Every day on Facebook is a nostalgia trip when you belong to groups dedicated to talking about the past.
On that platform, I follow pages like “St. Joe, Missouri — Places and Things We Remember.” People will post pictures of businesses that no longer exist, buildings that have been reduced to dust and a version of a pre-urban renewal Downtown St. Joseph that’s unrecognizable to younger people in the area.
Those old pictures of Downtown always spark anger and discussion about the failure of the urban renewal project and what it took away from the community. Some will claim Downtown is a shadow of its former glory. I have no frame of reference for that old Downtown, but I think its current version is the best it’s been in decades.
I thought about all of that this week because it seems like Kansas City’s Westport area is going through something similar with the closing of one of its staple concert venues, The Riot Room.
When I moved to St. Joseph 13 years ago, Westport was the place to go when you wanted to get away from the area and have a good time. It wasn’t upscale like the Plaza, nor did it have the crunchy hippie-like vibe of the Crossroads district. It was just right.
As more corporations took over, that area lost its luster. Local business staples like the Beaumont Club, the Tivoli, McCoy’s and The Foundry closed. The Riot Room was one of the few places from that era left hanging on. On Oct. 4, owner Tim Gutschenritter confirmed to KCUR in Kansas City that it was closed permanently.
It’s a bummer because The Riot Room was what the Rendezvous is to St. Joseph — a dive bar and music venue whose dark, dirty aesthetic added to its charm and somehow was able to book future superstars and current indie icons. Its sight-lines were terrible (if you were late for a show and it was packed, you were almost guaranteed to not actually see the show). Its bathrooms were nightmarish. In the middle of summer, it was hot. Despite all of this, it had an independent feel that worked against the increasingly sterile corporate vibe taking over Westport.
As the news of The Riot Room’s closing came out, it brought forth a mixture of reactions ranging from sadness from past concert attendees to comments from bands who alleged the owners never paid them or canceled their shows without notification.
I can’t speak for the latter half. But I feel like losing The Riot Room is a big loss for independent venues in the area. It’s a shame that like those other fallen Westport establishments, it will become another memory posted in a social media group years from now, and with it goes a little bit of local flavor that made that area special.