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Kelly's is for lovers: 75 years of meet-cutes at one of Kansas City's most famous bars

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Kelly's Westport Inn / epagaFOTO
Kelly's Westport Inn co-owner, Colleen Kelly, says so many people have met their life partners at her family's pub that she is no longer keeping count. She says the couples often return to the bar for wedding or engagement photos, like this couple did.

You never know who you’ll run into when you walk into Kelly’s Westport Inn to watch a game or cheers the end of the work week. These 'Kelly's couples' avoided hungover walks of shame and stayed together.

It was the summer of 1979. School was out for the summer, and Park Hill High School Senior Eric Cross was getting ready to pack up and leave for his first semester at Drury University. He had one issue though: he needed to break up with his girlfriend. He’d been dating Lisa Wilcox for six weeks and when it came time for him to hit the road, he did what a lot of teenage boys do – he ghosted her.

“I didn't have the emotional intelligence to break up,” Cross says, explaining that Wilcox was a couple years younger than he was and still needed to finish high school. “I didn't think it was fair to her to ever commit to a guy living four hours away.”

Cross thought he would never see Lisa again. He tried, years later, to reconnect but those efforts went nowhere. Then, one September night in 1987 after a KU game, he and his friends met up at their favorite post-game gathering place: Kelly’s Westport Inn.

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Eric Cross
Eric and Lisa Cross, pictured above in Kelly's Westport Inn, dated briefly in high school until Eric took off for college. Nearly a decade later, they ran into each other in Kelly's. Three months later, they were engaged, and a year after their coincidental meet-cute, they were married. Eric calls it "divine intervention."

Cross and his friends were standing by a pillar near the entrance drinking beer when the door whooshed open and in walked Wilcox, who was on a set-up date she didn’t want to be on. Eventually all of their friends (and Wilcox's failed date) left Kelly’s. Cross stuck around to keep her company.

“I just thought he was being a good friend — really nice, you know, ‘Let me save you from this horrible date you don't wanna be on,’” says Lisa Cross. “And we were on the stairs right next to Californos and he kissed me and that's when I knew.”

Exactly one year after that fateful night in Kelly’s, Lisa and Eric Cross got married. Eric calls it “divine intervention.”

“I didn't think we'd ever run into each other again. And that's why it's just really kind of a religious place for me,” said Eric Cross. “It's worked out beautifully.”

As Kelly’s celebrates its 75th anniversary, hundreds of couples and longtime patrons are reminiscing on their time at the beloved bar. The warmly lit Irish pub has been the backdrop for historic celebrations — like when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 1970 and again in 2020 — hosted thousands of partying college students, and been a regular meet-up for patrons who have been frequenting the spot for decades.

Colleen Kelly, a co-owner of Kelly’s, says she has heard so many stories from couples that met at her family’s pub that at one time, she tried to keep track of them. She calls them "Kelly’s couples."

“Then I was like, this just isn't possible. Because it's constantly, it's like constantly growing, I mean every weekend,” says Kelly.

The thing about Kelly’s couples, she says, is that they always come back.

“A lot of what I see on the couples that come here in between their wedding and their reception is, they met here and they come to have a drink on their wedding day. We get a lot of that.”

There’s even a growing tag on Instagram, #kellyscouple, where people post wedding, engagement, or other milestones with their partner at Kelly’s.

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Eric Cross
From left to right: Travis Thomsen, Morgan Thomsen, Eric Cross, Lisa Cross, Delaney Cross. Eric and Lisa Cross say Kelly's has always been a special place for their family. In this photo, they met to plan a sailing trip.

The Cross family

Their wedding in 1988 wasn’t the end of the love affair between the Cross family and Kelly’s. Eric and Lisa Cross are regulars and say they always meet up at the place they reconnected all those years ago — at the pillar near the entrance. They’ve had countless celebrations and family gatherings at Kelly’s, and when each of their two daughters turned 21, it was the first place they took them.

Eric says their oldest daughter, Morgan Thomsen, has her own Kelly’s love story, although he says it’s slightly less romantic. Morgan Thomsen vaguely knew her now-husband, Travis Thomsen, but wasn’t really interested.

The two stumbled into one another at Kelly’s and Cross says Travis was so nervous to run into Morgan that he ended up embarrassing himself.

“He knocked over a pizza. And anyways, two weeks later they started dating and now they're married.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Brandan and Courtney Davies, who are about to celebrate 16 years together and a decade of marriage, met at Kelly's Westport Inn. Now that they are parents, they go out a less. But the Irish pub will always be a part of their origin story.

The Davies

Courtney Davies and her husband, Brandan Davies, met at Kelly’s in 2006.

Brandan and some friends were at Kelly’s celebrating because he’d just passed the LSAT to get into law school. After talking her up at the bar, Brandan got Courtney’s number. Courtney says he called her later to ask her out and she turned him down – but he wasn’t quite ready to give up.

“You said... I'm only gonna ask three times and then I'm not asking anymore,” says Courtney.

On the third call, Courtney agreed to go on a date. The couple dated for six years and married in 2012. In December, they’ll celebrate ten years. The Davies say even though they have children now and go out less, Kelly’s will always hold a special place in their hearts.

“I mean Kelly's is a landmark, everybody that's ever went out and had fun in Kansas City knows about Kelly's,” says Brandan.

Courtney agrees.

“You just say, you say, “Where did you meet?’ And you say, ‘Kelly's’ – you don't have to explain anymore.”

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Raeanne Weisser
Raeanne Weisser met her husband, Donn, at Kelly's in the fall of 1982. She says back then, "everyone started and ended" their night at Kelly's. She and Donn are still frequent patrons at the pub. Above is a photo of their wedding at Loose Park. Raeanne is wearing a pink dress, and Donn is to her right.

The Weissers

Raeanne Weisser and her husband, Donn Weisser, are another Kelly’s couple. Back in the 80’s, Raeanne was divorced and living with friends, and a regular in the Westport scene.

“In those days, bands played Wednesday to Saturday nights in many bars and we loved to dance,” says Raeanne, reminiscing. “Back then, Kelly's only had a jukebox, no live music, but there were great songs on that jukebox. Everyone started and ended at Kelly's.”

It was at the end of one of those nights in October 1982 after going to a rodeo with her girlfriends, that Raeanne found herself, once again, at Kelly’s.

“After drinking all day at the rodeo and into the evening at Kelly's, I met a man named Donn,” she says. “I had never seen him before that night. We sat in a booth at Kelly's and talked about everything.”

Raeanne and Donn were married two years later in Loose Park. They have two daughters and four grandchildren. She says they still frequent Kelly’s often, especially for Thanksgiving eve festivities.

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Raeanne Weisser
Donn and Raeanne Weisser on a recent trip to Italy. The couple, who met at Kelly's, has been married for nearly 40 years.

When Kansas City residents think of Kelly’s, they may not think “romance” — and the bar has likely seen its share of break-ups, one-night-stands, awkward first dates and jilted lovers. But the ones who stick, tend to stick around.

Longtime Kelly’s bartender Jim Waters says that’s because of the close-knit atmosphere that the Kelly’s family has worked to create.

“I think that's a major reason why most people, a lot of people continue to come back to Kelly's, cause they know they get treated like family.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Colleen Kelly is a third-generation owner of Kelly's Westport Inn at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Westport Road. Her grandfather, Randal Kelly, started working as a bartender at the now beloved pub in 1947.

How to celebrate Kelly’s 75th

Kelly’s is hosting an all-day anniversary bash Saturday, September 17. Doors open at 11 a.m. From 11 to 1 p.m., there will be a reunion for former staff. Guest bartenders and performers will also be in attendance. More details can be found on Kelly’s website.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.
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