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Blast in River Quay Wipes Out 2 Bars

DATE OF EVENT: Sunday, March 27, 1977

DATE PUBLISHED: Monday, March 28, 1977, in The Kansas City Times

Editor’s note: The River Quay, an entertainment and shopping district near City Market, got rolling in spring 1972. Two years later, organized crime had moved in, damaging the Quay’s reputation as a family destination. In 1977 an explosion in the district flattened two nightclubs but injured no one. However, the blasts marked the end of the area’s rise as a nightlife destination.

An explosion rocked the River Quay early yesterday, destroying two taverns at 4th and Wyandotte and shattering windows and shaking buildings for blocks. Authorities suspect arson.

No injuries were reported. The explosion, which ripped through Pat O’Brien’s and Judge Roy Bean’s at 2:11 a.m., was described by one witness as a series of loud booms and flashes of light. Persons reported hearing the blast from their homes far north and south of the Missouri River and the firemen who first responded said the concussion rattled their fire station at 1020 Central.

Authorities were hesitant to speculate on the blast, saying only that it was caused by some type of high-order device. Members of the police and fire departments and agents for the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms suspect arson.

Police identified the owner of Pat O’Brien’s, 115 W. 4th, as Patrick O’Brien and the owner of Judge Roy Bean’s, 401 Wyandotte, as Louis Ribaste. Neither man was at the scene yesterday afternoon, police said, and efforts by police to reach them by telephone were unsuccessful. Police said they would try to arrange interviews with the owners today.

Officials spent the morning and afternoon yesterday sifting through mounds of debris but found no evidence of a bomb. A wrecking crew was called in to carry much of the wreckage to a new location, where experts are to sift through each piece today.

“We suspect arson. It’s under investigation,” said Deputy Chief Bennie Imperiale, who was at the 10th and Central station when the alarm came in.

“We don’t know what it was, to be honest with you. Whatever it was, it was very destructive, I’ll say that for it.”…

Residents and merchants in the River Quay voiced concern, shaking their heads in disgust as workers began replacing windows and, in some cases, boarding up doors. Police cordoned off a 3-square block area, blocking traffic and crowds of persons who came for a look in an afternoon drizzle. …

“That was a hell of a bang,” said Richard Hummel, 42, manager of the hotel who began waking up the 13 tenants and telling them to hurry outside. “I was sound asleep. It was just a big ball of fire and, all of a sudden, boom.”…

Ron Ralston, 27, a guitar and violin player for the Midnight Express, the band that played Saturday night at Judge Roy Bean’s, was at the scene yesterday afternoon, looking for his uninsured instruments. …

Robert Hernandez, city councilman whose district includes the River Quay, also surveyed the area.

“This ruins it for all the city money we put into it, into the market area,” he said. “We were trying to make it a family area. Nobody’s going to come down here now.”

James R. Mullen, owner of an office machinery shop at 128 W. 5th, said he that has been in business there almost five years but that it has been only recently that the River Quay has gotten a bad reputation. It is spoiling his business, he said.

“It’s all the gangsters,” he said. “They all come here. In fact, the FBI once wanted to use my store for surveillance. Every gangster in Kansas City hangs out down here. You know that.”