There is a little enclave at the RecordBar called "the snug." It's not much bigger than a bathroom. It’s often mistaken for V.I.P. seating. But it’s actually more like V.I.F. seating: Very Important Family. On Saturday night, Sondra Freeman was there, dabbing her eyes with a square white cloth, while the band Your Friend performed behind her on stage.
“What I’m going to miss the most about the RecordBar is that the napkins absorb tears really well,” Freeman said.
Freeman had been going to shows at RecordBar since it opened in 2005. On Saturday, the venue hosted its final concert three months after celebrating its 10th anniversary. The venue's lease ended, and it hasn't found a new location. Freeman hopes RecordBar's closing is only an intermission for the business.
“It’s definitely going to leave a hole until it comes back," Freeman said. "The entire city feels this closing. But to my close knit group of friends, it’s our family. It feels like one of us has died.”
Taryn Miller, front woman of Your Friend, said she was honored to play the final show at a venue she’s frequented for the past seven years. Making the trip from her Lawrence, Kansas, home to see shows at the RecordBar was never a chore, she said. She knew the drive was almost over when she would see the illuminated Old Westport sign. She said she'll miss the quality sound engineering.
“There’s something to do with the space itself and the way the sound engulfs you when you’re in the crowd," Miller said. "But also the monitor mix is really good so you can actually hear. There’s this intimacy you get with it when you’re here because the musicians can’t really hide.”
Another local musician, Nathan Corsi respects the RecordBar for curating the right mix of Kansas City talent and national touring acts.
“[The owners] had such an awareness of what was interesting and what was happening in music and gave everything a chance. They brought such a motley group of bands through the venue and were able to satisfy so many different niches,” Corsi said.
Co-owner Steve Tulipana was one of the guys responsible for booking bands like Mumford and Sons and The National before they became really famous. In the Snug, Tulipana reflected about how he would feel packing up the venue the next day.
“Some of it’s emotional like taking down pictures of people that passed away that came here. All of those pieces and the connections to the music and the people — it’s forever."
Tulipana opened the venue with this best friend and business partner Shawn Sherrill. They met in 1989 when they were both effectively homeless, waiting for their respective bands to start touring again.
"We both ended up at the same party and fought for the couch that night. And the next day we’re like, 'We should get an apartment.’" Tulipana said. "And that’s how we became friends. My band got signed and we didn’t get our advance money for a long time but we had to go on tour immediately. He paid my rent for a year. That kind of bonds you."
Server Ro Woods also tried to keep it together, after losing it the night before while taking a photo of Tulipana and Sherrill's band, The Roman Numerals.
"Immediately, tears just started falling. I'm like, 'This is happening. We're closing.' Somebody starts ordering a drink from me, and my boyfriend starts wiping the tears away with his shirt. It was the most ridiculous thing ever," Woods said.
Woods will never use the tiny and usually overcrowded electric-pink ladies room again. She won’t serve a Bloody Mary brunch for a while, but she’s optimistic about a new location. Woods believes the RecordBar is a community, not just a building. It’s where handshakes and hugs happen, like the ones the bouncer gave folks before they exited, one last time, through a skinny hallway covered in band stickers and show posters.
Hannah Copeland is an announcer and arts contributor at KCUR. Follow her on Twitter @hannahecopeland.