Military offered free Thanksgiving meal at Kansas City Barbeque

Kansas City Barbeque gained fame as the setting for the honky-tonk bar scene in “Top Gun,” where Maverick’s radar intercept officer, Goose, sang and played “Great Balls of Fire” on the piano.

The downtown tavern has had strong military ties for decades. Owners Martin and Cindy Blair hosted the Top Gun School before it relocated to Nevada. They coordinated numerous Hail and Farewell parties. Military challenge coins and other memorabilia are displayed throughout the restaurant.

Before a devastating fire in 2008, the eatery’s collection of Navy hats had gained a reputation as the largest on display west of the Mississippi, in part, because sailors who couldn’t find a hat bearing their ship’s name donated their own in exchange for a free pitcher of beer. The collection since has been largely replenished, Cindy Blair said.

For the past 38 years, the Blairs also upheld a tradition of serving free Thanksgiving dinners to active-duty military members without a place to go.

This year is no exception. From 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., Kansas City Barbeque, 600 W. Harbor Drive, armed with 900 pounds of turkey, will be dishing smoked turkey dinners with all the fixings at no charge to military personnel ($22 for others). Reservations are available by calling (619) 231-9680. Walk-ins also are welcome.

The idea grew out of Martin Blair’s San Diego childhood. His parents always invited a couple of enlisted sailors to share Thanksgiving dinner at their house. The couple also creates a living room atmosphere for the day so military men and women can relax and spend the afternoon watching TV and socializing.

While no new scenes were shot at Kansas City Barbeque for the “Top Gun: Maverick” sequel, the 2022 movie included a re-play of the piano-playing scene filmed there in 1985.

“The flashback of the original piano scene rekindled a lot of interest,” Cindy said, adding that visitors since have stopped by to take photos. She is delighted that the old piano, built before 1900, remains a “star” in its old age.

When the “Top Gun: Maverick” premiere was in San Diego last May, actor Miles Teller, who plays Goose’s son in the sequel, stopped by and had his photo taken playing “Great Balls of Fire” on the same piano.

“I had no idea who he was,” Cindy said, as the sequel wasn’t yet showing in theaters. She was aghast when, on his way out the door, Teller jokingly asked to sit on top of the piano (like his character had as a kid in “Top Gun”).

“I said it’s a really old piano, and we don’t want to damage her,” Cindy recalled.

It wasn’t until after he and his entourage departed in a waiting limousine, that some staff members familiar with Teller’s movies told her who he was.

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