February 19, 2018

An epitaph for Epitaph

Epitaph co-owners Jeff Gladhart and Rachel Burch Williams.

Rachel Williams made these matchbooks.

An ad from 1988

Epitaph, 11 E. 31st St., was the apotheosis of punk in Kansas City. Shabby-chic, tragically hip and infused with art-student sensibilities, the bar was a stone’s throw from VFW Post #18 but miles from that scene’s hardcore aesthetic. Black lights made the blue martinis served by bartender Rubber Robbin glow even more devilishly.

No doubt, though, it was Epitaph’s blood red and evil

Rachel on the bar at Epitaph

The bathroom at Epitaph

black color scheme and its gothic iconography of crosses and crowns that drew Christian picketers to the corner of 31st and Walnut streets a few times during its two-year lifespan, 1986-88.

While there is no shortage of conjecture, the real motive of the arsonist who burned the place down may never be public knowledge. In any case, the spot where Epitaph stood at the base of the KCMO/KCTV

Halloween Party patron

tower is today a parking lot used by Public Television station KCPT.

Halloween Party patron

However, thanks to Jeff Gladhart and Rachel Williams, the Kansas City Art Institute grads who founded Epitaph and Archaic Smile clothing and who now live in New Orleans, we can go back for a Halloween party circa 1987. As I recall it, the soundtrack would include stuff like Love and Rockets, Phillip Boa, Depeche Mode and Wolfgang Press.


Jeff as a skeleton

Patrons in costume for Halloween


  1. Crocodahlia says:

    # 6 & 7 of party patrons: #6 Vampire is Sandra Gauthier, and # 7 is either Anna or Silvia Fernandez (twins). I can’t tell which one because it’s been years since I’ve seen either of them.

  2. I loved The VFW hall , The Music Box, and The Downliner. The Outhouse had some cool bands , but the patrons became increasingly frat boyish as time went on. I saw The Flaming Lips perform the Who’s Tommy album in its entirety at Epitaph!! My ears are still ringing

  3. My friend Matt and I used to wander in there … well, honestly, we didn’t fit in at all, but we’d go now and then and try to pick up punk/goth chicks. We were spectacularly unsuccessful. But we enjoyed the vibe nonetheless. This would have been in the summer and fall of 1987 … in fact, we may even have shown up for awhile for this Halloween party; I’m not sure. I was sorry when I heard someone had burned down the place. It wasn’t exactly a HAUNT for us, but we went there regularly to check it all out, squares that we were. R.I.P. Epitaph; you were way cooler than we were.

  4. younowknow says:

    The night this place was fire bombed there was a huge fundamentalist christian protest going on outside with a large wooden cross and tons of die hard bible bleaters. Several well known patrons of this fine establishment, which were known for this kind of mayhem, were outside on that night taunting and making fun of the fundamentals and pretending to worship satan in front of the club. It must have been too much for the fundamentals, because that very night the place went up in flames.

    The first speculation was that the mafia guys that ran the downtown dance club (Eyes) had the place firebombed because of the competition. This is a pretty weak speculation – but it kind of stuck and that’s what a lot of people thought. My group personally witnessed the circus outside the club that night as we were coming in – the play satan worshipping and ongoing screaming match / ridiculing of the fundamentals parked outside with that gigantic cross – my god i will never forget that huge cross! I heard about the firebombing a week later and immediately my mind went to what we had all seen outside that night with the fundamentals really frothing at the mouth because of the taunting they were getting!

  5. That surprised me ti see myself as Cleopatra and Michael my beau / mummy!! Goid times. Vampire is Donnay. Don’t know whatever became of her. Thought that was Patti in the background

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