Living in Chiefs Kingdom Doesn’t Make You Kansas City’s Peasant
While 2020 has been a year of often-obscured bright spots, the Kansas City Chiefs have stood apart as a fairly enduring point of municipal pride for Kansas City, the capital of the team’s colloquial and regional “Kingdom” of supporters. Starting the year with a Super Bowl win and ending it with a solid regular season certainly tends to raise a city’s spirits, and if you’re a restaurant or bar in Chiefs Kingdom, the Chiefs’ strong showing during the coronavirus pandemic has certainly been a welcome relief for business.
But that hasn’t kept Kansas City and other local government from bah-humbugging it, flying the banner of coronavirus prevention as it dumps coal in the stockings of local proprietors in the food service industry. In November, city officials shut down The Corner Bar and Grill in the historic 18th & Vine District during a Chiefs game when a “field supervisor noted multiple violations of the mask and social distancing rules” set out by the mayor. In fact, until relatively recently, Kansas City proper was requiring all bars and restaurants to not only close by 10 p.m. to mitigate the spread of COVID-19—because it’s, what, not communicable during the day?—but force all of the patrons out by that time, or else be sanctioned by the city.
The Corner Bar’s closure and the city’s draconian time restrictions meant that when the Chiefs played the Denver Broncos for the league’s Sunday night game on Dec. 6, Kansas City bars were forced to turn patrons away due to capacity limitations and to warn patrons who were allowed inside that they’d be kicked out of the bar before the late game had finished. This isn’t hearsay either; this happened to me. However, not all places of imbibing and engorging for the game were closed. I eventually found myself at, of all places, a local casino that is not only open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but whose social distancing norms are, shall we say, necessarily loose.
Having the right to leisurely eat, drink, smoke and gamble at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday from the comfort of a barstool in the middle of a pandemic would feel a lot more liberating if you do these things at any establishment of one’s choosing, pandemic or not. But on this Sunday night, the patrons of the Argosy Casino had acquired an immunity to coronavirus (or, rather, to government-imposed coronavirus restrictions) that the small businesses and patrons in downtown Kansas City had not yet achieved. Shortly after that weekend, Kansas City officials “clarified” that the city’s bar and restaurant patrons could now remain in their seats and finish their meals, even past 10 p.m., but couldn’t order food or drink after that hour and had to be out of the building by 11 p.m.
It’s tempting to accept the clarification of mandated closure times as an improvement, and in technical terms, it is. After all, requiring establishments to close in the middle of a sports event is bad for business. But local officials are merely returning rights to taxpayers that I believe should never have been taken to begin with and where in other local businesses like casinos, the same rules aren’t being applied. That’s before addressing whether these new rules should be applied at all, and on what actual scientific basis they’re being pursued.
But I’ve said this before and I must say it again, especially now that we’re close to the 2021 legislative session: If a rule is good enough for big businesses, it’s good enough for the small ones too. That applies to all of “Chiefs Kingdom,” both in Kansas City itself and outside it. If casino patrons can live it up safely and watch the Chiefs beat the hated Broncos late at night, so too can supporters of local bars. If Chiefs fans can socially distance at Arrowhead, so too can fans of Blue Springs High School. And in the coming weeks, state legislators must start the process of reining in the excesses of local governments. Kansas Citians may live in Chiefs Kingdom, but they aren’t the subjects of their elected officials.