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Bet On This Dive

A hangout for casino workers and corporate drones, Helen's Just Another Dive has class.


Located just a couple of miles from the roulette tables, Helen's Just Another Dive in North Kansas City has become a hangout for casino workers. So when we ventured into JAD in search of a mid-evening Thursday drink, we were hoping for a West Side Story-type rumble to break out between staffers from competing casinos.

Sadly, it never came down to the casino cliques circling each other and snapping their fingers. But JAD was still worth the drive to NKC. Turns out Just Another Dive isn't really a dive. We're upgrading it to neighborhood-bar status, based on two things we spotted during our visit: hummus (on our bacon pita pizza) and chocolate martinis (complete with chocolate syrup artfully swirled in the glass). Fancy-schmancy food and froufrou drinks ward off the dive tag, but calling it Just Another Neighborhood Bar is a bit unwieldy — especially when you add the name of the former owner.

Semantics aside, JAD is located on Armour Road, just down the street from North Kansas City Hospital and next door to a McDonald's. Happy hour goes from 5 to 7 p.m., and the grill stays open until 2 a.m. The medium-sized bar area contains a number of rectangular, library-style wood tables and chairs. A lone big screen stands against one wall, and an array of smaller TVs hang from the drop ceiling. A stage with a low airplane-hangar-type roof and more tables occupy the other section. The background music on that Thursday ran the '80s gamut, including Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and the Go-Go's' "Our Lips Are Sealed."

When we walked in with Research Assistant John, the corporate drones were wrapping up their happy hours as the casino workers filtered in for a post-shift drink. We sat at the bar and ordered $3 Miller Lite bottles and that night's special, $3 vanilla Cokes. Served in a pint glass, the Stoli Vanilla and soda mixture tasted like candy.

We sat where we could observe the goings-on of both sections. At a table behind us, three guys in their mid- to late 20s were enjoying $10 pitchers of light beer. Carl, Ben and Cornel work at a nearby corporation, which they didn't want to name in print, despite the fact that Cornel was sporting a logo shirt from said corporation. "It's from a used store," Ben said. They told us that Nameless Corporation was moving them to another building out south, so they were spending their last evening together at JAD.

In honor of their last NKC happy hour, we asked them to tell us the most random thing that's happened to them at JAD. "Well, the Pitch came up to us one night. It was strange," Ben joked.

"Then a guy caught fire," added Cornel. Though he was born in Romania, he tried to tell us that he was from southern Arkansas. We left them to their drinkery and heard them complain, "The Pitch doesn't buy you drinks." They made a Taco Bell run for those octagonal-shaped disks and then returned for more pitchers. Ah, there's nothing like a midbender run for the border.

A graduation party took over one table and festooned it with balloons. Meanwhile, guy-heavy corporate hordes in khaki, badges still attached to their waists, started looking sloshed from pitchers of beer. A woman with a high ponytail from the graduation party stepped up to the bar and made a request. "Do me a favor," she said. "Drop a pot of coffee. We're going to be here for a really long time."

That sounded like our kind of party, so we went over to infiltrate. Riki, a 25-year-old server at Ameristar, had graduated from the University of Kansas' law school and was celebrating with her co-workers. She was drinking a pink concoction called Cotton Candy. We asked if some customers considered her lucky. "Some people think we are. They're like, 'Stay here until this hand's over,'" she said. Riki told us about the time a beer bottle fell in her cleavage. Someone hit the tray she was carrying, and a bottle flew off. Strategically, it landed mouth-down in the cleavage of her corset-clad boobs.

Still hoping for a bit of Jets vs. Sharks action, we asked if they were going to rumble with the Harrah's crowd at the next table. "It's a dance-off," said Jen, one of Riki's friends.

"Outside in the McDonald's lot," Riki added. "We'll win."

Wow, bold. In the interest of equal time, we went over and met two women with collateral cleavage: 29-year-old Becky and 30-year-old Erin. Both women are cocktail servers at Harrah's VooDoo Lounge and, thanks to their revealing work outfits, they've been the target of many sordid pickup lines. Apparently, there's just something about black pleather short shorts, a corset and boots that attract that sort of stuff. "I got propositioned for a threesome with a guy and his wife," Erin said. "I tried to play with it for a little — I hadn't been tipped yet."

We asked if there was ever any friction with Ameristar at JAD. Gesturing toward a couple of the people at their table, Erin said, "They hassle people [from the other casinos]. It depends on how many pitchers they've chugged."

Just then, two others at their table waved us over to talk. Jennifer is an "entertainment specialist" at Harrah's and 25-year-old Big James — "B.J." — is the head of security at VooDoo. We asked 26-year-old Jennifer about any interesting band riders. She told us that Shinedown requested plastic army men. James Brown wanted a bottle of Cristal and a bell-shaped hairdryer. "We brought it in especially for him. Rest in peace, James Brown. That was the first time I got a hairdryer for anyone. He was running late from the jet, and instead of eating, he got under the hairdryer," Jennifer said.

B.J. offered to chug a pitcher for us, but, by that point, we were sated with alcohol and bar food. The chugging demonstration, just like the rumble, would just have to wait until next time. We'll be sure to wear our matching sateen Pitch jackets especially for the occasion.

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