to enhance seven days of entertainment. Dan Meiners and David Brinkerhoff own Studio Dan Meiners here in Kansas City, where Dan is a respected and awarded designer/planner of large-scale chic events. David has 30 years of experience in business, specializing in commercial and hospitality insurance. The 3 of us together can develop creative shows, events, and parties and know how to make them a reality. Weekends, of course, will be fabulous, but we plan on making incredible events on any day of the week. No Rules, No Limits.
Have we changed at all because of the pandemic in terms of how we socialize and mix in a venue and do you think this space addresses that shift?
COVID made us distance ourselves for everyone's safety, so it became a habit not to pack into a small space. Because of our size, people won't need to pack in and will be able to move freely throughout the space. Also, having a sizable outdoor rooftop space is a massive benefit for our guests to have open air.
The official grand opening of all the spaces will happen in April, tied to the celebration of Fountain Day with reservations required for the Siren Speakeasy. For more information, follow Fountain Haus on Facebook and on Instagram at @fountainhauskc.