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Sep 01, 2014
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Harpo's Delivers a True Missouri Experience
By Sean Hixson
Posted On: 04/05/2004   

At 20, some friends and I sloppily forged some IDs. A little dark-yellow chalk, the fine lead point of a mechanical pencil, a tiny push of hairspray and suddenly you were born in 1973, not 1975. After many attempts, my wide-eyed epiphany: “Keep your ID behind your wallet’s clear-plastic window. Give him the whole wallet.” Heady, we hit the Landing. My real 21-year-old friends raved about Harpo’s. Beautiful girls, cheap beer. Outside Harpo’s, the lack of a line made our anxiety obvious. “Take it out of your wallet,” said the fat bouncer. He licked his finger, cleaned my license, cackled, then wouldn’t give it back. Jerk. We went home, bitter. No Harpo’s. Am I still bitter today? No. I went to Harpo’s last week. I want my ID.

The look …
Originally on First Street on the Landing, Harpo’s went west to a Clarkson Road strip mall in 1998. Part of a Missouri-only chain, the Chesterfield locale shares investors/founders with the Columbia, Kansas City and Springfield Harpo’s installations.

Driving to the bar doesn’t make for a scenic trip, but Harpo’s strip mall neighbors are convenient. Buy some Fritos, then wash them down with a drink. Sell a mint-condition rookie Vince Coleman baseball card, then drink on the profits. Try on a wedding gown, then drink your dinner to ensure it’ll fit. Or, skip it all and just go drink.

This “Missouri” bar is decorated like the St. Louis sports bar it is. Pictures of Lou Brock, Stan Musial, Mark McGwire, Sportsman’s Park, The Arena and the like hang among University of Missouri paraphernalia and corny quotes like, “Never let a few facts stand in the way of a good story.” Neon beer and booze ads sit below and beside the 10 televisions.

Harpo’s divides into two spaces during the winter and three when the large patio opens. Outside, gaze onto the shiny-SUV-filled parking lot. Inside, an antiqued wooden bar top with mirrored bar back sits on one side, with another side housing more tables, booths and a very small stage.

Test your luck at the pull-tab machine. Test your skill in the two-game arcade. No billiards. No darts.

The scene …
The Columbia Harpo’s anchors the University of Missouri’s bar and Tiger-fan scene. Students and visiting alumni head to the Columbia bar before, during and after Tiger games. In the STL, the Chesterfield spot upholds that tradition quite well. There are few bars better for watching Mizzou games. During a recent MU/KU basketball contest, every seat and table were taken. Current MU students, home for the weekend, mixed with recent alumni, old alumni and regular MU fans.

Also like the Columbia spot, the Chesterfield Harpo’s is still highly popular, even when Travon Bryant isn’t jacking up misconceived threes. Night crowds are usually large, particularly on karaoke Saturdays (also sing-along Wednesdays and Fridays) and when the nights turn temperate in the spring and summer.

As with the MU game-time crowds (and unlike 1995 on the Landing), ages now vary (21 to 40 years), but the youthful outnumber the aged and increase in dominance as the clock ticks toward closing. Almost every Saturday, large groups (>4) of young (+ <25), drunk (+ 2 sheets to the wind) and loud (= lots of “woos”) girls simply love karaokeing to glam rock. A dance floor for all ages will spontaneously form among the table as the night goes on. It’s very entertaining for participants and onlookers.

Most patrons come from the surrounding areas. Therefore, you won’t see much more than white suburbanites. Unlike in many bars, girls often outnumber guys.

The singles’ scene hums; many exchange digits. As is common in the STL, women out-dress men, but this is a casual place. For guys, ties and pleats are trying too hard. Conversely, judging by the hem- and waistlines, some women seem to be trying too hard. Only other girls complain.

The products …
The novelty of Harpo’s 22-ounce plastic souvenir draft beer cups has yet to wear off in the eight years I’ve been drinking out of them. You’ll find the cups at all four Harpo’s. Drafts (AB, Guinness, Schlafly, Beck’s and more) run $3.50 to $4.75. If you’d like, order mixed drinks out of the same cups for $5.25 to $7.75.

Bottled beer (AB, Rolling Rock, Newcastle, Beck’s, Amstel Light, etc.) is $3 to $3.50. A short wine list offers about six whites and six reds at $3.75 to $5.50 a glass.

This is primarily a bar, so, in addition to daily specials, the food menu covers the basics: fried appetizers, soups, wings, nachos, salads, burgers and sandwiches. Few run more than $7. The dinner menu expands selections to steaks and some seafood. None top $13. Drink and eat until the kitchen closes at 11 p.m.

The straight 411 …
For Mizzou Tiger cheering, enthusiastic karaoke, beer in plastic cups, all in a very busy outer-county bar, head to Harpo’s.

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