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by M. Ruth Little

A Den of Iniquity…my Father had warned me about this from childhood.  He never told me exactly what it was, but as I opened the door to this offbeat joint, I was sure this was it.

Live Blues wailed, cigarette smoke filtered the Budweiser neon light, and aromas of barbeque smacked me in the face.  It was standing room only.  I half expected to see an aging woman of the night smoking opium. But once my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I discovered I had it wrong. 

I had landed in the only place in Kansas City to get gritty live blues and true barbeque, both washed down with cold beer — BB’s Lawnside Bar-B-Q.

The motto of this place is: “Not renovated – Under Old Management.” 

And a quick look around at the crowd, jammed into this scrubby little place, reveals a collection of ordinary people –in fact, there was a group from a big box store, one of them still wearing his “May I help you?”  vest.  Just plain people having a howlin’ good time on a hot, humid Saturday night.

Kansas City is renowned for blues and jazz.  Count Basie, Joe Turner and Charlie Parker used to hang out at Old Kentucky Bar-B-Q near 18th and Vine.  In fact, granite stones from the streets of that area were used to build BB’s barbeque pit back in 1950. 

We still benefit today… because the heat-retaining, slow-cooking (12-16 hours) stone pit produces succulent meats with a subtle smoked flavor accentuated by a spice-rub and a grainy, vinegar-based sauce.  The meat falls off the bones and the flavors explode in your mouth.  Ribs, of course, are the favorite, but the menu also offers barbecued chicken, sausage, catfish and BB’s Louisiana entree selections.

As for the music, it was everything that gut-bucket blues could be – tight and soulful rhythms, slick harmony full of guitar riffs and, of course, all of it put together with pure showmanship.  Henry Clay and the Full Grown Men, billed as Big Boned Blues, was the bill for the night I was there.  Henry, a big man with full cheeks and heavy jowls, wore all black with a hot pink shirt front and hot pink shades.  He put forth “Easy Love,“ "How Long,” “Another Mule Been Kikkin’ in my Stall,” and muscled in some Stones’ hits that blew the roof off the joint.

BB’s is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am ‘till the band crashes (midnight-ish).  The kitchen closes around 10 pm and opens Sunday from 4 pm to 10:30 pm.   As Lindsay the owner says, "To find it, turn right on 85th, then go south about 60 years."  1205 E. 85th, phone 816-8BB-RIBS (816-822-7427). Prices are reasonable ($7 to $16) and portions are large. $5 gets you in the door.


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